Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder and Rosh Yeshiva (principal/dean) of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, passed away this morning (Thursday Feb. 5) in Jerusalem at the age of 78.
Rabbi Weinberg was without a doubt one of the great Jewish leaders of our generation – a Tzaddik and a Gadol Ha’Dor (a righteous Jew and leader of the generation). In co-founding two of the largest beginning yeshivas in the world: Aish HaTorah and Derech Ohr Somayach, Rabbi Weinberg was responsible for bringing thousands of unaffiliated Jews back to a life of Torah and Mitzvos. He passionately believed in the greatness of every human being, and displayed a special love and concern for every Jew.
Though never meeting Rabbi Weinberg personally, I am not exempt from from his teachings and influences. My family, like several other misplaced Jewish families, became affiliated with Aish HaTorah upon moving to Thornhill almost 15 years ago, and today we are proud observant and practicing Jews. Coming from small, not-so-Jewish Oakville, Thornhill was definitely a big step up the yiddishkeit ladder. As years added up in Thornhill, our family slowly grew closer to our Jewish roots. A vital moment along the way came during the winter of 2003, when our family took part in a family mission to Israel with our synagogue, Aish Hatorah @ Westmount. On the trip my parents were fortunate to meet Rabbi Weinberg at the Aish building in the Old City in Jerusalem. I don’t know what was said during that encounter, but I recall my father posing for a photo with the rabbi. There was my dad, mullet and all, with a big smile on his face standing next to the white-haired, dressed fully in black rabbi, with a smile just as wide as my father’s.
After the trip, our family decided to take on more responsibilities and mitzvos, such as keeping shabbos and kosher. It was a an huge stepping stone for the family that would eventually lead to greater endeavours. When I look at that photo, not only am I reminded about how far my family has come, I also see a standard worth reaching toward, a model to look up. Rabbi Weinberg was just that.
The Torah tells us one of the most effective ways to educate someone is to lead by example. I believe Rabbi Weinberg championed this concept, and used it in a unique way that appealed to those around him. When looking upon a great person, not only is their greatness so evident, but we may also see a piece of ourselves looking right back at us. That piece is the great potential we all have as Jews, and human beings as well. When I look at that picture, I see what potential I may have, which gives me great optimism and hope for the future. But I’m also humbled by the photo, which is a great thing because it prevents arrogance, because I (or we, referring to our family) also see where we once were, and how much more we need to do to grow more.
When a Tzadik leaves this world for Olam Habah (the next life), I was taught that this is a great tragedy because so much kedusha (holiness) has left this world, thus diminshing its overall amount in the world – which is a form of judgment from the heavens. However, we’re also taught that even though the death (of anyone for that matter) is sad, if we have the right perspective, we can channel our heightened emotions toward becoming a better servant of Hashem, G-d… Just as Rabbi Weinberg would teach, and therefore practice as well.
May everyone impacted by Rabbi Weinberg bring to life his teachings through our own own actions.