This past Monday, I attended the levaya (funeral) for Rabbi Aryeh Leb Chait. I knew Rabbi Aryeh Leb personally. Over the years, I would meet him by chance walking the boardwalk in Atlantic Beach, NY. He always greeted me, and I am sure all others, with a sincere, deep smile, reflecting his warmth towards all others. He would always be walking with his wife, who mirrors his pleasant nature. And as always, he had a Torah question on the tip of his tongue, ready to share. I never had the answer! He would then tell me the answer, his eyes wide with excitement, and anticipation of how he knew I would respond. He revealed the answer with even more joy than he did the question, as he knew he was imparting a jewel with which I would son leave all the more rich. That act of sharing a beautiful idea in Torah gave him that smile. He knew this was the greatest gift he could give another person: so he did so, and did so often.
This would happen time and again over the years. Even after his bypass operation, I met him again by chance in town. He was weaker, but smiled no less. And of course, he had another Torah question ready. Torah preoccupied his mind, his heart, and all of his words. As we talked, I told him what was doing in my life, the ups and the downs. He had a knack for minimizing all the downs into nothing, so well…that I left feeling as he planned, so optimistic, like any mountain could be scaled. In other words, he sensed in others a need, and he desired to replace that need with gladness. He made others happy. He wanted the best for others, on all fronts. One proof of his success is the man I met leaving the Shiva house yesterday. He was a 10th grade student of Rabbi Aryeh Leb some 40-50 years ago. This man traveled far yesterday, having retained the Torah he received from Rabbi Aryeh Leb 40 years ago, and his deep appreciation for his Rebbe.
Knowing what a unique and penetrating Torah pillar Rabbi Chait was, a man who loved mankind, and how his actions and Torah indelibly inspired and permanently impacted so many thousands of lives, I decided to transcribe the beautiful and moving eulogies I heard from his sons, the Torah leaders they are. His life “is” truly a Kiddush Hashem, and his acts should be repeated often. He was truly a servant of God, as he directed others to an appreciation and love for the Creator. I feel by repeating the eulogies in writing, I will offer comfort to his family with the knowledge that so many more thousands of people who never knew of Rabbi Aryeh Leb, will now know him, and never forget him. May God comfort all of his family among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
How can one eulogize a father, when one owes so much to him, and when he was not just a father, but my Rebbe as well?
The Torah teaches that the wife of Joseph’s Egyptian master Potiphar, tried to seduce Joseph the Tzaddik. Joseph was about to stumble with her, but something occurred to him that prevented him from that sin. That something was the image of his father. When his mind saw that image of his father Jacob, Joseph associated certain ideas to that image. That image caused him to refrain from stumbling in that great stumbling block, with the wife of Potiphar.
Apparently, the father, besides teaching a son Torah, must also create a certain image to prevent his son from becoming a sinner. It is strange that there is no mitzvah like this. But perhaps this is so, since it is not something that can be mandated. It comes from observing the father: his way of life and his Derech Ha-Chaim, and that’s what creates that image. And if that type of life is not there, it cannot be produced.
My father created an image of a father, an unusual image. It had multifarious aspects to it. I am not going to be able to bring out all that I really should, and all that my father deserves…but hopefully I can mention a few things.
The first thing is my father’s great and unusual Mesiras Nefesh (personal sacrifice) for Torah. That was one tremendous aspect of his personality. He told me that he came to Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in his late teens, without any background, and not with much hope of being accepted to the Yeshiva. But he came with eighty dollars he had saved from working in a factory. He said, “I will stay in this Yeshiva until my last dollar is spent…if they don’t accept me until this eighty dollars runs out…at least I will have purchased eighty dollars worth of Torah.” Fortunately, he was accepted, by Rav Dovid zt”l. And he continued wit his unusual Mesiras Nefesh. Because he started learning late, he had to learn after he became married, for otherwise he never would have conquered the Derech HaTorah, the method of Torah study. In those days no one sat and learned after marriage. It was frowned upon and ridiculed. Many people tried to dissuade him. But he had the courage of a lion and the tenacity; he suffered the criticism of many, and learned after he was married…for eleven years.
The happiness I used to see on his face when he returned home from the Bais Medrash (Torah study hall) at nighttime exemplified a joy in his Mesiras Nefesh. It wasn’t a Mesiras Nefesh that came with bitterness, but a Mesiras Nefesh in spite of the dire straits and financial difficulties…he was till B’Simcha, with much gladness.
