A Tribute to Rabbi Yaakov Spivak, zt”l

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HaGaon HaRav HaTzaddik, Yaakov Dovid Spivak, zt’l. Photo Credit: Shimon Gifter

A Tribute to My Rebbe Hagaon Harav Yaakov Dovid Spivak zt”l (Rosh Kollel Ayshel Avraham / President RAA/ Igud HaRabbonim), a Giant in Torah & Chessed

 By: Rabbi Moish Schmerler

I sit here writing this tribute to a man who was larger than life and yet so humble. I can’t help but cry knowing that he is no longer physically with us. The last time I spoke with Rebbe zt”l was Monday night and we discussed the Igud. We had a nice conversation and at the end I told Rebbe, “You know sometimes I am harsh with you, but you know I love you.” He responded, “You know I love you too.” Those were the last words we ever said to each other. Chazal teach us that a person should have a relationship with Hashem like a brother. Although Rebbe was my teacher he treated me as an equal and always showed me more respect than I ever deserved. This is who he was. He was a man of action who spoke for and defended the Jewish people, whether it was on his blog for the NY Daily News or facing down Al Sharpton. Perhaps he was on TV, the radio or even addressing thousands of rabbis. He always spoke respectfully and firmly. His adherence to true Torah Judaism was apparent and no one could stand in the way of his service to Hashem.

My journey with Rabbi Spivak began after he battled his first serious illness. Rabbi Saul Eisner zt”l introduced me to this gentle giant. Rabbi Eisner zt”l told me that Rabbi Spivak was a master in learning and in middos. He was a man who talked the talk and walked the walk. When I first spoke with him, he told me, “Moish I almost died, and I do not have the strength to learn with you.” I cried and told him that Rabbi Eisner had told me that he would learn with me. He gave in, and thus began a close relationship. Gradually we started learning together and he taught me many different lessons. I saw how he treated his Rebbetzin Merrill, and learned how to truly appreciate my wife. He taught me that sometimes I must do the hard things for the sake of Torah, and even be called evil, but never be a truly bad guy. Most importantly when my mother was dying, he taught me how to care for another human being. Rabbi Spivak took Rabbi Mendy Mirczonik and I under his wing and he never let go.

At the 7th Chag Hasemicha of Kollel Ayshel Avraham, I was quoted as saying, “Rabbi Spivak told me that semicha from this kollel is not just a certificate to be hung on the wall, or something to use for pomp and circumstance. He told me that semicha is for me to go out to Klal Yisroel and do HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s work.” He didn’t only preach this message he lived it . He was a lion who fought for true Torah Judaism and what was right. There was no one who could stand up to him and tell him he was wrong if he believed what he was doing was Lshem Shaymim.

At my Chag Hasmicha, Rebbe said, “Our Torah tells us that trumpets were sounded to gather the people, and every time a new leader arose there were new trumpets made in place of the previous ones. Trumpets call people to do great things, and every generation responds to its own particular trumpet sound. These men receiving semicha today know how to sound the new trumpets for their generation. They know how to relate to those who are challenged by the tribulations of today’s world. They will go forth with the courage and determination it takes to champion the cause of our people and, please G-d, our world will be infinitely better for it.” He concluded, “It is not only that I am giving you semichah tonight, but it is also that you are giving me your pledge that you will be going out to your brothers and sisters in need.”

Rebbe, I know you are now standing in front of Hashem the ultimate judge and yet again you are advocating for His children. He is telling you, “Spivak, stop it already.” And as you did in this world, I know you are doing in the Olam Ha’emes. You are standing up for your children, Talmidim, family, your kollel & RAA family, and all of Klal Yisroel .

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לע המות לנצח ומחה ה׳ אלוקים דמעה מעל כל־פנים וחרפת עמו יסיר מעל כל הארץ כי ה׳ דבר

Your loving talmid, Rabbi Moish Schmerler

(Originally published in the Baltimore Jewish Life)