A Tribute on His Passing

Our rabbis teach us that while it’s a transgression not to bury a dead person right away, if the burial is postponed to bring greater honor to the deceased, it is not a transgression (Sanhedrin 46a).

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains why it’s essential for someone who has departed this world to the world of truth, where one realizes that our Earthly honors are worthless, to need the last honors bestowed on him.

He quotes the midrash that states that G-d tells the angels, “So and So has died; go out and ask if he’s righteous.” Hashem knows everything we do; it’s recorded in Heaven. So why is there the need for the angels to investigate and check out whether this person is righteous or not?

“Man’s chief purpose in life,” Rabbi Sorotzkin writes, is “to sanctify G-d’s name publicly and to serve as a positive example in the service of G-d and good human relations. On the day a man dies and must face Heavenly Judgment, G-d intimates to the angels that much depends on what people say about the deceased, which shows that they learned from him in his lifetime. The final honors, eulogies, and honest praise that is bestowed upon a person after his death is not false honor, but a means of defending him in the Heavenly Court and helping him gain eternal life.”

My rebbe, mentor, and friend, Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Spivak z”l, who recently passed away, didn’t get the full eulogies and honors he justly deserved due to the fact that he died in Nisan, during the month of Passover, a time when hope springs eternal, and partially overrides an obligation to mourn, and eulogies are limited.

Rav Yaakov’s good deeds and dedication to his family and people were broadcast for all to see, hear, and learn. He was a rosh kollel, educator, radio and TV personality, historian, music composer, Jewish Press columnist, author, kashrus administrator, and a super-mentch who really cared and did something to make our world a better place. He was a real renaissance man.

I remember that it was over 40 years ago when I first called him up because of an ad I saw in The Jewish Press regarding one of his organizations, EMES, which he formed to fight missionaries. I was trying to fundraise for him by selling magazine subscriptions to his members. Instead, we formed a lifetime friendship and partnership, and he brought me into the world of Jewish broadcasting.

In 1981, Jewish radio consisted primarily of Jewish and Yiddish music. Together, we started a radio show called Night Rap, the nation’s first Jewish call-in talk show with newsmaker guests and celebrity interviews broadcasting on the former WEVD radio station, which was sold to a Christian group and became WNYM 1330 AM. When that station started broadcasting missionary programs to the Jews, we moved our programs to WHBI 105.9 FM.

I remember the night that we had New York City Mayor Ed Koch scheduled to appear live in the studios on a Wednesday night at 7 p.m. At 6:45, we received a phone call from someone named Mr. Brown who told us that the Mayor was being delayed by a few minutes. When we were on the air, we were told that Mayor Koch was held up by chasidic protestors outside the building. The whole thing was a hoax perpetuated by a rival Jewish broadcasting group. Rav Yaakov kept the calm on the air and we received a load of publicity regarding the incident. In fact, the Mayor came about a week later and we kept up with Ed Koch until he passed away. The TV interview with Ed Koch is accessible on Rabbi Spivak’s YouTube Channel.

I learned much from his years of experience. Not only was he a trained professional broadcaster, but he was also an expert technician, which came in handy when we took the show on the road, broadcasting from different locations.

Later, as the years went on, we were no longer partners but we kept up our relationship and friendship. Rav Yaakov was a constant fixture on my Talkline Network’s airtime, broadcasting a very popular live call-in show till about a few months before his passing. He loved the fact that he had such a diverse group of callers. They are very loyal to him and I’ve heard from many of them who were distraught at his untimely passing. Rav Yaakov was passionate about the issues facing our community and wasn’t afraid to speak out even when his position wasn’t popular.

Rav Yaakov had a fantastic sense of humor and a keen insight into the issues of the day, which he shared with me on a regular basis. My wife Adena enjoyed tapping into his vast knowledge, especially when it came to kashrus. What he was most proud of was his Kollel Ayshel Avraham, where he trained future rabbis.

I had the privilege of receiving s’michah from him in a chag ha’s’michah right after 9/11 at a ceremony in Crown Heights. He further honored me by inviting me to speak at another ordination ceremony. I can attest that he was so proud of his students and spoke often of them and their accomplishments.

Rav Yaakov had a tremendous impact not just on his radio listeners and rabbinical students. Now that he’s gone, many of his former students at SAR Academy recall the impact he had on their lives many years after attending his classes.

Rav Yaakov made a major contribution to our community and will be sorely missed. Whenever something major transpired, I would get a call from him, analyzing the situation. I already miss my rebbe, mentor, and friend. I am planning with G-d’s help to do a radio tribute in honor of this special man whose signature song he composed was “He’s My Brother.”

Rabbi Spivak is survived by his wife Rebbetzin Merrill, Rabbi Aaron, Chavie, and Rivka, as well as grandchildren. He loved his family so much and was so very proud of them and their accomplishments. May his memory be a blessing for us all.

Rabbi Zev Brenner is president and CEO of America’s leading Jewish Broadcasting Company, Talkline Network, and host of its flagship program “Talkline with Zev Brenner,” which airs on WABC 770 AM, WOR 710 AM, WSNR 620 AM, and WLIR 107.1 FM.