The most important aspect of his great his influence for me, was in the learning itself. And in this he was inspired by one individual, one Gadol HaDor (giant of the generation)…this was Rav Dovid Leibowitz, zt”l. He would constantly mention “Rebbe”, and tell stories and ideas from Rebbe, in a way that was so eloquent. Because of his skills and the talents he had…one could almost feel that his Rebbe was in the room. He was committed to Rav Dovid zt”l, to his Derech Ha-Chaim, to his Derech Ha-Mussar, and to his Derech Ha-Limud (his life’s path, moral instruction, and manner of Torah study).
But what attracted him was Rav Dovid’s creativity and originality. That creativity and originality is what attracted him, and inspired him, and that was one of the elements that made him such a great influence. But it wasn’t only creativity in Derech Ha-Limud itself; and it wasn’t only creativity in the Derech Ha-Chaim. And by creativity I mean being able to think of something in a way that no one else would think about it. And this was always what he would repeat to us: the Chochma (wisdom) of mussar, the Chochma of Torah, the Chochma of a Tosfos. He was inspired by the Chochma. The light of the Torah moved him…that’s what inspired him. But there is another aspect to this path, to this Derech…because the creativity and originality wasn’t limited to the learning itself. But it was creativity and originality in a “way of life”. And it was one that was unbending and unyielding. What he perceived in his Rebbe zt”l, is that one should never bend the truth one iota in order to comply with popular opinion. That is something that he carried with him, and which he taught all of us. And he lived that way.
I would say that two things stand out in my mind that I learned from my father. One is to have tremendous respect for Chachamim (the wise men) especially the Chachmay Yisrael of course. And to never to look superficially at what they say. And the second thing is never to bend the truth, but always try to do the ‘Emess’ – the truth – in spite of the fact that people stand in opposition, or that you are ridiculed. Because that was the way he lived his life, and that was a tremendous image he gave us…that he instilled in us.
But he was a Marbitz Torah (spreader of Torah) for many years, and influenced hundreds of students; and hundreds and thousands of families. And he had a certain unique character and personality that allowed him to do it. I came across a Rashi that characterizes his traits. The Rashi is in Avos, and in Avos, Chazal compare the traits of Avraham Avinu, in contradistinction to Bilam the rasha, the wicked. One of the traits of Avraham Avinu is a lowness of the soul. This doesn’t mean one is depressed. But rather, that Avraham lowered himself between all members of mankind. He mixed with them, and he was not haughty of spirit. In other words, the ability to speak to the lowest person: the plainest and simplest person, and make that person feel he was not experiencing the slightest feeling of superiority over this individual. This is a unique trait and a unique character, and he had that character…he was able to do that. Whether it was an everyday Jew, or a gentile…he was able to speak with that person on his level and make him feel a certain warmth and response. And he had the ability to reach people that way. And that is why he was able to reach so many Talmidim, Torah students.
One of the last statements of Chazal (the Sages) that my father discussed with me was the event of Rav Chiya when he visited Rebbe, when Rebbe was about to die. And Rav Chiya asked Rebbe, “Why are you crying? After all, you lived a life of Torah; of perfection…this world is [but] a waiting room. So why do you cry?” And Rebbe (Judah the Prince) answered, “On account of Torah and Mitzvos I am crying.” My father mentioned this Chazal and we were discussing it. And the question is, why should Rebbe Judah the Prince cry about Torah and mitzvos? After all, he will continue to learn Torah in the next world, in Olam Haba. And that’s the highest level of Torah. Rambam teaches that all the righteous looked forward to Olam Haba where they can reach the highest level of wisdom. Why then should he cry about Torah? And mitzvos are a means to perfection, to Shlaymus Ha-Adam. And Rebbe Judah reached his perfection. So why was he crying a bout Mitzvos?
But I think he was saying something else…
In this world, in this existence…there is a beauty of the combination of Torah and Mitzvos that the human soul experiences. The combination of Mitzvah with Chochma and Torah offers the human soul a special aesthetic sense and appreciation for that combination. That combination…one can experience only in this world. So that is a loss that one, in Olam Haba, cannot have.
And my father had that ability to take Torah and Mitzvos, and make them enjoyable. He made them into something a person can appreciate. And that is why I feel he was so successful and so influential with his students.
