By David Steger, Matzav.com Israel
It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of Hagaon Rav Aryeh Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld and member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of Degel Hatorah. He was 85 years old.
Rav Finkel collapsed earlier this evening and paramedics performed CPR. Rav Finkel was in critical condition in the hospital and tefillos were recited in yeshivos across Eretz Yisroel.
Rav Finkel passed away moments ago.
Rav Aryeh was a son of Rav Chaim Zev Finkel zt”l, founder of Yeshivas Heichal Hatorah in Tel Aviv and mashgiach at Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim. He was a grandson of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, and a cousin of the late rosh yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l.
In his youth, Rav Aryeh learned at Yeshivas Ponovezh in Bnei Brak. After his marriage to his wife, Rebbetzin Esther Gittel, a daughter of Rav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevich, he learned at Yeshivas Mir, where he was eventually appointed as a R”M in the yeshiva.
Rav Finkel was a scion of the royal family of Mir. His grandfather, Rav Leizer Yudel, was the eldest son of the Alter of Slabodka. For many years, he learned with his uncle, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l, preparing his shmuessen for publication. He also learned with Rav Nochum Partzovitz zt”l for many years.
Like his illustrious rebbi, he delivered a weekly shiur klali and shmuess, and was considered one of the giants of machshavah in the Torah world.
Rav Aryeh was Rav Chaim Zev Finkel’s eldest son. Another son was Rav Moshe Finkel zt”l (whose wife, Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel, authored a book about her father-in-law titled Ha’Abba MiSlabodka). His sons-in-law are Rav Aharon Chodosh and Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl.
In his shmuessen, Rav Aryeh explained Medrashim, Gemaros, and maamarei Chazal on the most straightforward level, but when he spoke, the words became luminescent, taking on a special meaning and form. Perhaps it would be fitting to quote Rav Aryeh’s own words from the introduction to his sefer, Yavo Shilo: “Even though these things are basically simple and well-known, the words of Torah are like a coal. Their light is evident only through extensive study and analysis, which brings out the light and causes the flame to shine with all its colors.” That is exactly what Rav Aryeh did: He ignited the “coal,” turning it into a glowing “flame” that radiated light and brilliant color.
Rav Aryeh’s renowned shiurim on Sefer Mishlei, which he began delivering in his youth, achieved widespread popularity throughout the yeshiva world. He delivered a weekly vaad on Mishlei every Motzoei Shabbos for nearly four decades, as well as another, similar vaad every Thursday morning to the avreichim in his yeshiva’s kollel.
His shiurim attracted a large crowd of avreichim, bochurim and residents of Yerushalayim, all of whom were drawn to hear Rav Aryeh’s brilliant blend of mussar and insights into life and avodas Hashem. The shiurim were later delivered at his home in Modiin Illit. Some of the shiurim were published in another sefer titled Har Yeiraeh. (The word “yeiraeh,” in Hebrew, is an anagram of his name, Aryeh.) In each shiur, Rav Aryeh took a posuk and proceeded to analyze it, turning it over and over, and examining each word. His audience would perceive the incredible depth of the posuk, the insights and secrets that it contains, in what seemed, just moments earlier, to be a bland statement with little significance beyond its surface meaning.
Rav Aryeh, in his great humility, always thanked the bochurim who attended the shiur for listening to him. In fact, he once wrote, “Hashem has given me the privilege of delving into the Torah in the presence of friends who listen to me.” Amazingly, this renowned rosh yeshiva used the term “friends” to refer to his talmidim between the ages of 20 and 25.
Rav Aryeh invested tremendous effort not only in his shiurim and shmuessen, but in everything he did. Nothing was done casually, not even answering amein to a brachah. In fact, there was a set minhag among the talmidim in Rav Aryeh’s daily shiur for each talmid to recite a brachah aloud so that the rest could respond amein, also aloud. Every one of Rav Aryeh’s practices was imbued with great meaning.
