If you can read this, your browser needs to be upgraded.
Hesped of Rabbi Avraham Leibtag
Passed away 5 Adar 5756
Given by his son Menachem on the evening of 7 Adar, 5756,
in the courtyard of Yeshivat Har Etzion,
Alon Shevut, Gush Etzion, Israel.
[The hesped was given in hebrew, the following
is a translation into english.]
You do not deserve to be buried in the dark,
You were a man who provided only light for others.
You do not deserve to be buried in the cold and rain,
Your were a man who provided sunshine for others.
You did not deserve to suffer so much this last week,
You dedicated your entire life finding the good in others.
However, halacha requires that we not postpone your burial;
Your aron has travelled a long distance;
In shamayim, they await your arrival.
I had the zchut to be with you when your soul departed;
We were alone, but we were together.
I had the zchut to fulfill the halacha of closing your eyes;
But your eyes did not want to shut.
I closed them, they opened.
I closed them, again they opened.
You wanted to see just one more time,
One more time without pain.
I closed them a third time and they remained shut.
Mommy entered the room, she hugged you;
You were also crying;
You had cried the entire week.
Mommy opened the hand restraints,
they had annoyed you the entire week,
She kissed you goodbye one last time;
and cried again.
As in the case of Churban Bet HaMikdash,
This took place on Motzei Shabbat.
For me, it was a churban on a personal level;
The shchina that had been with you - your n'shama - was gone.
Just like our forefather Avraham Avinu,
You built a mizbayach (an alter) in Akron, Ohio;
There, you called out the Name of God. [Breishit 12:8]
Like churban ha'bayit -
Your mizbayach was also destroyed on Motzei Shabbat,
However, unlike churban ha'bayit -
It was not because of sinat chinam (senseless hatred);
Ahavat chinam - the love of your fellow man,
was your the essence of your entire life.
How can I eulogize you in front of people who did not know you?
How can I, in only a few moments, tell them about your life and deeds.
Yesterday, when David, Chaim and I eulogized you in Akron;
where the congregation knew you for over 42 years.
There, they told us how great a person you were;
There, we told them how great a father you were.
Here, in Alon Shevut, it is different, you are barely known.
Yes, you came last year for Yoni's Bar Mitzvah,
This fall you spent three wonderful months
with your children and Israeli grandchildren;
You loved them, they loved you.
But here, people only caught a glimpse of you,
They saw only a fraction of the man you once were.
They saw you as a zayde, but only a zayde.
They did not know you as a person.
You had suffered for over tens years from Parkinson's;
But, despite your illness, you always remained a ben adam:
A ben adam - who never cared for himself, only for others;
Not because of any halachic obligation -
But because of a dachaf nafshi (an inner drive) to help others.
You dedicated your entire life to your shul in Akron.
A life of Torah; of chessed; of tzdaka.
In Akron, both jew and gentile, all knew as RABBI,
no last name was necessary.
A half a century ago,
you left Yeshivat Ner Israel of Baltimore with a mission.
That youthful spirit remained with you at all times.
You never left that small community.
You never would let people down,
you never could.
You spent hours every day organizing the minyan.
Against all odds, you kept the minyan running
morning and evening.
You spent hours on the phone calling for number 10;
usually also for numbers 9, 8, 7, and 6.
You drove around town to pick them up and bring them home.
Let me share with you a two short stories:
they characterize your life in Akron.
My friend Dov Rubin, who stands with us tonight, was once visiting,
He came to shul and asked me after davening: What's going on?
Why did two men read the paper the entire time, and not doven a word.
To Dov I responded: "These are the tzadikim of Akron,"
They came special just to help make the minyan,
the Rabbi called them, he pleaded.
They themselves barely knew that they were Jewish.
Within a year, they had learned how to daven.
When I was growing up, there was the Eisenbach family from Meah Shearim
that would stay with us for several months every year.
A father and his young son with polio.
In Israel, the doctors said he would never be able to walk,
In Akron, there was a specialist who could heal him.
My father housed them, raised money for them, made them feel at home.
Only two months ago, I took my father to Jerusalem to visit them.
Today, Shimon - the little boy with polio, not only walks,
He has wife and four beautiful children.
My father carried on a tradition from his parents.
They grew up in Brisk, Poland and emigrated to Hamilton, Ontario in 1931.
I remember as a child the shochet of Hamilton used to live in their house.
Bubby, like Daddy, took care of everyone.
You were born in Brisk in 1924,
You lived across the street from Rav Velve.
You loved to tell us about growing up in Brisk;
It left a lasting impression on you.
You were also an admirer of Menachem Begin, you neighbor in Brisk.
You both had one trait in common:
kvod ha'adam - respect for the honor of a fellow human being.
Here in the Yeshiva, we are familiar with one aspect of Brisk:
lamdanut (intellectual study).
However, the lamdanut of Brisk emerged from a more fundamental Jewish
the tradition of kvod ha'adam.
