Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedPR photo

A True Gadol

Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovich, ztz”l was one of the true Gedolei HaDor (eminent Rabbis of the generation). Had we been worthy to have the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Rabinovich would certainly be one of the first to sit there, but unfortunately there are not enough true Gedolei HaTorah in our generation, we have not merited the establishment of the Sanhedrin.

Most Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars) view the Torah as a collection of details. The best of them know how be accurate and precise in every detail, convey it correctly and remember it orally, but are not able to see the connection between the details, and therefore their svara’s (explanations) are narrow and limited. They perceive all of the Torah, the halakha and machshava (thought), in a detailed way – one line here, one precept there – and the entire Torah appears to them as mystical instructions, with no profound or illuminating meaning.

The more outstanding ones are able to see the broader picture, for example, the halakhot of Shabbat as a unified system, with basic principles underlying all the halakha’s and mitzvot, and consequently, their svara’s are better. However, since they view each area of Torah separately – Shabbat alone, kashrut alone, marriage alone – they are unable to understand the depth of the fundamentals, and as a result, their understanding is limited.

Then, there are more outstanding Torah scholars, who are able to see the entire world of halakha, in its various fields, as one system with common foundations and principles, and in doing so, understand all the svara’s in a more profound way, and are already considered Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars). This is reflected in their ability to interpret the foundations and when they have to deal with a new question. These are the great poskim (Jewish law arbiters), authors of the important shootim (halakhic responsa), and the Roshei Yeshivot (heads of yeshivas) known for their deep Torah lectures.

And then, there are Gedolim even greater than they, who, in addition to all this, delve deeper in the realms of machshava (philosophy) and musar (morality) in the Torah, and also have knowledge of the world of science in its various fields – the exact sciences, and social and human sciences – and in doing so, have a greater understanding of the world in which we live, to which God gave His Torah. Consequently, they are able to see the entire Torah as one, unified system comprised of principles, foundations, branches, details, and fine points, can better discriminate between fundamental and sub-principles, and understand in depth, clarity, and straightforwardly the principles of Torah, and their worldly perspective becomes lucid and bright.

They merit understanding the Word of God in His Torah, the plan, and the path. They are the true Gedolei HaDor, who are worthy to sit in the Sanhedrin, and teach Torah to Clal Yisrael (all of Israel).

There are very few of them. Rabbi Rabinovich, ztz”l was a special one among them.

Members of the Sanhedrin

Our Sages said: “None are to be appointed members of the Sanhedrin but men of wisdom, of good appearance, of fine stature, of mature age, men with a knowledge of sorcery and who know seventy languages” (Menachot 65a).

Thus, the Gedolei HaDor, members of the Sanhedrin, must be proficient in the wisdom found in the world, and someone who is not, cannot be considered a true Gadol, and cannot sit in the Sanhedrin. For even if he is punctilious and immensely knowledgeable, it would be impossible to discuss with him in depth, thoroughly and calmly on any matter, for since he does not know how to distinguish between ikar (primary) and tafel (secondary) – he would divert the deliberation, and disrupt it vociferously and with side-claims, and reject fundamental considerations.

A Gadol be’Torah who guides the generation, must understand the processes that drive peoples and society, the economy and science, the weight of international relations, and the system of cultural influences existing in the world. This is the profound meaning today of knowing seventy languages.

Certainly, in every area of ​​the Torah, there are different methods of learning and in-depth analysis, and every Talmid Chacham has his own shita (method), and each shita has its advantages and disadvantages, but the principle is that gadlut (greatness) is measured by the magnitude of perception.

Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovich ztz”l, who chose to devote his life to Torah, both on the deep theoretical side, and also in the dissemination of Torah to the public and yeshiva students, and additionally, also specialized in mathematics, was one of the true Gedolei HaDor. We must make great efforts in extolling him, so that his Torah teachings continue to shine their light on us.

His Vast Perspective

The very choice Rabbi Rabinovich made to engage in Rambam (Maimonides), indicates a broad and comprehensive viewpoint, as the teachings of Rambam. In his immense enterprise, the commentary “Yad Peshutah” on Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, his broad and comprehensive perspective is prominent as well. In every issue, he begins by setting out the principles and defining them, and then clarifies the details. Also, in his halakhic responses, his wide-ranging perspective from which they are derived, is extremely evident. On public issues, as well, his all-encompassing Torah thought from which he molded his straightforward and clear positions in the fields of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), security, education and society, the Rabbinate and conversion, Israel and the nations, was evident. Such a comprehensive perspective gives inner certainty, which afforded him the ability to voice his positions confidently and calmly.

The Rabbinate and Devotion

Rabbi Rabinovich served for many years as a community rabbi abroad, and during that time, he co-edited the journal of U.S. rabbis “Hadarom,” and was in touch with all the eminent rabbis who published their articles and halakhic rulings in it.

Even in his youth, while studying in Yeshiva ‘Ner Yisrael’ in Baltimore, he served as a rabbi of a synagogue. After marrying, he served in the rabbinate in Texas, then for twelve years in Charleston, South Carolina, and another eight years in Toronto, Canada. In the rabbinate, he devoted himself to strengthening the educational system and kashrut, and, when necessary, knew to be firm and stand up for the rabbinate; once, he ordered to dispose of a shipment of meat because of ‘basar she’nitalem min ha’ayin’ (meat that was not under constant watch).

