For as long as I can remember (which admittedly isn’t a large portion of Grandpa’s life, but it is what I have), Grandpa would ask for the kavod of g’lilah and not Levi. I will soon share the reasoning for this, which I’ve heard Grandpa explain many times, as I’m sure others have, as well. But it wasn’t about anavah, at least not in the superficial sense. It was about who Grandpa was.
Grandpa would often explain, based on the Gemara in Megillah that “Goleil noteil sachar k’neged kulan – that the kavod and sachar of g’lilah is equal to that of all the aliyos that came before, and this is because we are to treat a sefer Torah as we would a talmid chacham; and as the Gemara in B’rachos states: Gadol shimushah yoseir mi’limudah. Therefore, the caring for the sefer Torah itself, the gentle wrapping of the scrolls, carefully hugging and closing it up, dressing it with the m’il – all that was as just as important as all the Torah that was learned from it. Like Yehoshua bin Nun and Elisha HaNavi, what drove Grandpa was shimush HaTorah and talmidei chachamim. And Grandpa wasn’t a young yeshivah bachur running errands all day. To Grandpa, shimush talmidei chachamim was much more than that.
I remember interviewing Grandpa on the topic of Rav Soloveitchik about a decade ago. Grandpa quoted the mishnah in Pirkei Avos: “Chamishah talmidim hayu lo l’Rabban Yochanan be Zakai.” And he asked: How can the mishnah say that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai only had five talmidim? Surely the founder of “Yavneh v’chachameha” had thousands of talmidim! The answer, said Grandpa, is in the words “hayu lo.” They were his. These were the talmidim who belonged to him.
Grandpa said that there are many talmidim who are far better experts on the Rav than he was: experts on the Rav’s chidushei Torah and minhagim, or his philosophy, or even family history. “I am not an expert on the Rav. But I was his.” No matter what it was, Grandpa was there for the Rav, always on his side. The Rav knew he can trust him. The Rav, like Rabban Yochanan be Zakai, had many talmidim. Thousands. But from all those thousands – only chamishah hayu lo in such a way.
And that is what Grandpa meant to the Rav, and perhaps more importantly – that is what the Rav meant to Grandpa. This is what shimush talmidei chachamim meant to Grandpa. It is more than the running errands. This is the kind of hayu lo like Hashem promised us: v’hayisi lachem leilokim, v’atem tihyu li l’am. It is a consciousness of complete devotion and commitment, a pledge of fealty and allegiance – unwitherable and unshakeable.
But this form of commitment of Grandpa wasn’t a singularity. He had pledged such elegances before, and after. There are many ideas, beliefs, and (most importantly) people, to whom Grandpa signed off these promises of hayu lo.
Grandpa, Daddy, Fabi, HaRav Schonfeld, Rabbi Schonfeld, “Rav Mordechai Shraga Scheinfeld” – the name signing off might change, the ways in which they manifest might vary – but the promise is the same. I am yours. I belong to you.
Grandpa belonged to Grandma, with the deepest love and admiration – he was hers. Noda ba’sh’arim baalah, b’shivto im ziknei aretz. Grandpa might have sat at the gates and walked the corridors with the elders – but he was always baalah: the husband, the spouse, and love of Grandma.
Grandpa also belonged to his first wife Fradel Charna, Lotti. No matter the years that passed, his commitment to her and her memory remained as strong as the day they married. And to his father, Shmuel Shabsi, whom I am named after – Grandpa belonged to each and every one of his sons and daughters. He belonged to his family of five generations. Grandpa belonged to Uncle Bibi, asher nafsho k’shurah b’nafsho. Grandpa belonged to the wonderful community of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. And he belonged to am Yisrael – to all of us, religious or not. To his ancestry and to the Mesorah, to Torah, to t’filin, to Yiddishkeit, to Gerer, to Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, to his friends, to Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael – Grandpa was the sum of his belongings. The ideas, emunos, and people – to whom he belonged. Grandpa asked for the kavod of g’lilah because how he treated the sefer Torah, with reverence and love, was what Torah meant to Grandpa. It was who he was. And it was how he treated life – HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s world and the people in it.
Ninety percent of Grandpa’s drashos and shiurim consist of stories: stories of his father and family, members of the community, encounters with diplomats and statesmen, rabbanim and roshei yeshivah, from his life in Europe or America or experiences in Israel. This is simply because, to Grandpa, Torah was not only about kisvei ha’kodesh and the teachings of our great Mesorah. To Grandpa, Torah came to life in the human interaction. Grandpa saw and learned Torah not only from the millions of s’farim spread throughout his house, but from the very lives in which the Torah dwelt. And Grandpa saw this Torah in each of us. V’eizehu chacham? Ha’lomeid mi’kol adam.
Grandpa had an incredible z’chus in his late years. The very elements to which Grandpa devoted his life – gave him life. These pledges of fealty were mutual. They were covenants. This was the source of Grandpa’s arichas yamim: receiving this devotion back, ka’mayim ha’panim la’panim, kein leiv ha’adam la’adam. The community and all its members. His friends. The aides. Dr. Rimler. Russ and Shirley. Uncle Rob. The grandchildren and the great- and great-great-grandchildren. His talis and t’filin – the mitzvah of t’filin that he fought for, so many years ago. The Torah and chavrusos – Steve Weissman and David Levenson. Uncle Bibi. Grandma.
All Grandpa belonged to, belonged to him just the same. More than it gave his life purpose, it was the purpose of his life.
And finally, Grandpa will be buried here, in admas Medinat Yisrael, reishis tz’michas g’ulaseinu, in Eretz Yisrael, to which he belonged and he now returns. Ki mei’afar basa, v’el afar tashuv.
I was debating if to list all my aunts and uncles by name. After all, there are many, bli ayin ha’ra, and I was asked to keep it short, since, after all, this isn’t a hesped. But there can be no greater kavod to Grandpa than reading out his greatest life achievements – his jewel and pride:
Aunt Viva, Uncle Bernie, and the Pinchuk family
Tante Vicky, Uncle Meyer, and the Berglas family
Aunt Debby, Uncle Shabsi, and the Wolf family
Uncle Yossi and the Schindelheim family
Uncle Joey, Aunt Peri, and the Schonfeld family
Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Barry, and the Schwartz family
Avi mori v’imi morasi – Debby, Jonathan, and the Spero family
Aunt Georgy, Uncle Saul, and the London family
Uncle Ari, Aunt Udi, and the Schonfeld family
And last, but far from least, Aunt Tammy, Uncle Rob, and the Koppel family.
If the Gemara says that Ein osin nefashos l’tzadikim, ki divreihem hein hein zichronam, then with Grandpa and Grandma – the giant tzadikim – yaldeihem hein hein zichronam.
On behalf of us, the grandchildren, I would like to end with a hakaras ha’tov to our aunts and uncles who, for years and years, have taught us all by example what they have learned from Grandpa’s example – what it means to be hayu lo.
T’hei nishmaso tz’rurah bitzror ha’chayim.
By Shabi Spero