I must say, everything I have, of course, stems fro him: his training, his outlook, his Chochma and his understanding, and his emphasis. But, I learned more from him perhaps during the last two years of his life, when I saw his unbelievable and amazing Kochos Ha-Nefesh, his strength of his soul. The Yisurin (afflictions) he suffered, and that we, the whole family unfortunately suffered with him…he accepted them unbelievably. And he never gave up hope. The doctors were amazed. He showed us a strength of soul that are above and beyond. I can only hope I can reach some partial level of the strength that he had.
He also showed something that I personally didn’t sense and didn’t feel. Because I think that a son always feels an obligation to a father. And therefore, the son always feels the father appreciates him because of his accomplishments. But I noticed in the last years, that he expressed a certain genuine love for his children that wasn’t based on what they accomplished or what they performed…but just a genuine love. And that was a very deep-meaning feeling.
My father left families of Torah, students, and many hundreds of thousands of people who learn Torah today, and appreciate Torah…because of him.
There is not enough that I can say. I can just say that his merits should stand by us, our family, and all of Klal Israel.
“Tehay nishmaso tzarurah b’Ttzur Ha-Chaim”. May his soul be bound up with the Rock of Life.
Much of what I wanted to say was said by my older brother. However, I would like to speak of a few other things about my father.
My father was a Rav, he was a Rebbe, he was a shochet, and he was a Mohel. It’s not easy for someone to specialize in all these different areas. Once, when I was a boy growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, the shochet (butcher) was sick that day. The only one who knew how to perform shechita, was my father. He took me with him, and told me, “Come, come Moshe…I am going to show you how I shecht chickens.” I remember that. I was so proud of him, because he was the only Rabbi that was able to do that. He took me down, and shechted many chickens…we were there for quite a few hours. When we were going home, I said to him, “It’s so good, that no one was able to do this; you were the only one that could do this.” He said to me, “Moshe, I learned it years ago.” He made no big deal about it, “Now they needed someone, so I was able to do it.”
My father had a unique Derech in learning as my brother mentioned; he had very good Rebbe, Rav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l. And when my father used to learn with my brothers and I, no matter which yeshiva we went to, or which Rebbe we had…we always enjoyed coming home and learning with him. He had a special way of making learning not only interesting, but enjoyable as well. Children sometimes don’t have patience to learn…and he always knew how much he could push a child, so he would not feel bad, “So we will learn again tomorrow,” he would say.
I remember when my older brother Yisrael would come home during Yeshiva break when he was learning in Lakewood…my father used to learn with him until 3:00 AM. It was so enjoyable. My father made learning interesting for us; he made it enjoyable. When he would teach us Rashi, he didn’t just teach us on the surface; but he taught us how to go beneath the surface. He taught us how to understand the Rashi…he showed us the greatness of Rashi; how Rashi explained the Gemara.
I remember, when my brother and I came home from Yeshiva in Boston, we had been learning Babba Kamma. Shabbos would come, and we would sit down with my father, and he would say, “Now I am going to show you how I would learn this Gemara and how I would learn this Rashi”. It was amazing how he explained it to us; how he learned, and with such depth. That Sunday he drove us back to the Yeshiva, and he approached the Rosh Ha-Yeshiva. My father told over to him, an explanation of Rashi on a Gemara. The Rosh Ha-Yeshiva held his hands together, and he was just amazed…he never heard something like that. This is one of my father’s greatnesses: he knew how to learn, and he knew how to be Marbitz (spread) Torah.
There was a story once told to me about my father. My father once took my older brother Yisrael to Lakewood, he about sixteen years old, and he brought him there to admit him to Rav Aharon Kotler’s shiur zt”l. I am repeating this from a person who was there: he witnessed it and told this account to me. Rav Aharon started talking Torah with my father. Rav Aharon didn’t know who he was right away. After my father left the room, Rav Aharon said to someone, “Who was that person that was talking with me?” The person said that’s Rav Aryeh Leb Chait. Rav Aharon Kotler said, “I like the way he learns”. He really enjoyed talking to my father in learning. I found that to be a very big compliment.
Besides, as my brother said that my father was always teaching us Torah and teaching us how to learn, whenever I came into the home, I always saw my father learning. Even in his later years when he wasn’t well, when I came to his apartment, there was a sefer in one room, another sefer in another room…he was always learning. What really amazed me though, was about six years ago when he went for a six-way bypass, where an average person would be trembling, I visited him at about 3:00 AM and he was learning. This was about 20 minutes before the surgery. I said, “How are you doing?” He said, “Moshe, it’s a bypass…so what?” He went back to learning. That’s the type of person he was: he had strong trust in God, he loved to learn, and didn’t let anything get in his way.
