By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I would like to take this opportunity to share a short glimpse into the life of a very special, very beloved and dear mentor of mine who was recently snatched away from us in his prime — Rabbi Asher Zelig Rubinstein ob’m of Jerusalem. I have been in a state of shock and mourning since receiving the devastating call from my son, Elazar, in Israel last Saturday night after his returning from Rabbi Rubinstein’s funeral. Many of my old friends from around the world have joined an email chain of students to exchange stories and inspiration we have gained from this special person over the years, all of us savoring another morsel or story reflecting his greatness and how we can emulate him. This is a man that, without his inspiration, there’s no question that I would not be who I am today, something which many others can attest to as well.
He was a big man, well over six feet tall with a booming voice and beaming smile; everything he did in his life was BIG, with greatness!
Two key points keep emerging out of the many comments and stories being told and shared. One was his legendary simcha, a joy and zest for life which permeated through everything Reb Asher (as he was affectionately known) did, and was truly contagious, imbuing simcha in all those around him. His prayers, recited with his booming voice and with such joy and concentration, would invariably elevate the pitch of the prayers of the entire Yeshiva. When he would recite the Kiddush at the Yeshiva Shabbos meal, standing so tall and holding the cup high, his eyes closed with concentration and face radiating joy throughout the room, Shabbos became a joyous experience never to be forgotten.
He was especially renowned for his “bentching,” the grace recited after a bread meal. So many of us remember being affected by his profound concentration and simcha in each and every word of that prayer usually rushed through by most. The rebbetzin told me yesterday on the phone that she can’t believe how many people are paying shiva calls and talking about her husband’s bentching! Her sons found and printed out a sheet from the holy Zohar, a kabbalistic statement about the incredible effects one has on the entire universe by reciting the bentching with concentration, and they have been giving it out at the shiva. It helps ward off evil decrees and helps greatly with one’s livelihood. We all have decided this is a way to remember him, to work on our concentration and joy in our bentching.
Another point which keeps emerging is the tremendous love and respect Reb Asher had for each and every one of his students, even many years after leaving the Yeshiva. In the words of Mrs. Rubinstein, “many rabbis fulfill the Torah’s message to treat your students like your children, but my husband went one step beyond that; he viewed every student like his ONLY child!” She said I could have no idea how much joy he had from each student, how he prayed for their success, how much nachas he felt when they had success.
I personally can attest that not only did I feel like a son, but my children felt like grandchildren. They joined him for Shabbos meals, he joined all of our simchas. Although he couldn’t afford it, Reb Asher flew to Dallas from Israel to attend my daughter Tsippi’s wedding. By him it wasn’t even a question; although I couldn’t afford to fly him in, of course he’s coming! At my grandson’s recent bris in Israel he was the “resident Zaidy,” serving as the grandfather till the end, taking pictures with and schmoozing with all my children. Many others have similar feelings; when one’s heart is big enough they seem to have unlimited capacity to extend love to others in a way that each one feels like they’re the special one with the unique connection that no one else has.
May we glean a little from his ways and may he continue to pray for our success and receive nachas from what we do from his new vantage point on high.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.