25th Yahrzeit

“I’m Here for Rebbe”
25th Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik z”l 

Tu b’Shevat marks the 25th yahrzeit of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik z”l, a charismatic Torah luminary who exuded scintillating warmth.  Evoking no less than the sentiment of “nasi Elokim be-socheinu,” the ambassador of Hashem is amongst us, he was a Rosh Yeshiva in Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef for three decades.  He transferred to America and conferred upon American talmidim the majesty of Torah. 

A measure of greatness of a Rosh Yeshiva is the quality of the relationship he establishes with his talmidim.  Rabbi Warshavchik cherished every talmid, and that initial encounter in the Bais Medrash was only the beginning of a lifelong relationship of warmth and closeness.

His singular mission in life was to fashion talmidim.  Many would have given him the highest praise for producing baalei batim who would be shomrei torah u-mitzvos, but he often said, “My goal is nothing less than to produce Roshei Yeshivos.”  Not all of his talmidim became Roshei Yeshivos, although many did, but for many talmidim, he managed to implant in them a yearning to aspire for greatness in Torah, to make Torah the central part of their lives, and to be supporters of Torah. 

He was sent away from home before his bar mitzvah to learn in the litvishe yeshivos even though his father was a Gerer chasid.  He was a talmid muvhak of Rav Boruch Ber z”l, from whom he received one of his semichos.  He learned in Kamenitz and Mir, and during World War II, fled with the Mirrer Yeshiva to Japan and China.  He arrived in the United States in San Francisco by boat via the Pacific Ocean in the summer of 1946 and then traveled to New York.  The morning after his arrival in New York, he was told that Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef was looking for a Rosh Yeshiva.  When the legendary Menahel, Rabbi Hillel Weiss z”l, first set eyes on Rabbi Warshavchik, his immediate and spontaneous reaction was to make a shehechiyanu, b’Shem u-Malchus, and exclaim, “El ha-na’ar ha-zeh hispalalti.”  Thus began a thirty-year tenure in the famous “Mamma Yeshiva,” Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef.

In 1946, it was a challenge to transform an American boy into a ben Torah.  Learning was not in style, and it was a lifestyle that was denigrated by American baalei batim.  Rabbi Warshavchik’s pedagogical style, dignity and princely bearing brought the royalty of Torah of the European Roshei Yeshivos to life in the classroom.  When he gave shiur every day for over two hours, it was obvious that he saw his Rebbe, Rav Boruch Ber z”l, in front of his eyes.  He imparted the love, respect and grandeur of Torah to his many talmidim with the brilliance of his shiurim and the warmth of his personality.

Lakewood, in its incipient state, was struggling for survival.  Rabbi Warshavchik convinced his best talmidim to go to Rav Aharon zt”l.  It was no small feat trying to convince some of their parents, who at that time were adamantly opposed to the concept of kollel, to allow their sons to go to Lakewood.  Yet, gradually, the beauty of Torah study took root in the young American talmidim, and the majesty of Torah began to blossom inAmerica.

Among Rabbi Warshavchik’s talmidim are many of the eminent current Roshei Yeshivos in America and Eretz Yisrael.  He took great pride in all his talmidim, many of whom are prominent rabbonim, marbitzei torah, askonim, heads of leading Jewish organizations, businessmen and professionals, all supporters of Torah.  Some have reached the height of their profession, and many now, upon retirement, are learning all day.

Among his talmidim is also the co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics, Professor Yisrael Aumann.  When interviewed after winning the Nobel Prize, Dr. Aumann said, “The teacher who influenced me most was Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik.  He attracted me to the beauty of Talmudic study and the beauty of religious observance.  Rav Warshavchik’s enthusiasm and intensity—the fire in his eyes—lit a fire in me also.”

Upon his arrival in Eretz Yisrael in 1978, where he was a beloved Rosh Yeshiva in Knesset Hezekiah in Kefar Chasidim for the last ten years of his life, Dr. Aumann’s son requested to meet Rabbi Warshavchik and learn with the “Rebbe shel Abba.”

When Rabbi Aaron Levine z”l, Rabbi Warshavchik’s son-in law, was niftar in April 2011, a talmid of Rabbi Warshavchik, Dr. Shmuel Dworetsky, came from Monsey to pay a shiva call.  Rabbi Levine’s family had last seen Dr. Dworetsky 23 years earlier when he had eulogized his Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Warshavchik, at the Shloshim.  Upon entering the shiva house, the talmid proclaimed loudly over and over, “I’m here for Rebbe, I’m here for Rebbe,” a testament to the strong bond and lifelong relationship the Rebbe had with his talmidim.

Rabbi Warshavchik had two prominent sons-in-law, each a scion of a great Rabbinic dynasty.  The late Rabbi Dr. Aaron Levine z”l was a grandson of the Reisha Rav, descendent of the Bais Yitzchok, and Rabbi Elihu Soloveichik shlita is a great-gransdson of Rav Chaim Brisker.

Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik z”l was the Rosh Yeshiva the Prince, for many the Rebbe shel Abba and the Rebbe shel Sabba.  He was a link to the majesty of the Torah world of yester-year.  He left an indelible mark on his talmidim that still evokes many years later the response, “I’m here for Rebbe.”  Yehi zichro baruch.