He was Zocheh to raise three sons who dedicated their lives to Torah. And I always thought about it: a child does what he sees his father doing. If a child comes home and sees his father watching a baseball game, or a football game, so of course the child will want to do it too. But if the father is learning Torah, the child will want to imitate the father, and this is what we always saw in him. The most important thing to him was to learn and Marbitz Torah. As my brother said, he taught many years at RJJ, and 25 years in Yeshiva University. They gave him the toughest boys, the 12th grade, and what he did with these boys was amazing. In a certain way, he would learn with them and show them how learning was enjoyable. And he had different ways and methods to get these Talmidim interested. Even today, he has many letters from his Talmidim, that who knows what would have become of them. But because of my father, they went on to learn in big yeshivas in Israel, writing him letters of thanks. When my father was well, he used to take them out every year with my mother to restaurants, and treat them. Even today, when we meet someone in the neighborhood, they would say, “Your father was Leon Chait? He was my Rebbe in Y.U. The best Rebbe I ever had.”
That’s how he was, he knew how to reach these boys who weren’t interested in learning. And the most important thing was to make learning enjoyable to them. That itself is a very large matter, to be able to do that.
He also showed us something else…he showed us how to respect Gedolim, great Rabbis. We lived in Forest Hills in the 1960s, and an old European Rav came to town named Rav Chaim Bentzion Notolovitch. The man was a Gaon Olam. Not everyone knew who he was, but my father did. My parents would invite him to our home on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. My father told me that if a great person comes to town, and he is not treated as such, it is stated, that something terrible can occur. But the main reason he had this Rabbi over at our home, is that my father wanted to show us how a person should live. He wished to show us the importance of respecting Gedolim. And when my father and Rav Notolovitch learned together, the Rav enjoyed it very much. My father had such respect for him, as did my mother. He was at our home practically every Shabbos.
It is very hard for my brothers and I today, for my sisters, and for my mother. For many years I gave a Gemara shiur in my house. And we finished quite a few Mesechtas. My father used to come to the Siyum, the completion celebration. But after he wasn’t feeling well, he could not make it. When he came, I would see the great joy he had, and he would speak. He had such Nachas. It will be very hard for me, since he won’t be there when we make future Siyumim. I am going to miss him.
I can go on talking about my father; he was an amazing person. He had many talents that made him who he was. The Gemara in Baba Metzia says “Bless are you in your coming, and blessed are you in your leaving”. This means that your departure from this world should be as our entering this world: as our entrance was without sin, so should be our departure. That was my father; always learning, always doing mitzvahs.
It was not easy for my mother to watch him suffer all these years, as she stood by his side. It was very difficult. Every time we called 911, we didn’t know what was going to happen. She stood by his side. She did whatever he needed. She would sit in the hospital at times for 10-12 hours a day. The security guards would come over to me and say, “I don’t know how your mother does it”.
I also want to mention my sister Rivki: I never saw such Kivud Av v’Ame as I saw in my sister. The way she attended to them was unbelievable. The hospital staff told me, “If I was making rounds at 1:00 AM, your sister was there; if at 3:00 AM…your sister was there.” Her life revolved around them. It was due to her that they were able to come out and recover a lot of times. What Rivki did was not easy; and she did it with much love and much caring.
As you heard, my father was one who had immense amount of energy; and he directed his energy and Kochos, his strength, to what he felt was important. And myself, being the third son, his energies did not run out. He committed himself to learning with me as he did with my older brothers. His love for his Rebbe, Rav Dovid, he expressed and showed to me. Vividly, I remember many stories, but briefly, one or two stick out in my mind. When I first learned a Tosfos, I was very excited. I had come back from Yeshiva, and I sat down to learn with him. And he said, “OK, so what was Tosfos’ ‘haveh mena’, what was his initial thought?” And I said, “What do you mean?” He said to me, “The question and answer seem so simple…don’t you think Tosfos thought of that when he asked his question? Would Tosfos ask such a simple question? No, he must have had something else in mind when he asked his question.” Or if Tosfos had a question on Rashi, my father would say, “Didn’t Rashi think of that question? So it must be that Rashi had a whole different approach to the Gemara.”