The honor of man, because he is created in God's image;
The pride of Jew, because he is Jewish.
My father found honor in every human being he met;
even if the person was aged or crippled; healthy or sick.
For several years he would spend close to an hour every evening
on the phone with a half-senile elderly woman;
- allaying her un-based fears that her son was stealing her money,
- assuring her everything would be ok.
My brother David, in his eulogy in Akron,
summarized my father's educational philosophy with the
yiddish phrase he used so often:
"z'pass nischt" [things just aren't done this way]
A keen sense of right and wrong,
one which I am sure he inherited from Brisk.
He did not have to tell us something was right or wrong,
He did not have to explain,
He just told us "z'pass nischt,"
we didn't always agree, but we always understood.
Just as the lamdanut of Brisk evolves from the straight logic of the mind.
The "pass nischt" tradition of Brisk evolves from the straight logic of the
The intuition of a clear and optimistic outlook on life,
balanced with respect for human dignity and pride.
From the 'straight logic of the soul' of Brisk,
evolved the 'straight logic of the mind' of Brisk.
For you, "pass nischt" was the fifth volume of shulchan aruch;
Not the only volume, but the fifth -
and unlike many others, you applied it beautifully to all four.
Kvod ha'adam in your eyes was the greatest kiddush Hashem.
Your legacy proved you correct.
My father would wear his jacket at all times, everywhere,
even if he went outside to water the grass.
A Jew without a jacket? - "z'pass nischt."
I remember so well each time I would visit home from Israel;
when he came to the airport to pick me up, he would ask:
Menachem, where is your jacket?
Did you forget it, by accident?
Did you leave it by Chaim in New York?
He knew very well that I never wore a jacket when I travelled,
But it bothered him so much, that he had to ask,
A young Jewish man, learning Torah in Eretz Yisrael - his own son!
not wearing a jacket? - "z'pass nischt" -
Yet, he would never get angry, never raised his voice,
he would never make anyone else feel bad - "z'pass nischt."
Despite this, he was proud of his 'Israeli' son,
envious in a certain way;
I had fulfilled his own life long dream,
to walk, to live, to learn Torah in the Land Of Israel
A dream that I had the zchut to fulfill in my life,
because of the education I received from my father.
The Talmud speaks unfavorably of one who lives his entire
life in chutz la'aretz, and desires to buried in Eretz Yisrael.
I teach this passage to my students every year
when we study Rav Yehuda Ha'Levi and Sefer Ha'Kuzari.
Don't worry, Abba, the Talmud is not referring to you,
You may not have been physically living here during your life,
But you were always living here in spirit.
You were an 'honorary citizen' of the State of Israel.
Never was there a sermon in which you did not mention the Land Of Israel.
You identified with the state, its goals, its ideals;
its aspirations were your aspirations.
You were a 'loyal fan' of the State of Israel in the League of Nations.
You would stand so proudly in front of the congregation,
and solemnly recite the Prayer for the well-being of the State of Israel.
You chanted it, not the chazan or gabbai;
The entire congregation read it with you in English.
When you picked up the paper, or watched the evening news,
your only interest was news about Israel.
Don't worry, Malachei Eretz Yisrael will take care of you;
they will escort you to Gan Eden with your 'Israeli passport.'
Every year you wanted to come and visit the Land of Israel,
but you only made here it about once in a decade.
Other Rabbis, your colleagues, came almost every year.
Not because they loved Israel any more than you did,
You simply loved your congregation too much.
You rarely took vacation,
If there was a Bar Mitzvah or wedding, you would not plan a vacation;
If there a member became sick, you would cancel it,
Before any funeral, you spent hours preparing the eulogy,
you found honor in death, as you found in life;
you spoke eloquently, you could find good in everyone;
- you did not make it up; you truly believed it!
You visited the sick in the hospital most every day.
You cared 'too much' about others.
Before I conclude, I must ask you for forgiveness;
On my own behalf, and on behalf of your children and grandchildren.
For all the things that we may have done wrong to you,
I can not state them all now in public,
I know what you would tell me,
Menachem, "z'pass nischt"
But there is one thing I must tell you, not that you must hear,
but something I must say.
Abba, I did not spend enough time learning with you.
When I was in elementary school,
I used to learn with you after school every day.
We started with "chaveri," learning all the letters and vowels,
and went on to Chumash , Mishna and Gemara.
I remember every page, and your smile, like yesterday.
But, once I went away to Yeshiva,
I never found time to learn with you on a regular basis,
to learn chavruta, to enjoy a blatt Gemara together.
When ever I came home, I was always too busy;
but that was just an excuse.
Sure, we always talked in Divrei Torah, and shared ideas,
It was impossible to have a conversation with you,
without mention of a Dvar Torah.
But the learning b'kviut that you loved most,
especially with your own son,
I did not give you that opportunity, what you enjoyed most.
