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The Mashgiach זצ״ל

Remembering the Mashgiach Rabbi Mordechai Zelig Schechter זצ״ל

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After the devastating news of the passing of the Rosh Yeshiva זצ״ל, the news that the משגיח, Rabbi Mordechai Zelig Schechter זצ״ל has passed just a few short weeks later, is a lost that brings to mind the the verse in Yishaiah

על מה תכו עוד תוסיפו סרה כל ראש לחלי וכל לבב דוי
Why do you seek further beatings,
That you continue to offend?
Every head is ailing,
And every heart is sick.

The Rosh Yeshiva, the one who sits at the head of the yeshiva, and the Mashgiach, the heart of the yeshiva, have been struck in such a short time. Oy! How far have we strayed to be stricken like this!?

Unfortunately, the passing of the משגיח זצ״ל didn’t come as a total surprise. He had a prolonged two year battle with cancer ר״ל.

In some ways it’s impossible to discuss the Mashgiach זצ״ל without also discussing his father זצ״ל . In many ways he was the embodiment of the teachings of Rav Hutner זצ״ל and his father. But the contrast of demeanor between the Mashgiach and his father could not have been more stark. The Rosh Yeshiva was someone who was to be approached with awe, and who the burden was on the talmid to shtell tzu, to put in the effort to understand what he was saying. The Rosh Yeshiva זצ״ל demanded to live up to his standards. The Mashgiach on the other hand, could speak to anyone on their level. He knew how to speak נגד רוחו של כל אדם, to the spirit of each person. To distill all the depth of the worlds of his father and Rav Hutner זצ״ל into something that we could relate to on whatever low level we were at.

The humility of the Mashgiach was something to behold. He wouldn’t put on airs or make you feel small when talking to him. Every conversation I had with him left me feeling edified and like I had just gained insight. But also,I always had the feeling that the Mashgiach had enjoyed talking with me as much as I enjoyed talking to him. I don’t think I was just fooled by his kind demeanor. I think the Mashgiach genuinely loved his talmidim that way.

My relationship with the Mashgiach started on the day he let me into the Yeshiva. He encouraged me to come to Chaim Berlin and had encouraged my learning and personal growth ever since. When I came to Chaim Berlin, in the middle of the zman, I thought if I got accepted I would be allowed to come next zman. The Mashgiach told me to go home, pack my bags, and come immediately. If he hadn’t done that, who knows if I would’ve ever made good on my commitment to go to Chaim Berlin.

But the Mashgiach was not only a source of support, he was also a source of inspiration. He was a poetic soul and a deep thinker who was always there to share his insights. When I was developing my own ideas and thoughts, he was always keen to discuss and refine them with me.

Some examples of his poetic nature and his encouragement:

He once told me that it was important that I realize what I was. That “you are a fresh breeze that came in blowing the dust off of these old seforim” (pointing to the Chaim Berlin library).

At one point he was sick in bed with the flu for a week. When he came back he came and sat next to me during first seder to share with me that, during the time he was in bed he was meditating on the מהר״ל (גור אריה) on the verse מקדש ה׳ כוננו ידיך - that something done with two hands is something you put your whole self into. “Hashem doesn’t ask us to subjugate ourselves to him to become lifeless, passionless, passive automatons. Hashem wants us to serve him with both hands! With vigor and passion, full of life and power! Like knights on galloping horses, charging full speed towards the enemy full of strength and force of will!!” He then apologized for disturbing me during Seder on account of wanting to share that with me. (NOTE: I don’t remember what the גור אריה actually said, this is just my account of what the משגיח זצ״ל said)

In my case, I’ve noticed much of what the Mashgiach said was specific to circumstances, but planted a seed. In these cases, I was able to absorb the actual message immediately, but the underlying perspectives that went into what was said had a prolonged effect over time. I used to try to go to the Mashgiach’s home for סעודה שלישית. That was the time when he would generally wax philosophically. I’m certain that many of my life insights were formed from those times.

When his brother in law passed suddenly, the Mashgiach took some of his young children to raise in his home. He would walk every Shabbos to boro park to make kiddush for his widow and give attention to his other children. I remember that once, when I was engaged to be married, I needed to discuss something with him. He suggested that we talk on his walk to Boro Park that Shabbos. I remember besides whatever I had to discuss with him, we also covered various topics, like Kabbalistic disagreements between the Chassidim and the Perushim and the philosophy of Radiziner Chassidus (his brother in law was a scion of the Radziner Rebbe). It was a truly uplifting experience.

Comments about the משגיח זצ״ל are welcomed below:

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