Every Friday night, Rav Aryeh delivered a shmuess at the yeshiva. These shmuessen, which invariably began with a topic pertaining to Shabbos and moved on to the parshah of the week, served as the basis of his sefer, Yavo Shilo. In the preface to the sefer, the editors point out that in his shmuessen, Rav Aryeh urged his listeners to perceive Hashem’s Presence, His kindness, and His incredible Providence in the natural world through the kedushah of Shabbos.
Rav Aryeh himself wrote in the introduction to his sefer, “The Torah is called shirah because it awakens the sense of life in the Next World. Therefore, on Shabbos – which represents the emunah on which the Torah is based – the strengthening of that emunah reinforces the sense of eternal life that is within us, and from that rises the song of the sweet singer of Yisroel [i.e., Dovid Hamelech in Sefer Tehillim], ‘Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos…’”
The stories of how Rav Aryeh toiled in his Torah study are known throughout the yeshiva world. He delivered shiurim regularly since he was 18 years old, but he approached every shiur as if it was his first. He was capable of spending many days laboring over a single sugya, delving into a single line of reasoning in the Rishonim or a single line in the Gemara for hours on end. He toiled over the teachings of his own rabbeim, and he stressed in every shiur that he is not presenting his own ideas, even when, in fact, he was delivering his own scintillating chiddushim.
He often beamed with joy over a chiddush in learning. He was known to quote a vort from Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz with such enthusiasm that he exclaimed, “This is Torah min hashomayim!”
Rav Aryeh was always a paragon of hasmadah and of total absorption in Torah learning. In the bais medrash of his yeshiva, he was a living example of a person whose world contains nothing but Torah.
Born in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Finkel was raised in the world of the Mirrer Yeshiva. He grew up in the yeshiva. As a child, he was part of it. The yeshiva was his life.
When Rav Aryeh’s father, the mashgiach, passed away, someone needed to take his place delivering shmuessen in the yeshiva. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz was asked to assume the responsibility, but he suggested that Rav Aryeh be given the position instead. Rav Aryeh, for his part, attempted to persuade his rebbi, Rav Chaim, to deliver the shmuessen himself. Veterans in the yeshiva recall that at that time, Rav Aryeh and Rav Chaim could be seen walking back and forth together along Rechov Shmuel Hanovi, which runs adjacent to the yeshiva, as they discussed the situation. The ultimate result of that shared walk was that Rav Chaim indeed agreed to deliver the shmuessen.
Rav Aryeh deserved partial credit for the development of Sichos Mussar, the compilation of Rav Chaim’s shmuessen that can be found in almost any Torah home. It was Rav Aryeh himself who transcribed the shmuessen and prepared them for publication. In his home, Rav Aryeh possessed an old copy of Rav Chaim’s printed lectures, in which Rav Chaim himself penned a warm inscription, noting that if not for Rav Aryeh, the sefer never would have been published.
In recent years, Rav Aryeh’s daily routine began very early, with a learning seder preceding Shacharis. His day concluded with learning as well. Every day was a succession of tefillos, shiurim, shmuessen, and sessions of personal guidance for his talmidim. He rose early in the morning to learn before davening, after which he davened Shacharis in the yeshiva. During Pesukei Dezimrah, his voice could be heard chanting each word slowly and with great intent.
After davening, he delivered a shiur in mussar in his private room in the yeshiva. The shiur, at one time, covered sefer Mesillas Yesharim, and Rav Aryeh then switched to Pele Yoetz. After this shiur, Rav Aryeh met with avreichim and bochurim seeking his guidance, counsel, and blessings. He then learned until the afternoon, when he delivered his daily shiur. During the lunch hour, he learned Mishnah Berurah, and he delivered an additional shiur in the afternoon, as well as a vaad or two every evening.
Rav Aryeh was blessed with astounding psychological insight. He had the ability to understand every individual, the very trait that none other than Moshe Rabbeinu desired in his own successor – “to deal with each person according to his spirit,” in the words of Chazal.
