Eulogies for Rav Naftali (Herman) Neuberger zt”l
The hespedim, eulogies, for Rav Neuberger were delivered beginning at 8 pm this evening.
HaRav Aharon Feldman shlit”a, Rosh HaYeshiva, was the first speaker. He began by speaking about the terrific help that Rav Neuberger provided for all, not only the students, but women, the poor, and the ill. Rav Feldman remembers one situation where the parents of a former student suddenly lost another son, while far from home. He stepped in and personally made the funeral arrangements. For the ill, he even helped arrange for a helicopter to transfer a critically ill patient (who could not be out of the ICU for long) to a better hospital.
He commended the great unity and collaboration between Jewish groups in Baltimore, and credited much of this to R’ Naftoli’s mediation. Another community had a serious crisis between rivals that threatened to tear it apart. Rav Neuberger flew out and met one of the rival sides in the airport, and with his advice the community weathered the crisis and flourishes until today.
But it is the Iranian community that should cry most of all. He worked to rescue them at the last moment, and educated today’s young leaders of Torah learning in the Iranian community, right in the Yeshiva.
It is true that he had access to the halls of power in Washington, said Rav Feldman, but tears came to Rav Neuberger’s eyes when he spoke of the privilege of being in the yeshiva in Baltimore.
He was a man of pure faith, and his faith gave him the ability to work indefatigably. It made others want to join him in his work.
It is a tremendous loss. There is only one nechama (consolation): he left an exceptional family. He wished them all success, especially “his son and successor, HaRav Sheftel Neuberger” [thus letting us know that, as was planned and expected by everyone, Rav Sheftel will be taking over as president of the yeshiva].
HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky was then called to speak. He said it is very difficult, given how close he was to Rav Neuberger.
He spoke of a Medrash about the death of Moshe. The Angel of Death attempted to take Moshe’s soul, but Moshe sent it away. Then HaShem Himself, as it were, spoke to the soul of Moshe and asked it to come out. The soul replied that it was quite happy to be in Moshe’s body. Moshe had ascended so high spiritually, that the soul was happy to be inside him. That is how high a person can go.
The Mesillas Yesharim says that G-d Created human beings to be good to them. So why not give humans gold platters, and angels to serve them? The M.Y. answers that when a poor person comes to eat at a rich man’s house, he is ashamed to look up because he has nothing. HaShem wanted to give, and his desire was to enable us to earn a place at the table, to work for closeness to HaShem. And to want to be close to and to emulate HaShem is to also want to do good to others.
An Ish Yashar, a straight person, is one who thinks only of what HaShem wants from him. This was Rav Neuberger, and everyone came to him for advice because his thinking was Yashar, straight. He was always ready to work, to do whatever he could do, with all his strength and will. When a person thinks Yashar, then everything he does is for the honor of HaShem.
The instances that he helped people — it is an endless list. Whomever he could help, he was always available to help. And he encouraged all of Rav Neuberger’s students to do likewise, to work for others.
Rav Beryl Weisbord, the Mashgiach, spiritual director, spoke about the Toldos, the Generations of Noach. Before it speaks of his children, it speaks of his actions. The main creations of a person are his good deeds, even more than children.
He said that in truth we can hardly assess the greatness of any human being. How much more so when speaking of a giant of this stature. Who left his home as a young man to go learn in the Mirrer Yeshiva. Not only for himself — he encouraged others to go learn as well.
He then came to the States at 19 or 20 to learn by HaRav Ruderman zt”l, the first Rosh Yeshiva. And soon again helping others, taking responsibilities in the yeshiva besides learning there, and working tirelessly for rescue during the Holocaust. He involved himself more and more, becoming president of the yeshiva. The whole beautiful campus of Ner Israel today is because of Rav Neuberger’s sweat, tears and responsibility. It was very, very far from easy.
And at the same time he was working tirelessly, not only for the yeshiva but for the community at large — the religious community, the secular community, the political community, the international community. He traveled in 1979 to Iran to speak the government about letting Jews out. Night after night in Rav Yosef Tendler’s office, students filled out I20 visas to ensure that they could rescue as many souls as they could.
