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My Uncle, the Rosh Yeshiva

My Uncle, the Rosh Yeshiva

We awaited his 1000 watt smile and his trademark pinch on the cheek that said he truly loved us.

by Yitzchak Matisyahu Tall

To tens of thousands across the globe, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, he was known by various titles; 'Reb Noach', 'Rabbi Weinberg', or most endearingly, 'The Rosh Yeshiva.' To my family he was simply 'Uncle Noach.' And he was the uncle par excellence. The great master that he was, being the perfect uncle just complemented his totality of greatness.

Ever since my earliest childhood, I have had the fondest memories of Uncle Noach. When my family received the news that Uncle Noach would be staying in our home on yet another of his many, unceasing, fundraising trips, a thrill would descend over all of us. The excitement was palpable: "Uncle Noach's coming!"

The excitement was palpable: "Uncle Noach's coming!"

We knew that whenever he came it was guaranteed that he would bring a box or two of Entemann's (which was unavailable in our part of town those days), his unique -- and immensely appreciated -- way of expressing his appreciation to our mother, his hostess. We came to associate him with those donuts.

More eagerly, although we couldn't express it at such a tender age, we awaited his 1000 watt smile, always accompanied by his trademark pinch on the cheek, that positive affirmation, that yes, he was our uncle and truly loved us. There was absolutely no doubting it -- with the fullest purity and innocence as only children can have, we knew, as Uncle Noach would always say "with five-finger clarity," that he loved us. It was with tremendous shock that we grew up to find that other people, seemingly strangers, shared in that feeling of his boundless love. Wasn't he our uncle after all?

When he would come to our house, we would just sit there and watch him. We could never feast our eyes on Uncle Noach long enough. There was something so comforting in just being in his presence. Even as we got older, we invariably found all sorts of excuses to be around him, to delight in his company for just a little bit longer.

Uncle Noach's shadow was constantly with us. Even when he wasn't physically staying at our house he was a large part of our consciousness: "Rabbi Noah Weinberg was our uncle." Whenever we met an irreligious Jew, a Jew without any awareness of the glory of his heritage, we would invariably sigh, "If only Uncle Noach would be here to help him." There was no doubt that if Uncle Noach would've been there, that Jew would now be fully observant. Yet, at the same time, we knew that Uncle Noach couldn't be there because he was reaching out to Jews in some other part of the world. We knew that Uncle Noach with all of his unique powers; his charisma, his truth, his stunning clarity, and most importantly, his love, would have brought that poor soul home. Who could withstand Uncle Noach's truth?

Uncle Noach was a tremendous source of pride to our family. Every time we passed an Aish building, saw a poster of an upcoming Aish event, we would be filled with that warm feeling inside: "That's our Uncle!"

Bringing the Prince Back Home

Growing up in a deeply religious home, with my father on the faculty of the Yeshiva, it was a tremendous source of wonder to me: Where did Uncle Noach fit in? As far as I know, Uncle Noach was the first person to actually be totally occupied in outreach and also carry the title 'Rosh Yeshiva.' That was a revolution. Outreach is one thing, but can one classify it as a Yeshiva?

I came to realize my quandary was due to pure ignorance. Our sages teach us that our forefathers always had Yeshivas. Our forefather Abraham had a Yeshiva. The Chasam Sofer writes (in Pittuchei Chosam, shu"t, CHS Yore Deah -- I originally heard this Chasam Sofer from Uncle Noach himself) "Why is that we find Abraham to be the first person to be called by God "My lover – 'Avraham Ohavi'"? He certainly wasn't the first person since creation to attain virtuousness. We find the Torah telling us about Chanoch, who attained such a high spiritual level that he actually purified his soul to such an extent as to cause it's dissolution from his physical body; he achieved total purity. Yet we do not see the Almighty calling him "My lover."

Uncle Noach knew that we are all princes, and he undertook to bring us all back.

The answer, the Chasam Sofer tell us, was Abraham's true greatness. Abraham realized that for a person to raise his own soul to the heavens while leaving the rest of mankind in the dirt, for that God did not have to create an entire universe with thousands of inhabitants. A true lover of the king is not content with his own individual worship. His tremendous love for the king instills an even greater desire to acquire for the king additional worshippers, even more citizens to accept the sovereignty of the king. Reaching the ultimate spiritual heights requires elevating the rest of the kingdom, not just oneself.