Before agreeing to accept the rabbinate in Charleston, he set a condition – namely, to have at his disposal the means to properly kasher the mikvah, and establish a proper Jewish school. There were numerous difficulties in founding the school – he had to knock on the doors of parents’ homes to convince them send their children to the Jewish school. When no first-grade teacher was found, he had to teach the first and second-grade children himself. Thanks to this school, which exists to this day, many families were able to return to Torah and mitzvot.

At the age of forty-three he moved to London, serving as the head of the Rabbinical Seminary for nearly eleven years. Nonetheless, he always yearned to immigrate to Israel. When he was nearly fifty-five, he received a proposal to head the Ma’aleh Adumim yeshiva, and thus, we were privileged to merit his immigrating to Israel to educate students, and illuminate his Torah teachings from Zion.

Yeshiva Ma’aleh Adumim

It was a great privilege for the deans of Yeshiva Ma’aleh Adumim, Rabbi Yitzchak Shilat, and Rabbi Chaim Sabato, who, in their righteousness and humility, approached Rabbi Rabinovich and asked him to preside over the yeshiva they had founded. Thanks to this, the yeshiva merited becoming a beacon for Torah and ingenuity, and raised knowledgeable and upright students, among them Gedolei Torah, scientists, and men of action.

Naturally, Talmedei Chachamim have different opinions, and the willingness of Rabbi Sabato and Rabbi Shilat to place above them a tremendous Talmid Chacham indicates their greatness in Torah and midot (attributes). Regarding them, the words of our Sages are fitting: “One who flees from greatness, greatness follows after him; one who does not aim above his means (and forfeits becoming dean over a yeshiva as Rav Yosef did with Rabbah) will succeed in due course.”

About His Manner of Study

His student and assistant in writing and editing his books, Rabbi Eli Reif shlita related: “He had tremendous power of concentration… It was totally impossible to divert him to other matters outside of the subject at hand… Once, when I studied with him in the morning, we started at 9:30, and after three hours, he suddenly remembered he had not offered me a drink, and realized that we had been sitting for three straight hours. He deeply apologized for not having acted with ‘chachnasat orchim’ (accommodating guests), and also, that it was not healthy to sit for such a long time. From then on when I arrived, he would first offer me a drink so he would not forget, and we would set a time for a break to stand up, and that was when we spoke about matters other than our learning. When I used to have lunch with him, he would set the table for both of us, and refused my help (this was after the Rebbetzin’s death, or illness), so that I would not “steal” the mitzvah of chachnasat orchim from him. After some time I found a ploy: I said to him, ‘HaRav, after all, you call me a ben bayit – therefore I’m allowed to help.’ He then agreed.”

About the Rebbetzin

His granddaughter’s husband, Rabbi Shmuel Yismach related: “Safta (grandmother) accompanied Saba (grandfather) in his many wanderings, and was a faithful partner in his numerous endeavors. Despite being a woman of refined taste, she gave up on having her own house, and agreed to wander from one location to the next, to help establish Jewish communities in America. They had excellent opportunities to purchase a home of their own, but they refused to buy one abroad, in expectation of building their home in Israel.”

“Safta took good care of Saba, and ran his house gloriously, and in good taste. Visitors to their home enjoyed her wonderful pastries, and she pampered her grandchildren with gifts. The phone at home constantly rang, one question after the other – sometimes at convenient hours, other times not – and Safta would answer. The feeling was that the house belonged Am Yisrael.”

“Safta adored Saba, and Saba deeply loved her. When she was ill at the end of her life, Saba took care of her by himself, with great dedication and patience, even though he was close to eighty at the time. When Safta passed away about seven years ago, Saba was depressed for a long time, but even then, continued to act nobly towards all, was concerned about others, and continued to perform all his duties. In time, with the help of God, he came back to himself, and began to smile.”

Nahman Rosenberg recounted: “A few years ago while studying at his home, HaRav said to me on a personal note: ‘You should know, there is no joy without a wife.’ Then he told me, he tried not to be the master of ceremony at weddings because the emotional event of marriage service caused him to miss his wife, and be very sad.”

A Dedication to Her Memory

At the opening of the books he published after the death of the Rebbetzin, he dedicated a page to her memory, and wrote: “If your Torah had not been my delight, I would have perished in my distress. I will never forget your precepts, for with them you have made me alive. Some… years ago, my world was darkened by the taking away from me the beauty of my home, a wise-hearted woman, Rebbetzin Rachel Malka, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life. About her, can be said the words of Rabbi Akiva: “What is mine and what is yours – is hers.” I pray to you, Hashem, to bless all my household members, for good days in health and comfort, and may we merit to see all of them, the seed that Hashem has blessed, growing up on the love of Hashem and His Torah, and fear of Hashem be their treasure. And He will illuminate our eyes in His Torah. As for me, Elokim, let my prayer to you come at an acceptable time; in your great grace, Hashem, answer me with the truth of your salvation.”

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.