Once, a bochur went to Rav Aryeh and related that he was ashamed to tell the rosh yeshiva what he had done wrong, but he was constantly troubled by his failings. Rav Aryeh encouraged the bochur, and he finally revealed that he was struggling with improper thoughts. Rav Aryeh embraced the boy and whispered, “Is that the problem? Let me tell you a secret: I also suffer from that, and I fight against it every day.” The bochur’s face shone with relief, and he happily listened to Rav Aryeh’s advice on how to free himself from those troubling thoughts. Rav Aryeh later told someone, “That bochur impressed me. He speaks the truth.”
Rav Aryeh could not hide the depth of his compassion. Word of another Jew suffering invariably moved him to tears. He wept when he davened for a person who was ill. Troubles of the community and individuals alike pained his heart. There were times when he would stand up in the bais medrash and call on everyone to daven along with him for a choleh to be healed.
At the time when the entire country was searching for the three abducted youths, he was in absolute turmoil. Then, too, he went to the amud and led a tearful recitation of Tehillim, drawing the entire yeshiva along with him. After the news arrived that the boys had been murdered, Rav Aryeh went to pay shivah calls to their families. After the massacre in Har Nof, as well, Rav Aryeh delivered a fiery vaad, asking everyone to join him in a campaign of increased respect for the sanctity of a shul.
Rav Aryeh was asked to serve as sandek at brisos almost every day. Once, he implied that he accepted the honor because it gave him an opportunity to daven for Klal Yisroel. On those occasions, he used the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, “They are Your nation and Your inheritance.”
When he lived in Tel Aviv, the poor and downtrodden were constant guests in his home. Every Shabbos, his seudos were attended by unfortunate people he had met who had nowhere to eat. In the year 5714, when his father left Tel Aviv and moved to Yerushalayim, Rav Aryeh followed him to the Mir.
Once, a child collecting food for a chesed organization knocked on the family’s door, and Rav Aryeh, who was home alone, opened the door himself. When he learned the reason for the child’s visit, Rav Aryeh greeted him with great respect, inviting the child into his home and offering him a seat while he rummaged through the cabinets until he found a can of preserves to give him.
As mentioned, Rav Aryeh was a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman insisted on his presence at every meeting of the Moetzes, an insistence with which Rav Aryeh complied, despite the fact that he generally shied away from receiving any sort of honor or respect.
When Rav Aryeh was 16 years old, he was in Yerushalayim during the War of Independence as the city was under siege, while his family remained in Tel Aviv and he lost contact with them. During that time, Rav Aryeh spent bein hasedorim every day tending to the needs of his suffering brethren. Among other sacrifices that he made, Rav Aryeh donated blood time after time to the wounded. Every blood donor received a hardboiled egg and a tomato in exchange for his donation. During that period of austerity, those food items constituted a veritable treasure. Rav Aryeh would give the egg and tomato to the starving bochurim in the yeshiva. He also spent much time running from one position to the next to relay instructions and information that had been sent from the command. Rav Aryeh held on to a certificate of appreciation that he received at the time.
Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel, wife of Rav Aryeh’s brother, Rav Moshe zt”l, noted the two major themes of Rav Aryeh’s life: chesed and feeling. “He was all heart,” she said, relating that the entire family was astounded when the young Rav Aryeh and his first wife, Esther Gittel, took Rav Aryeh’s elderly, ailing grandmother, Rebbetzin Sonnenfeld, into their home. Rebbetzin Sonnenfeld was Rav Aryeh’s maternal grandmother and had married Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld after the passing of her first husband. After Rav Yosef Chaim passed away, the rebbetzin remained widowed and alone. Her final years were spent in the home of Rav Aryeh and his wife. Not every young couple would be capable of performing such an act of chesed.
“Everyone remembers the respect and deference they showed her,” Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel recalled. “It affected their children as well. Their young son, Binyomin, used to run to his great-grandmother whenever she came into the house. He would take off the high shoes that she wore and bring her a pair of house slippers.”
Chesed was a foundation of the Finkel home. Rav Aryeh was a master at displaying kindness and warmth to others. “He treated everyone with respect, even children and youths. His level of bein adam lachaveiro was rare indeed,” said Rebbetzin Finkel.
