Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l, On His Tenth Yahrtzeit, Today


rav-gifter1By his grandson, Rav Chaim Charlap

Ten years have gone by since the passing of Rosh Mishpachtainu, a leader of Klal Yisroel, the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva Rav Mordecai Gifter zt”l. What more can be said that has not yet been mentioned? There is one aspect of his life has not been addressed – his warm and deep relationship with his first son-in-law, Rav Ephraim Eisenberg zt”l, a master maggid shiur at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, who was niftar ton 16 Sivan 5762.

My father-in-law, Rav Ephraim zt”l, was a talmid muvhak of Rav Ruderman zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. Rav Ruderman loved his prize student and suggested him as a son-in-law to his close friend Rav Gifter. After the engagement, Rav Gifter wrote a letter to the Steipler zt”l informing him of the shidduch. He asked the Steipler to please send a telegram to the chosson and kalla to give them a Bracha. The Steipler answered Rav Gifter, “Although it is difficult for me to stand in line in the Post Office, I know I am obligated to do so out of respect for Rav Gifter’s greatness in Torah.” The Steipler then wrote a heartwarming bracha: “May they be zocheh to a beautiful marriage…upright children…good fortune in ruchnius and gashmius…The chosson…grow in Torah and yiras shamayim and be marbitz Torah in Klal Yisroel.” The Steipler’s bracha was fulfilled and Rav Ephraim zt”l became an exceptional marbitz Torah and molded hundreds of talmidim in Torah and yiras shamayim.

Rav Gifter wrote a treasure of letters to Rav Ephraim’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Herman (Chaim) Eisenberg z”l, founders of Torah education in Hartford, Connecticut. These letters are testimony to Rav Gifter’s great love of my fatherin- law, Rav Ephraim. In one letter the Zeide writes: “Ephraim’s Torah is of inestimable value. I consider him a yachid s’gula b”h in many respects…I consider Reb Ephraim’s Torah a zchus for all of us.” He then relates the following story that has been passed down for generations in our family. Our great great grandfather, Reb Leizer Telzer, married the daughter of Reb Avrohom Itzel Novazer z”l, a Dayan in Kovno. His father-in-law helped him financially for many years as the family grew. Once his mother-in-law asked, “How long will we continue to support him? When will he go out and get a Rabbanus?” Reb Avrohom Itzel answered, “Who knows if we are sustaining him or if he is sustaining us? We are living in the merit of his Torah learning.” The day that Reb Leizer accepted his first position as a Rav his father-in-law passed away. This is our Mesora. This is how the Torah wants us to view our children who are sitting and learning. We are being sustained by them.

A similar lesson can be learned from the following story I heard from a close talmid of Maran Rav Shach zt”l. Once a talmid came to Rav Shach in despair. Two of his children were suffering from a serious medical condition. The extreme burden of the situation left him financially and physically drained. Rav Shach told him, “The best chizuk I can give is to tell you a story I heard from my uncle Maran Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt”l. One of his disciples in Kletzk had a paralyzed daughter. The care involved was enormous. Every Motzai Yom Kippur he would go to Rav Isser Zalman for chizuk – moral support. Rav Isser Zalman would dance with him singing the famous tune of the Ger Zedek. One Motzoei Yom Kippur the man refused to dance, saying that he could bear no more. A short time later his daughter passed away, and it didn’t take long before the man died too. Rav Isser Zalman then pointed out that we never know who is sustaining whom. This man thought he was supporting his daughter and all the time his daughter was the one who gave him life.”

In another letter the Zeide writes: “I spoke yesterday with the dear chosson who is so close to my heart, Ephraim, and I told him that I bought for him a Shas just like my own, b”h. I told him that all my hopes and t’filos are that he should become great in Torah according to his inherent talents that Hashem gave him. Therefore, I am giving him the materials needed, i.e., all of Shas, and his job is to simply learn and become a baki (expert) in Shas.” He also writes, “I pray with all my might that our grandson… will grow up to be a gaon and tzaddik, and that our granddaughter…will be worthy to be the wife of a gaon and tzaddik because that is the purpose of our being.” In the Zeide’s letters we not only see the fer – vent t’filos of a grandfather for the success of his grandchildren, we see the Torah view of a gadol – that the whole pur – pose of our being is for Torah and Mitzvos.

From where do these values come? When my father-in-law, Rav Ephraim, was maspid the Zeide, Rav Gifter, he started with a question that he heard from the Zeide on the possuk “… Amalek came and fought with Yisroel in Refidim…”(B’shalach 17:8). Chazal tell us in Sanhedrin (106a) that the word Refidim is coming to tell us that Klal Yisroel was lax in Torah learning. The Zeide asks, “How could they be weak in Torah when this incident took place before the Torah was even given?” He further explains that the period between Yitzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah was a time of anticipation for Kabbolas HaTorah. In order to be zocheh to Torah one must yearn for Torah. One’s Torah study must be accompanied by great enthusiasm for that is the proof that the Torah is truly part of him. Klal Yisroel was lacking in its anticipation for Kabbolas HaTorah.

My father-in-law, Rav Ephraim, went on to say that with this the Zeide explains what Tosfos says in Brochos. When one makes a brocha in the morning on learning Torah and then goes out to do his errands he need not make a new brocha upon returning to learn because the errands are not considered an interruption. The Zeide reasons: by a Ben Torah there is nothing other than Torah. Everything a Ben Torah does (eating, sleeping, etc.) is for the purpose of returning to the Bais Medrash.

If I may add, the Rambam (Talmud Torah 3) says, “For a mitzvah that cannot be done by others one is permitted to leave the Bais Medrash. After completing the mitzvah he returns to his studying.” The question is, it’s obvious that when he finishes he should return to his learning. Why does the Rambam need to mention this? The popular answer is that the Rambam is telling us that the Ben Torah’s return is a precondition for the hetter to leave the Bais Medrash.

I think the explanation is deeper. The Rambam is telling us that the whole hetter for leaving the Bais Medrash is based on the fact that even when the Ben Torah is out he is con – stantly yearning to return. Therefore, his leaving is not con – sidered an interruption.

My father-in-law’s hesped of the Zeide was also, in effect, a description of himself. Both led a life of continuous Torah learning without interruption – a life in which discontinuity was not possible because everything was done for the purpose of returning to Torah study. This is the family legacy the Zeide zt”l and my father-in-law left us – that through striving for Torah comes greatness in Torah and the under – standing of the purpose of one’s being. With enthusiasm for Torah we grow to become fathers who value sons who sustain the world with Torah learning. It is an inheritance that is everlasting – passed on from father to son to grandson. Ad Biyas HaGoel. Yihi zichrom boruch.

This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey, NY, and is reprinted here with permission.

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  1. When Rav Gifter Z”L wwould mention anything Rav Ephraim Z”L he would light up.Rav Gifter Z”L would say how Rav Ruderman Z”L call Rav Ephraim the GRNA’T of our Dor.