10 Years Since His Passing: Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l, Rosh Yeshivas Telz


rav-gifter2By Rav Avrohom Fishman

In the Halachos of Kovod Rabo Yorah Deah 242:28 the Shulchan Aruch states, “When one mentions his Rebbe within a year of his petirah, one should say Hareini Kaperes Mishkovo.” At first glance one would think that the reason for this Halacha is a matter of Kavod due to one’s Rebbe, parallel to the Kavod one must show his parents. For one’s parents, the Halacha requires one to say Hareini Kaperes Mishkavo for one complete year. The same Halacha applies to a Rebbe as stated clearly in the Rambam Chapter V Talmud Torah Halacha I. Those who were Zoche to learn in Telshe Yeshiva with our Rebbe, Harav Mordechai Gifter Zt”l H.CM, could perhaps interpret the halacha in a different manner.

The Yud Beis Chadashim represent a yearly cycle. A Yid lives each month deriving whatever spiritual sustenance possible from that month. The Rosh Hayeshiva Zt”l would always recite the Chazal in Megillah 12 on the Pasuk: “Vayomer Hamelech Lachachamim Yodei Hoetim, Mann Chachomim, Rabanan.” Those who know how to evaluate time are the Chachomim for they know what to extract from time, and are able to pinpoint what a specific time or Tekufah has to offer.

Under the influence of our Rosh Hayeshiva, we were guided on what to take spiritually from each month by the magnificent tapestry of Avodah that he wove around us, through his personal example as a Yodea Itim. This began with Elul Zman which started approximately ten days before Rosh Chodesh Elul as the Rosh Hayeshiva always said “Men Ken Nit Areinshpringin In Elul-one needs preparation for Elul.”

Indeed, he prepared us for it with his tefilos by Tefilas Mincha on Yom Kippur Katan when he davened for the Amud with Tallis and T’fillin’ following the Minhag of Yeshivas Telz. When the Rosh Hayeshiva’s voice would resound in the Telzer Bais Medrash with the word “L’dovid” of L’dovid Hashem Ori, we all knew Elul had arrived. We had begun our spiritual journey through Yimei Hadin.

The Yeshiva had an additional Limud Mussar B’rabim on the Sefer Shaarei Teshuvah that the Rosh Hayeshiva taught. At times the Limud turned into a Dvar Torah, but at times he would learn directly from the text. It is close to 25 years since the writer of these line has heard the Rosh Hayeshiva learn Rabeinu Yonah Shaar 2:7, the words are still echoing in his ears:

When a man begins to grow old, and his strength begins to dwindle, he should give heart to the closeness of his end and understand what will become of him. It is indeed cause for great wonderment. If one finds himself in the middle of his days and sees the days passing, how can his eyes be so blind and his heart not understand that he is continuously advancing to his final resting place.

Although we were young Bachurim, he had the power to penetrate our Neshamos, to awaken within us a serious attitude towards the Y’mei Hadin. One of his famous quotes was from Gemorah Shabbos 153. The Gemorah states the famous words of Rebbi Eliezer who said “Shuv Yom Echad Lifnei Misoscho-Repent one day before your death.”

R’ Eliezer’s students asked him “Does a person know on which day he will die? Cerainly not. How can he then fulfill his maximum repententance before death?”

R’ Eliezer responded, “Let a person repent today for he may die tomorrow, and in this way he will find himself living all his days in a state of Teshuvah.” The Rosh Hayeshiva z”l lived with the Yoshuv Hayom of Shema Yamus Machar, one must accomplish goals and reach for heights, for who knows what the next day will bring. He would tell his talmidim about the famous Baal Tzedakah, R’ Meir Anshel Rothchild, who had a Aron made for himself and would lie down within it every night to remind himself of the Yom Hamisa.

A Talmid once remarked to the Rosh Hayeshiva that it was no Kuntz for him to remember every Tosfos since the Rosh Hayeshiva was an illui.

He quickly responded “You are making a mistake. When I learn a Gemorah or a Tosfos, I look at it as the last time that I am going to see this Tosfos before the grand Bechina in Beis Din Shel Maaleh and that is why I remember it. If you would learn that way, you could do the same.”

