Why I Can't Write About Reb Mendel Weinbach,zt"l
I had to go back and force myself to add the zt"l after Reb Mendel's name. It doesn't belong with that name. Reb Mendel was so alive—is so alive—the suffix doesn't fit.
At first I said I can't do this. My head is too much of a jumble. Reb Mendel was my rebbi in 1967, in a small yeshiva in Yerushalayim that was to set the stage for the epic production of Ohr Somayach. But he became so much more than that. As my brother, ybl”c, Reb Nota Schiller said at the levayah, someone asked him how many brothers he has. He answered, "Tzvei geboirene, un ein gevorene— two natural born, and one acquired."
As I kept saying, "I can't," I heard a voice over the jumble. Reb Mendel's voice. It was after Pesach, 5738/1978. I was tutoring and counseling at Ohr Somayach and Reb Mendel called me into his office. "Mordechai, we need you to do something else. We are having a dinner in September and we need a book and a movie of stories about talmidim in Ohr Somayach."
"A book and a movie?! Reb Mendel, I write magazine articles. How in the world am I going to do a book and a movie by September?"
He frowned at me and said, "Come on, Mordechai.... You can do it!"
Over the years, every time I faced an "impossible" situation, Reb Mendel's voice came back to me. "Come on! You can do it!"
It wasn't just pep talk. Reb Mendel was a facile writer. We used to joke that he could write two Jewish Press columns at the same time—one with each hand.
He was also a facile reader of people.
Once, on Tzom Gedaliah, he asked Reb Nachman Bulman zt"l to speak before Mincha in the beis medrash. Reb Nachman begged off. He said he didn't have the koach.
Reb Mendel's only response was to start talking about Gedaliah ben Achikam.... Within 10 minutes, he had Reb Nachman so fueled up that he could not be held back. And he gave a drashah that mere mortals would have had to prepare for weeks.
I wrote the book and the film. As the deadline approached, Reb Mendel offered to help with the last few stories.
"But, Reb Mendel, it's going to be in a different style."
"That's no problem. I'll just write in your style!"
And in many ways, he's been writing my story ever since.
Reb Mendel left a tzavaah. He insisted on no one writing effusive praise on his matzeivah. "Just write about Ohr Somayach."
But, as my brother, ybl"c, said, Ohr Somayach is his matzeivah. Ever stone, every talmid, and all their families, carry his praise in every step of their lives.
Yehi zichro baruch.
© Hamodia – Reprinted with permission