Hesped of HaRav HaGaon Rav Mordechai Shakovitsky ztl

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Eulogy of HaRav HaGaon
Rav Mordechai Shakovitsky zt"l

First Yahrtzeit 4th of Tammuz 5759

Written by Simcha Groffman

"Hello Rav Shakovitsky, this is Simcha calling."
"Yes! Reb Simcha! How are you?"
"Fine, Rav Shakovitsky, Boruch Hashem."

Each and every one of my telephone conversations with Rav Shakovitsky began the same way. He answered the telephone with such a warmth and exuberance. As if he were waiting for my call. He was truly happy to hear from me.

The fourth of Tammuz marks the first Yahrtzeit of HaRav Mordechai Shakovitsky zt"l. The residents of Yerushalaim knew him as the Rav of the Arzei HaBira Shul, a Posek, Rosh Kollel, and personal guide and mentor for hundreds of families. The titles although impressive cannot express the essence of the man that Rav Shakovitsky was.

Rav Shakovitsky came from a family of great Rabbonim. His grandfather Rav Binyomin Shakovitsky zt"l was the famed "Minsker Maggid", recognized by the Chofetz Chaim as one of the premier darshanim of the time. Rav Binyomin’s son, Rav Naftoli Shakovitsky zt"l was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin. From there, he learned in the famed Kovna Kollel, along with the Gedolim of the past generation. It was in Kovna, in the year 1931, that Rav Mordechai Shakovitsky was born. Seven years later, his father was offered the position of Rabbonus in Gateshead by Rav Chaim Shmuel Lopian zt"l and Rav Yehuda Zev Segel zt"l. He accepted the position and served there as the Rav until his passing in the year 1963.

The young Mordechai Shakovitsky learned in the Yeshiva of Rav Moshe Schneider, who was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim. From there, he went to learn in the Chevron Yeshiva in Geula. In those days, only the most serious students came to Eretz Yisrael to learn. During those years in Yerushalaim and Petach Tikvah, he was privileged to learn bi-chavrusa with one of the outstanding talmidim of the Mir Yeshiva, the son-in-law of the Brisker Rav, Rav Michel Feinstein. Rav Shakovitsky also acquired his first taste of kiruv rechokim. He was one of the original members of Peyilim / Yad LiAchim, the organization formed to protect new immigrants from the forces of secularization rampant in Eretz Yisrael at the time.

In 1956, Rav Shakovitsky returned to England to learn in the Gateshead Kollel. Shortly afterward he married the daughter of HaGaon Rav Zalman Yosef Aloni, the Dayan and Posek of Dublin, talmid of Rav Shimon Shkop zt"l, and the son of Rav Yitzchak Dubow, the Mashgiach of the Manchester Yeshiva. The young couple stayed in Gateshead until 1966, when Rav Shakovitsky accepted a position as the Rav of the kehilla in Leeds.

Nineteen seventy was a watershed year for the Shakovitsky family. The Rav moved with his entire family to Johannesburg, South Africa to begin a Kiruv Kollel there. What he accomplished in seven years is almost beyond comprehension. He made Yiddishkeit come alive in the community. Rav Shakovitsky arranged lectures, Shabbatonim, Sunday morning learning programs, and university programs that were attended by hundreds of people. Jewish holidays and events that had been hitherto celebrated in a very low-key way were brought to life. The residents of Johannesburg still recall the magnificent Hacnoses Sefer Torah parade led by Rav Shakovitsky through the streets of the city. The central point was always the same. Learning Torah is the focal point of Yiddishkeit and teshuva. There were no compromises in halachic standards. The daily sedorim of the kollel were inviolate. The Rav brought authentic Yeshiva learning to Johannesburg. All of this was a very big struggle. Rav Shakovitsky shouldered the full burden of the financial support of his programs. This was not easy in a community which until his arrival did not realize the importance of full-time learning. He left behind a legacy of hundreds of families who had become shomer Torah u’mitzvos through his efforts. All of the bnei Torah from South Africa today are the fruits of his labors.

In 1977, Rav Shakovitsky moved with his family to Yerushalaim. He recognized the need for a kollel for newly married ba’alei tshuva and founded Kollel Pischei Tshuva. The Kollel provided a complete learning program including daily gemora and mishnayos shiurim given by the Rav. There were regular sedorim in Mishna Breura and Mussar. The Rav developed many talmidei chachomim in his kollel.

Rav Shakovitsky was the Rav of the Arzei HaBira community and the posek of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach. When Rav Shakovitsky was mekarev someone he formed a deep, warm, personal connection to that person, which lasted for a lifetime. He helped them in all aspects of their life. Family matters, halachic matters, marriage, learning, livelihood; Rav Shakovitsky helped a person in any way that he could.

"Rav Shakovitsky really understood me," comments one of his talmidim. "I would ask him all of my shaylas and his answers were always tailor made for me."

"Rav Shakovitsky built me. He made me the person that I am today."

"Rav Shakovitsky gave us the right guidance at the beginning of our marriage. He gave us the strong foundation that we needed."

"Every member of the kollel became like a son to him. Our family became a part of his family. He referred to us as his "Kollel family’".

Rav Shakovitsky took the time to understand each of the people who came to him with shaylas. He was able to look deeply into a person’s personality to understand the problem behind the shayla. The husband may have been asking about a certain "chumrah" in halocho. Rav Shakovitsky understood that the wife also needed to hear an explanation of the halocho, and both husband and wife needed a schmooze in better marital communication.

A woman who came to Yiddishkeit in her later years was introduced to Rav Shakovitsky by close friends. He became her Rav and she relied upon him to answer all of her shaylas and guide her in her progress. Recalling her many conversations with him, she said, "Rav Shakovitsky always got right down to the core of the matter."

"Rav Shakovitsky I am going home to visit my parents who are not frum. What shall I do about keeping kosher?" Rav Shakovitsky must have answered this shayla hundreds of times, but each answer came with warmth and sensitivity. "You must tell your parents that you do not want to be a burden to them in any way. You are not telling them what to do. You must respect them and their point of view. Remember, darcheha darchei noam, the ways of the Torah are pleasant." This was Rav Shakovitsky’s hallmark; upholding the halocho by always providing the right advice and chizuk to help the person pull through.

In his capacity as Rav of the shul, Rav Shakovitsky was always called upon to speak at simchas. He had a way of capturing the feelings of those who were present and putting them into words. His remarks were always personally tailored for the "baal-simcha". He said what the audience needed to hear. "The parents of the chosson are a shining example of honesty and straight-forwardness." At the aufruf of an Ohr Somayach student he said, "Use your time in yeshiva to the utmost. You have a golden opportunity to learn how to learn. If you do not take advantage of it you will always be looking for a Rav to teach you, or a shiur, or an sefer in English." At a levaya he said, "We are gathered here to pay our last respects to a woman who prepared herself well for the world to come. During the last weeks of her life she was continually asking me shaylas."

We all gathered to pay our final respects to Rav Shakovitsky that Sunday evening, the fifth of Tammuz. We heard the hespedim. We cried. There was one thing missing from the levaya. Rav Shakovitsky’s words. He was always the one who expressed our feelings the best. Yet he could not speak. "We know that death is just a change of address," he once said. Rav Shakovitsky’s change of address has left a hole in the lives of hundreds of family members, friends, neighbors, and talmidim. We honor his life and his memory by striving to live up to his example and follow his words of guidance.

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