His Shiurei Daas in Elul based on the Rambam were awe inspiring. He carried us into the world of Teshuvah and Kirvas Elokim as he would quote the Rambam in the seventh perek: “Teshuvah makes us loved, cherished, close and a friend to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” He would then lead us into Kabbalas Malchios of Rosh Hashana.

Who can ever forget the Pesukim that he said before Tekias Shofar, as the Baal Tokea for many years. The cries when he said the Pasuk of “Arov Avdecha L’tov Al Ya’ashkuni Zaidim,” his feeling of Simcha when he said “Sos Anochi Al Imrosecho” and the Bakosho of “Tuv Taam V’daas Lamdeini Ki Bimitzvosecho He’emanti” will never leave us. He formed us into Maminim as he uttered those words, followed by the Brachos “Asher Kidishanu Bemitzvosov V’tzivonu,” in which we felt the Kidushas Hayom, the Kabbalos Ol Mitzvos that each Yid accepts upon himself at the time of Tekias Shofar. The actual Tekios then had the power to bring us into the aura of Malchus. Finally the Pasuk of “Ashrei Ho’am Yodei Truah Hashem B’or Panecha Yiholaychun” would be said with such simcha and Hisromimus that lifted us all to the pinnacle of the Kedushas Hayom. We were in another world.

The days of Aseres Yimei Teshuvah that followed were days of Aimah and Yirah of the approaching Yom Hadin. In his Shabbos Teshuvah Drasha on Shiur Daas, he would quote from his Rebbe, the Telzer Rav Harav Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch hy”d , that Bnei Hayeshiva carry the responsibility of a whole generation. He would add that if there is a Pirtza of Cholov Yisroel in Telz, it can cause Chilul Shabbos in Paris. For Nishmas Yisroel is one, and the concept of Kol Yisroel Aravim Zeh Lazeh makes all of Klal Yisroel like one Neshomah.

On Kol Nidrei night he would speak to us before the Yeshiva said Tehillim for all of Acheinu Bnei Yisroel Hanisunim Batzarah Uvashivya, and with a tear choked voice he would be Tovea from us the famous words of Reb Itzele Volozhiner in his Hokdomo to the Nefesh Hachayim. V’hoya Ragil L’ hochiach Osi Al Shero’oh Sheainenu Mishtateif Bitzarah D’achrina Shezeh Kol Haodom. Lo Liatzmo Nivrah Rak Lihoil L’achrini Kichol Asher Yimtzah Bikocho Loasos.-He would rebuke us for not feeling the pain of another Yid, for this is what man is all about. Man was not created for himself, but was created to do for others in every way possible.

By crying over the Tzoros of Klal Yisroel, he taught us how to feel the pain of others, be it Russian Jewry, our brethren in Eretz Yisroel, or whatever calamity Klal Yisroel found themselves in at that present time.

For many years the Rosh Hayeshiva was the Baal Tefilah for Tefilas Niela and it was a Niela no one would ever forget, from the first words of Yisgadeil V’yiskadeish Shmei Rabah until the final Hashem Hu Hoelokim. We felt the Rosh Hayeshiva carrying us over into other worlds with his Tefilos V’tachanunim overcoming all boundaries. By the words of the Yud Gimel Midos, “Azkerah Elokim V’ehemaya, Biroso Kol Ir Al Tilah Binuyah V’ir Elokim Mishapeles Ad Sh’ol Tachtia,” he would break down and cry for the Churban Habayis and by the words “Uv’sharei Dimaos Ki Lo Nislavos-the gates of tears are never closed,” he would cry to the extent that it made us cry,

Within moments after he blew the Tekiah at the end of Niela, he would say “L’shana Habo’oh Biyirushalyim,” in a clear voice and would break into dance, that was a Tefila on Binyon Beis Hamikdash Bimhaira Viyameinu, a transformation from Yirah to Simcha.

This would lead into the Yimei Hasimcha of Succos. Those who would stay for Bein Hazmanim could feel the Simchas Hatorah that was present and “Sos Anochi Al Imrasecha” that was so blatant. The Rosh Hayeshiva was the embodiment of Torah. He lived Torah, walked Torah, and this all came forth in his Rikida on the day designated for Simchas Hotorah.