Uncle Noach was certainly a 'lover.' My father taught the students who had the good fortune to come to the Yeshiva, implanted them with Toras Chaim, fed them the fruits of The Tree of Life. And Uncle Noach took the Yeshiva one step further, to the rest of the kingdom. I have no doubt that the Almighty is now saying "Noach Ohavi," – Noach, My lover -- the ultimate achievement, plain and simple.

But there was more than Uncle Noach's love for the Creator; he loved each and every single one of us. As the Mashgiach of Lomza writes, if one would happen to stumble upon the Crown Prince lost, lying in the mud, no matter how helpful he can possibly be, the greatest service must certainly be to bring the Prince back home. Who can be more loving and caring than the king? Who is in a better position to nurture the prince, than his own father?

Uncle Noach knew that we are all princes, and he undertook to bring us all back, as much as humanly possible. As Uncle Noach always said, "The Almighty is always waiting there to help you, you just have to try your hardest."

Uncle Noach was like a boundless stream, clearly connected to the Source.

Uncle Noach always had a chuckle on his lips. This mirth that was to become his trademark. Where did this great joy, the pure pleasure of being alive, emanate from? As a child, I always took his greatness for granted; he was simply just blessed by the Creator with a pure soul. My grandfather constantly related to all, that his father was fond of saying that beginning already from Uncle Noach's birth, it was clearly evident that he had an extremely special soul. As an adult I came to appreciate the tremendous growth involved. As the Mishna in Ethics of the Fathers tells us, "Whoever learns Torah with the proper intentions achieves the greatest heights... he is called Beloved by the Creator, Beloved by mankind, makes his Creator joyous, makes mankind joyous... and is compared to an overfilling, boundless stream." Uncle Noach was a living embodiment of this Mishna. What is the power of the stream? It's source. Uncle Noach was clearly "connected." Whoever met him instinctively realized it. Uncle Noach's tremendous search and drive for only the truth, the pure truth, gave him 'his' 48 ways to wisdom. To truly acquire Torah. To make it a 'possession' of his.

His Office

My eyes are swollen with tears. "Uncle Noach you are not here with us anymore down below. Who will take the rest of God's children out of the mud?

Rabbi Raphy Garson relates: "During a study session at Aish some 15 years ago, I recall commenting to Reb Noach, 'You have a great office with such a view overlooking the Kotel.' He told me, 'You work for God -- He gives you an office!'" Uncle Noach would constantly remark that the entire new building facing the Western Wall was an open miracle, a clear manifestation of God's love for His people. If, already in this world the Almighty was showing us all His love for Uncle Noach presenting him with such an office, probably the most coveted office in the world, can we imagine his 'office' up in Heaven?

The prayer is on all of our lips; "Uncle Noach finalize the job that you, and only you, did in total devotion, utmost selflessness: Go in front of God's Heavenly Throne, and tell Him 'I did my part, please Almighty bring all your children home.'"

May his memory be a blessing, and a constant source of inspiration for all of us who can continue his legacy in any form whatsoever. The true comfort is only from the Almighty, as the prophet tell us "And my Lord, Hashem, will erase the tears from all the faces."

February 9, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) shprintza, February 21, 2009 7:48 PM

Uncle Noach

i am also his niece and i share the same feelings as the author-i was so proud to be related to this great man

(11) Anonymous, February 19, 2009 5:21 PM

uncle noach

An excellent article. Rabbi Weinberg was and will always be a great inspiration to our family. We think of him constantly and pray that his holy work will continue and bring all the Jewish people to the recognition of knowing the Almighty. May his great Mesiras Nefesh bring the arrival of the |Mashiach immediately.

(10) Gary Charlestein, February 19, 2009 2:54 PM

Personal coments on MY Uncle Noah.

