by Menachem Rubinstein
The world has lost a giant.
Sitting in shul in Congregation Levi Yitzchok this past Shabbos, the feeling of loss was palpable. Some davened with watery eyes, doing their best to hold back tears despite the halachic proscription against displaying sadness or mourning on Shabbos. The Rabbi’s esteemed son, and our newly appointed Rav, Rabbi Yisroel Noach Raichik led the shul in saying the birchas hachoidesh, as was his father’s custom each month. The symbolism of the moment was powerful. Yet, a painful reality rested behind this powerful image. The oilam sat at the kiddush, knowing this time we would not be able to hear the words of our dear Rav. A hole has been burned into our hearts, and it feels like we will never heal.
The rabbi’s seat in shul sits vacant. The lectern waits for him to announce the mazel tovs. It was from this lectern that he invited us to join him each week on a journey through history to relive the Rebbe’s farbrengens and sichos relevant to that week’s parsha. Those who sat through his Shabbos speeches will attest—it was nothing short of margolios mipihu.
Shortly after Purim two years ago, when our city began its lockdown in response to Covid, the rabbi made sure to call every week. He was simply checking up on my family, and I later learned that he did the same thing to all of my friends. When the rabbi called, I joked with him that I could no longer rely on his speech for my Shabbos table Dvar Torah. Instead, I would have to open the Likkutei Sichos and learn the sichos myself. He chuckled and responded, “nu, un vos iz azoy shlecht?” Other rabbanim might have rejected my feeble attempt at humor or seriously reprimanded me for suggesting that I never open a sefer. Not Rabbi Raichik. He took my comment in stride, had a good laugh, and quickly but gently got back to reminding me that Baal Habattim must also open the seforim ourselves and not only rely on his genius. I will never forget his incredible laugh. I know others won’t either.
Those who knew Rabbi Shimon Raichik will agree that he was a man of many qualities. Above all, he was a man of kindness. At a recent farbrengen where a Bar Mitzvah bochur recited his maamar, the boy’s memory evaded him, leading to a momentary silence as he struggled to recall the next words. Rabbi Raichik, seated nearby, leaned over and whispered in the boy’s ear. The boys eyes lit up, and the shul could feel the sense of relief as the boy continued with the maamar. It wasn’t just anyone who helped this boy remember the forgotten words of the maamar, it was the Rav of the shul. Sensitively helping a 13-year-old boy with stagefright trying his best to recite the maamar baal peh was not beneath the Rav’s dignity. It wasn’t beneath him to sit next to my own son on a given Shabbos, ask him his name, and inquire what he was learning in Chumash.
That was Rabbi Raichik. The stories of his kindness can and will go on. I will conclude with what I believe was my greatest and most powerful interaction with the rabbi. It happened the first time I met him. It was 2008, and my family and I had just moved to Los Angeles. I was planning to introduce myself at some point, but it just so happened that we were eating lunch at a local bagel shop and Rabbi Raichik walked in. He had come to help an Israeli employee put on Tefillin. I was amazed that the Rav of the shul—one who answered shailos and dealt with serious matters—was occupying himself with doing mivtzoyim. To him, it was simple. There was a Yid he personally knew who was a block away and who had not put on Tefillin. It was his job to help him.
The story does not end there. After assisting the young man with putting on Tefillin, Rabbi Raichik poured himself a cup of coffee, then heimishly pulled up a chair. He sat down at our table, and gave us a hearty Shalom Aleichem. He asked our names, and what brought us to town. We told him that we had just moved to Los Angeles and would shortly be joining his shul. He was warm and inviting, and offered to help in any way he could.
Sitting nearby, another individual had overheard our conversation and began asking us personal questions. “Which Rubinstein are you?” “Do I know your family?” I gently explained that I probably had no relation to anyone he knew. But the person would not budge. It was obvious he was trying to ascertain our yichus. Finally, sensing that this person’s line of questioning was not necessarily appropriate, Rabbi Raichik turned to him and said:
“S’iz a vort fun Baal Shem Tov, az di yichus vet unhoyben mit em”—the Baal Shem Tov says that the yichus will begin with him.
The man asked no more questions, and I will forever carry these words and the lesson behind them with me.
[The author is an attorney in Los Angeles. He invites others to share their personal memories of Rabbi Raichik by emailing Michael@rabbilawyer.com.]