Abba, my loss, was greater than yours,
Abba, m'omek ha'lev - slicha
I must also ask you, and Reena and Adina, for forgiveness .
They wanted to come see you this week, to say good-bye.
To see you one last time, to hold your hand.
I told them not to come.
I hope that you forgive me.
I know you wanted to see them,
But I also knew that you did not want them to see you.
The Daddy they remember - was not connected to ten machines,
did not have three tubes going down his throat
and did not have another three in his neck.
You wanted to speak, but you couldn't,
You wanted to drink, but you couldn't.
In the Bet Ha'Mikdash, in front of God, there is a concept of
l'hay'raot, to be seen - but not to see.
With a fellow human being, this is impossible.
Abba, on behalf of Reena and Adina, David and Chaim, and myself,
We had trouble understanding what you tried to tell us this week.
When I came in from Israel on Monday night,
you could barely open your eyes.
On Tuesday morning, you were more alert.
I was able to put tfilin on you.
On Wednesday morning, we were able to put on Tfilin
and you nodded as I said the first parsha of Shma
On Thursday, we were alert for two parshiot of kriyat Shma.
We saw slow improvement, there was hope;
maybe the doctors were too pessimistic,
maybe you would pull through.
On Friday morning, you wouldn't let me put Tfilin on you.
You just shook your head, and said no with your hands.
You pushed my hand away, you were in terrible pain.
You wanted the tubes out of your throat;
You wanted just to speak; to be a ben-adam;
to feel like a ben-adam, a human being, one last time.
You wanted to tell Mommy and your children how much you love us;
You wanted to use your mouth, to speak, just to say good bye.
But the doctors did not allow it,
halacha did not permit it.
The few moments you were alert on Friday,
there was just a small tear in your eye.
You fought against all odds, like you always fought;
But on erev shabbat, you realized that you could no longer give;
Your whole life - You didn't want to live, you only wanted to give.
On Friday night, Mommy and I came to the room the make kiddush.
You barely nodded.
Friday night I sat in the room and watched as the monitor
showed that you stopped breathing.
The respirator saved your life several times that night.
You were barely alive.
I sat in the room and said T'hilim,
But I didn't know how to daven, what to daven for.
That you continue to suffer? For what purpose?
That you give up, to give in to the malach ha'mavet? chas v'shalom.
I could only cry,
That God give you one last chance to speak, to talk, to be a ben-adam.
You refused to die on Shabbat,
you suffered one extra day,
so that you wouldn't ruin Shabbat for us.
We came to your room as soon as Shabbat was over to make havdalah.
You were so sound asleep, we didn't want to wake you.
We decided to come back later,
we would first call Adina and Reena in Israel
who had been waiting all night for news.
While talking to Adina in Israel, the nurses called me.
Your heart had stopped just five minutes after Shabbat.
When I came to the room, they had revived you.
The doctors and nurses tried for ten distressing minutes to keep you going.
I could only say vidui for you,
I couldn't even say vidui with you.
The wine, candle, and bsamim were still in the room,
You never heard havdalla that motzei shabbat
For you, it is still Shabbat.
For you, it will always be Shabbat.
Shabbat, Chazal tell us, is me'eyn olam ha'bah.
We are saying good-bye to you now for the last time.
It is your last journey b'olam ha'zeh (in this world)
But your first journey b'olam ha'bah (the world to come).
Just two months ago you sat in the house with the Yeshivah boys
who have gathered here tonight to escort you.
You sang with us at the tisch, you shared with them your divrei Torah.
You loved the song that we sang:
"Ein k'ercha Hashem Elokeinu b'olam ha'zeh"
"v'ein zulatcha Malkeinu, l'chaya olam ha'bah"
You loved to sing, you loved zmirot;
You were always a Yeshiva bachur at heart;
but your voice was too weak to sing.
You listened and smiled, but you had a small tear,
You tried to hide it, like always, but I noticed.
It recognized that same tear on erev Shabbat,
when you didn't have strength to let me put Tfillin on you.
Help us now from heaven, as you helped us on earth.
Demand that God show us "ein zulatcha malkeinu."
Beseech His Mercy for the Land you loved so much;
for His people for whom you cared.
Be for us a meilitz yosher,
Your help is needed.
It is your turn now to take care of Mommy,
She took such good care of you these last few years,
Make sure now, that God takes good care of her.
On behalf of your children and grandchildren who loved you so much,
On behalf of the boys at Yeshiva gathered here whom you loved so much,
On behalf of the community of Alon Shevut and Gush Etzion,
into whose achuzat kever in shevet Yehuda
you will soon be laid to rest,
We say our final "shalom," and show you the kavod" you deserve.
Remember us in shamayim,
We will always remember you.
Your mizbayach which was destroyed on motzei shabbat,
Your way of life, all that you have taught us;
We will rebuild it, here, in Gush Etzion.
"Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, y'hi Shem Hashem Mvorach."
Back to the Memorial Section