He once berated someone for giving him an update about a crisis in the morning. He said, Why didn’t you wake me at 3:30 am?
The main creations of a person are not physical children, but good deeds. The good deeds are walking around, they are realities. So why do we need hespedim, eulogies? His good deeds have made the world a better place. What do we gain by talking about it?
The Talmud asks, are hespedim for the honor of the deceased, or for the honor of his family? The conclusion is that it is for the honor of the deceased. How do we honor him? When we talk about him, we are able to some extent to evaluate the good deeds.
Rav Weisbord remembers, over 30 years ago, standing in Rav Ruderman’s kitchen, and the RY said to him, bring a Gemara Pesachim. The Gemara says a person should sell all he has to marry the daughter of a Talmid Chacham, a scholar. If he doesn’t find one, then the daughter of Gedolei HaDor, the greats of the generation. Who are they? Rashi says those of great deeds and the righteous.
Reb Naftoli, said Rav Ruderman, is a Gadol HaDor, a giant, because of his great deeds. Again one of the things we can do, having lost a Gadol, is to emulate him. The Gemara says we should learn three things from a child — who is constantly in motion, thinks there is nothing he can’t do, and cries for what he really, really wants. Rav Neuberger was the embodiment of this Gemara.
Reb Naftoli was very tough when working to correct an injustice, yet as soft as could be. He felt the pain of another human being.
The simple meaning of the verse, of course, is that the Toldos of Noach were indeed his children. Reb Naftoli had several exceptional children, all of whom are engaged in the needs of Torah and the congregation. He, too, welcomed Reb Sheftel and hoped to work together with him to continue the work of his father.
Rav Sheftel Neuberger noted that ordinarily one cries first and then eulogizes, but Avraham our forefather saw fit to do the opposite for Sarah. He knew that her accomplishements were private, and the crying after the eulogy was a more meaningful expression, having seen more of who she was. So many of Reb Sheftel’s father’s accomplishments were private as well.
All of his actions and attributes were informed by the fact that he, Reb Naftoli, was Yashar, straight. But there is no English word that fully encompasses what it means to be Yashar. This was the ultimate compliment of our forefathers, says the Netziv, that they were Yesharim.
Rav Ruderman and Rav Neuberger shared a vision, to build a Yeshiva in the European style on American soil. Despite the Yeshiva’s facilitating students going to college in the evening, Rav Neuberger personally encouraged parents to let their children study without pursuing other things. One outstanding scholar today wrote a letter to the family, saying that Rav Neuberger personally advised him regarding how to mollify his parents at every juncture, as he grew in Torah. Yet training people to elevate themselves while learning other things as well results in people who today are not merely highly respected in their various fields of endeavor, but leaders in their communities as well.
Even those who disagreed with him respected him. He had ongoing warm relations with governors, mayors, congressmen. He was consistent, discreet and trustworthy.
He was unrelenting in his pursuit of peace. He taught by example of the importance of communal involvement, and we will follow his example.
A student came to Ner Israel having studied medicine in London, because he was going to be a resident at Johns Hopkins and wanted to be in the yeshiva as well. Rav Neuberger gave him an apartment at the yeshiva, and Dr. Jakobovits has never left. He did this as much for the family of the doctor as for the yeshiva — for having a doctor on campus was a great asset, and the family owes Dr. Jakobovits a debt of gratitude for his help on many occasions.
Make no mistake, he said, “Daddy is irreplaceable.” What falls to us is a hope and fervent prayer, “when will my deeds touch those of our forebears?” Let us pray that the entire family of Ner Israel will preserve this great legacy, and will approach and touch the deeds of our father.
Rav Moshe Heinemann, representing the Rabbonim of Baltimore, said the generation of the dispersal tried to build a Tower of Bavel and “make a name for themselves.” The Torah doesn’t explain specifically what the problem was, but HaShem said they are one people with one language, and this is what caused the problem. So to stop this, there’s only one way: cause agitation and difficulty between people. So He changed languages so that people got angry
So what was the problem with building, and if the problem was them all having one language then why not create people in 70 languages right away?