Again, as my brothers mentioned, he showed me and directed me to search for the truth, and the understanding and the depth of the Gemara and Rishonim. But he also appreciated Torah in a very pure way. If one were to put on a “shtick” as they say (a false pretense that he knew a section of Gemara but really didn’t know what he was talking about)…my father would say, “Eh…stam a frumock.…If he learned through the sugya, he would see he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
That uniqueness about him, [he felt] a Ben Torah should be a sharp person. Just because one is learning Torah doesn’t mean he should dress poorly: “Your tie and suit should match…you’re a Ben Torah! You should be sharp, you should be worldly, you should know what’s going on, and how to present yourself.”
And his Kochos, his strength, one would see throughout his life. In Providence he stood up against the Conservative movement, which cost him his job. And until the end, he had that inner strength, and took upon himself to do what was right. Our Chazal bring to light, that the last days of our lives are extremely important: “Whoever does Viduy (confession) has a portion in Olam Haba”. And Viduy is not an easy thing for a person who is dying. I would just like to give a special Yasher Koach to my nephew Elie who took upon himself the challenge to say to my father at the end of his life, “Pappa Chait, do you want to do Viduy?” And my father said, “Yes”. And he was so weak, and it was hard for him to talk. But every word of Viduy came out of his mouth, and those were probably the last complete sentences he said in this world. “Whoever does Viduy (confession) has a portion in Olam Haba”.
Ramban points out in the concept of Olam Haba, explaining a mitzvah that is a little difficult to understand. A person is not permitted to pull out his hair or scratch himself [make cuts] as an expression of mourning. Many Mefarshim (commentators) wonder what really is the prohibition; what can be so terrible? Of course there are a variety of answers that are given, but the Ramban is not satisfied with most of them, and gives an interesting insight. The problem with this prohibition is [that it is] contrary to the basic fundamental of Yahadus, of Judaism. Because we know that when a person dies, he has not terminated his life: his neshama, his soul lives on. He is zocheh (meritorious) to Olam Haba. Therefore, Chazal were against the concept of mourning more than necessary. This seems to say the person is gone; he is finished. But this is not true. The Ramban says that crying, “bechi”, is permitted. Why? Because this is a natural instinct. When two close friends depart, frequently, they cry. They miss each other. And when a parent will see a child off, he will cry: be it a short visit [away from home], or a long journey. This is because he misses the character of that child. And therefore, crying is permitted. Crying is an expression of what we cherish. We cherish what the person stood for. We appreciate what the person represented. And that, we miss.
So today, we are mourning for my father, we are expressing tears of Bechi. That’s why I cherish all that my brothers have mentioned about him, his attributes. I cherish his sincerity; I cherish his appreciation of Torah and of a logical svara.
This ends the eulogies transcribed. The eulogies continued, but sadly, time restricts transcribing all who spoke. Rabbi Pesach Krohn spoke next, of his Rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Leb Chait, “his father” as he called him… as having the ability to make all feel special and uniquely priceless. He shed many tears as he delivered his thoughtful eulogy, and talked about how close his family was with the Chaits. Rabbi Chait’s grandson Elie addressed his grandfather as “the leader of leaders”, as all of Rabbi Aryeh Leb’s sons are great community leaders and Talmidei Chachamim. Elie mentioned how wonderfully his grandfather fulfilled the mitzvah to teach one’s grandson. He also praised his grandfather as having the ability to do anything he desired, but that he chose Torah…that was the greatest thing in the world to his grandfather. Elie discussed how his grandmother would point out great people, and that they became what they were, only because of Rabbi Aryeh Leb. Elie mentioned that he meets people in the States and in Israel that tell him, “Your grandfather made me what I am today. He saved my life”.
And Rabbi Aryeh Leb’s brother spoke last, from the appreciation of a younger brother for his older, protective brother. He offered instances where Rabbi Aryeh Leb took up the cause of his younger brother. He made his brother feel as though there was someone always there for him. He shed meaningful tears as he expressed his feeling of obligation to recount his older brother’s devotion and concern.
May hundreds’s of thousands more individuals learn the true Derech Ha-Chaim from Rabbi Aryeh Leb Chait’s example, and from his words, which will continually be transmitted by all who knew him: words that help all arrive at a deep Ahavas Hashem, love of God.