It didn’t end on Simchas Torah. The Zman in Yeshiva would begin on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan but those who learned Bichavruso had to be in Yeshiva before Rosh Chodesh. For if one is truly Misomeach with the Torah, then he must start with his toil in Torah right after the Simcha. This was how he prepared us for the winter Zman.

The winter Zman in Yeshiva was filled with Aliyah in Torah and Yiras Shamoyim. There were times the Rosh Hayeshiva would give a series of Shiurei Daas on the Chazal of “Ashreichem Shetihiyu Shomoshim Lihaborei.” There were known as his Shevet Levei Shmuessen as he placed emphasis on the Rambam at the end of Shmitta V’yovel as part of the Hokdomo. These were Shiurei Daas that molded us as Bnei Torah and influenced many of us to remain in Yeshiva for more years than planned. Any Talmid who was present at the Shiurei Daas were mesmerized by the the presentation and content.

On Chanukah the highlight of the Rosh Yeshiva’s Shmuessen was Lihashkichum Torahsecha, the Hellenistic approach to materialism. On Purim the adherence to Daas Torah of Gidolei Yisroel was emphasized as seen by Mordechai Hatzadik in his leadership of Klal Yisroel in that Tekufo. “UMordechai Lo Yichra V’lo Yishtochave,” true Daas Torah is rooted in Ratzon Hashem and can not be challenged.

Pesach time brought with it Shiurei Daas on Emunah and Bitachon which culminated in the Leil Hischadesh Chag. On Erev Shavuos there were Shiurei Daas on Matan Torah in which the Rosh Hayeshiva would depict the Mamad Har Sinai. One Erev Shavuos as he described the kolos uvrakim, it suddenly began to thunder, “Az Men Nor Ret Fun De Kolos Uvrakim, Es Hubt shoin Un Tzu Dunirin.”

On Shavous, he would always quote from the Sefer Hachinuch on the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer, Mitzoh 306. “Torah is the essence of Klal Yisroel, and because of Torah, heaven and earth were created. One is required to have aspirations and desires as a slave who awaits the day he will be released from bondage to freedom. So a Jew must await Matan Torah, with such excitement.”

On Tes B’Av as he cried when he read the Pesukim in Megillas Eicha of “Malcah V’soreha Bogoyim Ain torah, Bacho, Tivcha Bolayla V’dimasa Al Lechya,” we keenly felt the loss of the Bais Hamikdash.

The day designated for Churban Yeshivas Telz is the twentieth of Tammuz. On that day the Rosh Hayeshiva would draw us is into the Olam Hatorah of pre-war Europe. He would remind us of the words of his Rebbe, the Telzer Rav, Hakadosh Harav Avrohom Yitzchak Bloch. As the the Nazis Yimach Shimom were taking him out to die Al Kiddush Hashem they asked the Rov, “Her Rabiner, Vi Iz Dien Gut?”

And to this the answer came, “Er Iz Nit Nor Mein Gut. Er Iz Oich Dein Gut. Un Ez Vet Kumin Ah Tzeit Vos Dei Gantza Velt Vet Dos Zein-He is not only my G-d but your G-d as well, and there will come a time when the whole world will recognize it.” These words still reverberate in my ears 25 years later.

He had an awesome clarity in every part of Torah; Chumash, Nach, Ramban, Ramchal, Nefesh Hachaim, Tanya. They were as familiar to him as any of the Yeshivishe Mesechtos. One was able to speak in learning with him on every miktzoa of Torah, be it Nashim, Nizikin, Moed, Kodshim, Halacha, Agodah, or Machsheves Yisroel. He was a walking Sefer Torah and as he walked his Talmidim recognized that he was engrossed in learning and immersed in Machsheves Hatorah.

We can now understand the Chazal “Tzadikim Bimisusam Kruim Chaim-a righteous man is considered living after his death.” He is alive, because the living world is still feeling the influence of his words and deeds. This was our Rebbe. His words and impact are still present within us and will continue to be a source of direction for us in our personal Moagol Hoshonah for years to come.

Yihi Zichro Baruch.

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

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