Rav Aryeh was a man of great emotion. This capacity was manifested first and foremost in his tefillos, but it also could be seen throughout the course of his daily life. “He had a highly developed emotional world, as well as a very special sense of humor,” Rebbetzin Finkel said. It was no wonder, she added, that Rav Aryeh was not merely a rosh yeshiva, but a veritable admor as well. His thousands of talmidim followed him almost like chassidim, watching his every move and thirstily drinking in every word.
Hearing him daven for the amud on the Yomim Noraim was an incredible experience. He poured out his heart during davening. He uplifted everyone who heard him. At certain points in the davening, he literally sobbed. There were people who went to the yeshiva on the Yomim Noraim specifically to hear him.
Rav Aryeh and his brother lost their mother at a young age. Rav Aryeh was 15 years old when she passed away, while Rav Moshe was 13. Their father, Rav Chaim Zev, then married Rav Chaim Shmulevitz’s sister. Naturally, the situation was not easy for the small children in the family. Rav Aryeh, the eldest son, worked to make sure that his stepmother would be welcomed by his siblings. “He honored her in an incredible way,” a family member related. “At that time, Rav Aryeh’s greatness was truly revealed.”
Talmidim remember Rav Aryeh’s compassion, good heart, and humility.
“His anivus was genuine,” a close talmid related. “It wasn’t a show. It was part of his personality. He recoiled not only when people praise him, but even when they merely spoke about him.”
That humility was expressed even in his shiurim. A careful examination of Rav Aryeh’s shiurim and shmuessen will reveal that his own chiddushim are deliberately hidden in the midst of each presentation. The close confidants who worked on his shiurim with him were often astounded. He would spend hours toiling over a certain topic, developing chiddushim and shedding tremendous light on the subject, yet when the time came to deliver the shiur, he would devote only a sentence or two to the major insights that took him hours to develop. At the conclusion of each shiur, he stressed that he was presenting only the words of Chazal and his rabbeim, not any novel ideas of his own.
Rebbetzin Ramah Finkel spoke about Rav Aryeh’s humility, describing how he allowed the position of rosh yeshiva to pass to other members of the family. “His grandfather, Rav Leizer Yudel, and my father, Rav Chaim Zev, passed away in quick succession, and there was a question as to whether Rav Beinish Finkel or Rav Chaim Shmulevitz would be the next rosh yeshiva. Rav Chaim didn’t want the position. He said that it was enough that he had been the rosh yeshiva in Shanghai. Rav Beinish therefore took the responsibility on himself.”
When Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel later became the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aryeh submitted completely to his authority. “That was also the product of his good heart and humility,” the rebbetzin asserted.
Rav Aryeh’s power in learning and mussar was phenomenal, and he spent many years learning with Rav Chaim Shmulevitz. For Rav Aryeh, those years were a formative period of his life, when he absorbed much of his approach to learning. And Rav Chaim’s respect for Rav Aryeh, who was relatively young at the time, says a good deal. Rav Aryeh referred to Rav Chaim as “our master and teacher, master of the entire Talmud, the living lion.” In a similarly effusive comment, he referred to Rav Nochum Partzovitz, with whom he also learned for many years, as “the great gaon, the light of whose Torah illuminates all the ends of the earth.”
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz always asserted that he was not delivering chiddushim of his own; he was merely pointing out relevant sources. “I am like the tiny drawing of a hand that appears in old printings of the Gemara,” Rav Chaim would say. “I am the hand that points to maamarei Chazal.” Rav Aryeh, his talmid, expressed himself in a similar fashion: “I am just a baal korei,” he often says. “I am merely reading the words of Chazal.”
A paragon of humility and self-effacement, Rav Aryeh was a gadol baTorah who impacted generations of bnei Torah. This life of total devotion to Hashem and His Torah came to an end on Tuesday, leaving thousands of talmidim and admirers mourning their great rosh yeshiva and leader.
The levayah will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Yeshivas Mir in Brachfeld and then at 2:30 p.m. at Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, followed by kevurah on Har Hamenuchos.
Yehi zichro boruch.
David Steger – Matzav.com Israel