The problem of the city was to rebel against HaShem. They thought a flood would come every 1600 years and be up there out of harm’s way. Either to go up there and live there, or to go fight HaShem, or to go worship idols. So HaShem stopped this by causing strife between people. HaShem wanted this unity to be used for serving Him, to bring holiness and purity to the world. But people used it to rebel, and that is why G-d saw the need to create 70 languages.
Receiving the Torah was done “as one man with one heart.” With peace many things can be accomplished. Reb Naftoli worked to have peace in the Yeshiva, peace in the city, peace all over. He wanted to build a tower to heaven, a Yeshiva to bring us up to the highest pinnacles. With unity, he saw, we will be successful. People came to the Yeshiva from all different types of backgrounds. They did not all speak the same language, but they all had a place in this Yeshiva. It made them speak one language, that of Torah and Fear of Heaven.
But not only in Yeshiva. In the town of Baltimore there are over 30 frum (Orthodox) synagogues. Practically all have been established with the guidance, wisdom and direction of Rav Neuberger, and he made sure there should be peace. How many towns have 30 frum shuls and no machlokes, no argument and discord? He even had a way with those not from our circles. And because of his wisdom, they honored and respected him for his honesty and integrity, and Baltimore is one of the only towns in the United States where the Jewish Community Center is closed on Shabbos.
One of the great things that Rav Neuberger did was take over the financial burden of the yeshiva, to the degree that he did not let Rav Ruderman involve himself in collecting funds. Rav Neuberger took that burden.
Irving Bunim said, we know that Hillel, says the Talmud, could have had the Divine Presence rest on him, but the generation wasn’t worthy. Now is that Hillel’s fault? Why did he not have the Divine Presence dwell on him regardless of the generation? But Hillel lived in abject poverty. He chopped down trees and paid half his money for tuition to go learn Torah. Asked Rav Bunim, didn’t anyone see his genius and support him? Clearly, no one did. If someone had supported him and taken the financial burden off his shoulders, Hillel would have risen to the point that he could have received the Divine Presence.
Had Rav Neuberger or someone like him lived at the time of Hillel, Hillel would have received the Divine Presence. He ensured the teachers were paid on time. He built the whole campus of Ner Israel. He kept it in top condition, the lawn mowed, the snow cleared, so that people would be impressed with the dignity and respect for Torah of the Yeshiva.
People from all walks of life came to him for his help. Officials and politicians saw in him a man whose word is his word. Most Roshei Yeshiva had connections to him. Rav Moshe Sherer, who headed the world Agudah, told Rav Heinemann that practically a day didn’t go by that he didn’t call Rav Neuberger for his advice and opinion. Rav Neuberger was involved with all the problems of the world, but never became haughty, inflated. If he met a crying child on Yeshiva Lane, he bent down and asked what he could do to help. He stayed in a simple apartment like everyone else.
The Heinemanns lived next to the Neubergers for a quarter century. The Neubergers pursued the same mission. Rav Neuberger would tell the Rebbetzin that he wanted to bring over a Rosh Yeshiva, or a Senator, and she made sure that everything was perfect. And he brought her flowers, and took on himself not to be away for Shabbos. If he was far away for two weeks, he would come home for Shabbos and fly out again. Theirs was a house of harmony.
If a doctor told someone there were no appointments for three months, Rav Neuberger got an appointment for the next day. He helped people with loans, immigration problems, passports, honoring the dead — he loved people and brought them close to Torah. In the town he was the one behind building the new mikvah, ritual bath, because the old one was in a bad neighborhood. He helped build the synagogues, the two Agudah shuls, and helped Rav Heinemann to become the Rav of the Agudah. He helped build the Vaad HaKashrus, the Star-K Kosher Certification, and encouraged Rav Heinemann while still a schoolteacher to take on this responsibility as well.
This citadel of Torah, with its head up in Heaven, Rav Neuberger was the one who made them speak one language, and that is what started them off. And HaShem saw that it was a good thing, and it should be done. May his memory be for a blessing.
Rav Neuberger’s grandson asked that the director of the yeshiva’s Persian program, Rav Eliyahu HaKakian, to speak, mentioning the number of Persian scholars that could have been asked.