Shevat 25, 5769 Uncle Noah as I knew him and will always love him – The world is deeply diminished and ours is now the task of restoring to our communities glory and blessing, joy and gladness in the name of our beloved Rabbi Noah Weinberg. My dear Uncle Noah was the first family member to call and welcome me into the vast Weinberg tribe all the way from Jerusalem to Philadelphia when it was announced that I betrothed his darling Layala -- daughter of his late oldest brother, Morris (Reb Moshe Weinberg). Uncle Noah’s joy and warmth was palpable even through the cell phone static. We had met earlier at a family function in Brooklyn where I, as an outsider – I still am not sure how I, not even vaguely related to the Weinbergs, merited to be eligible to marry in – yet, I had the pleasure of listening to him tell his rather famous story from his youth of a $1 bill paid per Mishna learned and the oft repeated lesson of the value of Torah study. All family members could recite the narrative by heart. I was fascinated. Shameful to tell, I could nonetheless not be persuaded by my hopefully soon to be uncle’s persuasive presentations – both logical and emotional – as to why I should come around to the fundamentalist point of view on theological issues. Wisely after several forays and still with his beautiful smile, even he stopped trying, at least from the frontal approach. Laya and I were honored when he was our M’sadair Kedushin at the end of August 5765. Ill even then, he made the long trip to Philadelphia , to what seemed to be in my mind, fulfill a promise to his older brother, that he would surely watch over his children. He did that with care and love. Uncle Noah brought his affection and influence to bear on my children as well. When my son was on an Aish Hatorah / AEPI trip to Israel, Uncle Noah started his first lecture with barking out ‘who here is my nephew’? My son, sheepishly raised his hand and smiled. What a thrill!! When tragedy struck in our immediate family, he was on the phone picking up our spirits, offering us the broader view as though it were issued tenderly from on high, under the sheltering wings of the Shechina. He made a point of coming to see me on future trips to Israel to once again meet my father at the time 90 years of age, and other members of his deceased brother’s family. On that occasion, sitting at the upscale restaurant within the Jerusalem Plaza Sheraton – he did not eat a thing, lest anyone be critical – he spent half the time screaming into his cell phone to some Israeli government official as to how Aish could do a better job than anyone to bring Hasbara to the world in defense of our beloved State. On Motze’ei Shabbos he troubled himself to join in a Jerusalem Malava Malka when my newly married daughter and her husband were present. This was Rav Noah Weinberg – my uncle, a man always quick to spread love, learning, and inspiration. During his illness, I took great pleasure in calling him. Perhaps he thought I was bringing him chizuk but need I say, the strengthening was all mine. In mid-November of his last months, we shared a half hour face to face in his Kiryat Zanz apartment. He was weak, but still twice as strong as anyone else his age, and in his powerful voice he looked me in the eye and said “Gary, how do you know who you really are? There’s identity theft out there, someone else could say they are Gary Charlestein. How do you know who you are? They’ll know who your wife is, they’ll know your Social Security #, they’ll know your phone #, they’ll know your address and all your credit cards. How are you sure who you are?” The bottom line said Uncle Noah “It’s your father’s house and what you did and found in your father’s house. What did you experience as you grew up in your father’s house?” What a message! Who, he inferred, can take away from us those moments of closeness to the Almighty who we experience throughout all our lives? Who but we, can truly know in those moments who we really are and how we really are ourselves?... and then our last kiss on the cheek. Yet, three months before he joined the heavenly circle of his late brothers -- Yaakov and my beloved father-in-law Moshe, he struggled to take the phone when I called. Uncle Noah listened when I in my naivety unraveled a complex drash and sode on a Pasuk in Braeisheis. He listened and said, “Good, but it’s not the P’shat.” I smiled, we wished each other well and I tearfully will remember that final call always. For sure, the love and respect all of us must have for a man who has given himself so unselfishly to the peoplehood of Israel, to the State of Israel with such positive results is obvious, but, more so for me. It was the love and respect and the pleasure – the 39th way of pleasure -- that I found in the unselfish way he gave himself to us, to our family, directly to me. He will always be radiating joy. May we have the z’chus through our love and good deeds to enshrine his memory eternally as a blessing. Gary Charlestein Philadelphia, PA

(9) diana, February 17, 2009 11:28 PM

thank you Rabbi

My condolences for the loss of Rabbi Weinberg. Your article is so poignant of what I feel coming from everyone who is acquainted with the rabbi and his vision, let's continue the work. His life deserves a standing ovation, I am not Jewish, I am a seminary student but I "fell in love" with Aish and the teachings of Rabbi W, who has brought me closer to G-d. What a loss! and may we all continue his memory by doing what he taught. Diana

(8) Sholom, February 17, 2009 11:23 AM

Thank you

I converted several years back, after observing the Seven Laws for a period of time. Rav Noach's "48 Ways" were a source of inspiration and comfort to me--they seemed to me to be the home-spun wisdom that everyone should have been granted from childhood, but few are privileged to hear. I am grateful to him and his organization for all of the wonderful work they have done throughout the world. He greets his Creator, leaving behind a legacy that is to be envied by us all.

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