Rav HaKakian said it is a daunting task. For one he “cannot capture even a few sparks of the great light” that was Rav Neuberger. The dedication, the love, the responsibility. But also because he, Rav HaKakian, is representing 70 students enjoying growth in the yeshiva and the several hundred young men who have been hosted by the yeshiva and enjoyed the blessing of being there, whether for one month or over 20 years, some who are now great scholars. But also all those who are or will be the beneficiaries of this blessing through the alumni of the Yeshiva.
And he is also representing their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, ancestors of 2500 years of exile in Persia. They need to be represented tonight, for despite the pogroms, killing, looting, and humiliation, they did not give up their Judaism, their values. They kept whatever they knew and whatever they learned. They made sure to pass the fire of Judaism and simple faith for over 2500 years.
And then came the historic moment, that would end the exile of Persia. The people began to move. All the difficulties of moving to a new environment threatened to extinguish that old flame. But HaShem prepared an antidote to the wound. As Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead of him to establish a Yeshiva in Egypt, as the scholars were first exiled to Bavel to prepare places of Torah in the exile, HaShem prepared a yeshiva for those exiled from Persia long before they knew they would have to move.
Rav Neuberger was the one who saw the need, who convinced the whole yeshiva, the whole faculty, that it was upon them to help. When Divine Providence brought him to Iran, the idea was formed in his mind to bring boys from Iran to learn in the yeshiva, and then to send them home to be leaders, Rabbis in Iran. He had great insight but he was not a prophet. The plan had many changes as the situation changed day by day. What did not change was the feeling that it was upon him to help train these students and help the community.
He was so careful with the yeshiva’s money that he would commonly go around turning lights off late at night, but at the same time he said if there were three Persian students who needed a teacher at a basic level, he would hire a teacher. Rav HaKakian envisioned a summer program for Iranian boys, only asking for advice and permission. Rav Neuberger asked him the budget — and immediately promised that the yeshiva would provide 25% of the cost of activities, above the room and board and everything else.
The Persian program did not make sense in many ways. That is why most other yeshivas did not accept this idea on this large scale. To bring in so many boys from overseas. The cultural clash until they adapt themselves, become “mainstream.” Do you know what the American boys had to go through? Just ask around! Or to put nineteen, twenty-year-old boys alongside high school boys so they could begin to learn, did it make sense?
He, as a Levi, would walk over the the other Beis Medrash where the Persian boys were praying in their style, to wash the hands of the Persian Kohanim for Musaf. Can you understand, asked Rav HaKakian, how this made us feel, when this person, who ran the entire operation, would come over to himself wash their hands?
Rav HaKakian reiterated that he was representing those generations. They prayed that the flame of Torah they had preserved for 2500 years not be extinguished, and Rav Neuberger was the light that kept it burning. He too became their father.
HaRav Yissocher Frand began, it is said that every person writes a masechta [tracteate] in his lifetime. Rav Neuberger wrote a great masechta, and he said that no one, not even his children, knows the entire masechta. Because so much of what Rav Neuberger did was private and quiet, two words Rabbi Frand recalls in connection with Rav Neuberger, not even his own children know all that he did.
Other words: tireless, indefatigable, driven. Rabbi Frand often wondered what drove him, why he seemed to have more energy than people half his age. Like the Ponevizher Rav, they both built great yeshivos, were great fundraisers, traveled the globe, knew how to speak with different people, and were tireless.
Moshe was greater than Noach because Noach was not great enough to save his generation. Moshe saved his entire generation at the time of the Golden Calf. Reb Shmuel Rozovsky said of the Ponevizher Rav zt”l that perhaps he wanted to be known not as one who was saved, but one who helped save a generation. Similarly Rav Neuberger who saved so many from Europe.
Another word: achrayus, responsibility. Rav Frand said “I don’t think the person was able to give a speech without using the word achrayus.” Perhaps this is why he was so successful building the yeshiva, because he was such an unbelievable baal achrayus, one who assumes responsibility. Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead to Goshen to build a Yeshiva. Why Yehudah, not Levi or another? Because you need responsibility, and Yehudah took responsibility in front of Yosef. It is Yehudah, it is Rav Neuberger, that helps build a Yeshiva.
He sweated the details. Usually a big vision person is not a detail person, and a detail person is not a big vision person. Rav Neuberger was not finished until the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted. When someone was starting a new synagogue and asked Rav Neuberger for advice, Reb Naftoli even went with him to the bank to help fill out the paperwork to open an account. Had he nothing better to do? But he had to see it taken care of, he took responsibility.
A Baal HaChalomos, a dreamer. There were people who saw the hole in the ground where the new Bais Medrash of Ner Israel would be built. They said, there is Rav Neuberger’s white elephant, because it would never be built. Today you can’t find a seat.
Another word: a father. Because there are hundreds if not thousands of students (Rabbi Frand among them) who say he was like a father. [Crying] Because a father is someone who cares about you. If you were a businessman he wanted to know how you were doing. A father is someone that you trust, that you go to when you have a “life” question, as Rav and Mrs. Frand did on numerous occasions. A father is someone that you go to when you’re in trouble, and how many people went to him when they were in trouble because of their failing marriages. As one person wrote to the family, “he unselflessly spent hours with me when I was trying to save my failing marriage. He met me in a hotel room and made his wife wait hours as he did what he felt he could.”
A father called from the hospital, he was playing with his infant son and his leg accidentally got twisted under him. That the baby would need surgery was traumatic enough, but social services wanted to take the baby. Rav Neuberger told them which lawyer to contact, and within a day the crisis was resolved.
“Who am I going to call now?” asked Rav Frand.
Another word, Rebbe. Yes, Rebbe. How many executive directors of yeshivos, money men, whom students call Rebbe? But hundreds call him Rebbe. He may not have taught them a Tosfos or a Rebbe Akiva Eiger, but he taught them from the book called life. A letter from a Rosh Kollel says, he taught us how to think through an issue ourselves. He took the time to be our mentor, and show us how to approach it ourselves. When people come to him now for advice, he asks himself what Rav Naftoli would say.
Ehrlichkeit — Integrity. In the yeshiva there has never been a whiff of impropriety or scandal, in an environment, a society where the ends justify the means, where everyone does it, where “playing shtick” is part of the lexicon. But not here. Not Rabbi Neuberger.
And not only for Ner Israel — he created the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS), with standards and practices, because he knew that if a yeshiva were found doing something wrong it would be a great disgrace to G-d’s Name.
Telephone. No one that Rav Frand ever met knew how to use a phone better. He played a telephone like a Stradivarius. Driving up into the mountains he would stop at every gas station to check with the yeshiva to see what was happening.
Tzir. What is a Tzir? It means a hinge, but is used in the Bible to describe a faithful messenger, like Moshe, Shlomo. The verse calls Moshe a Tzir in the Prophecy of Ovadiah. Rabbi Frand said you may notice a beautiful building and a beautiful door, but rarely if ever will you notice the hinge — even though without the hinge the door wouldn’t work.
He was a faithful servant, with one of the hardest and most thankless jobs in any yeshiva — the fundraiser. There is today a fundraiser in another yeshiva, and he asked Rav Neuberger how he deals with it, how he faces the nos, the humiliation, the “get out of my office.” He said the Rosh Yeshiva told him, to the untrained eye the service of the High Priest of Yom Kippur looks undignified and dirty — the slaughtering, the throwing of the blood.
The other then asked Rav Neuberger, why not start a course, why not teach others how to raise money? He replied that it takes an Idealistic desire to work for Torah, and a willingness to give of one’s self for that, and one cannot teach that in a course.
Rav Frand dissolved into tears as he recalled how Rav Neuberger ushered in Rosh HaShanah by leading the evening service every year. This Elul Rabbi Frand wondered, because Rav Neuberger could not stand for very long at a time, whether this would be the year that Rav Neuberger would not lead Maariv. But he did, and he stood for the whole service and for the whole line of students, up to an hour long.
And afterwards Rabbi Frand, as he was sure many other people did, wished Rav Neuberger that it should be so next year as well… but it was not to be.