Friday, March 28, 2014

Baurch Dayan HaEmes: Rabbi Zev Schlifstein

 לזכר נשמת ר' זאב זצוק"ל בן יבלח"ט ר' יהודה לייב שלייפשטיין שליט"א

With a heavy heart, I regret to inform my readers (if there are any left) about the passing of Rabbi Zev Schlifstein  (הרה"ג זאב שליפשטיין זצוק"ל) of Yerushalayim. Reb Zev, as he was affectionately called, died this week on 22 Adar II. He was suffering from an illness for several months and spent much time in Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem. The levaya was on Monday night and he is buried in the Eretz HaChaim cemetery in Bet Shemesh (JDN News). As Rabbi Peretz Tarshish said despite Reb Zev's humble beginnings, he was afforded a funeral befitting of the Gadol HaDor.

Reb Zev was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were simple people; his father, a policeman and his mother, a country-girl from Kansas. As a youngster, he studied in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He was recognized as a mathematical genius and spent many years as a teacher of mathematics. While remaining a bachelor throughout those years, he eventually decided to relocate to Jerusalem where he first joined the Mir Yeshiva as a Bachur in his forties. In the Mir Yeshiva, he quickly became "part of the oilam" positively contributing to the atmosphere of the Yeshiva.

After some time as a single student in the Mir Yeshiva, Reb Zev eventually married and fathered one daughter several years later. When his daughter got married, about twenty years afterwards, the entire Mir Yeshiva felt like a part of the celebration because even though Reb Zev never held any official position in the Yeshiva, he was always a part of the Yeshiva.

Reb Zev Schlifstein davening on
Hoshanna Rabbah in the Mir Yeshiva
In deciding to live in the holy city of Yerushalayim (in the highly coveted Batei Ungarin neighborhood), Reb Zev also took upon himself the customs and traditions of Jerusalemites, most noticeably, their dress. On Shabbos, he wore the Yerushalmi caftan and a shtreimel (although during the Yamim Noraim he wore a regular simple kittel). He regularly davened at the Netz Minyan in the Beis Midrash HaGadol D'Chassidei Breslov (on Rechov Meah Shearim) and was part of the Toldos Aharon community. 

However, because of the length of time it took him to finish the Shemone Esrei prayer, he would always miss the end of davening and would run over to the Mir Yeshiva to catch Chazaras HaShatz and the rest of davening. During the reading of the Torah, Reb Zev would move as close as possible to the bimah to eagerly listen to the ba'al koreh, as he stood attentively with an ear for the leining. Because he would regularly miss the end of Maariv (for the same reason), Reb Zev would commonly gather a group of Bachurim after Night Seder to form a minyan so he can say an extra Barchu.

He was very careful in reciting Kriyas Shema which he took very seriously as an expression of his acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven. He not only carefully pronounced each syllable in the passages, but he would also carefully concentrate on each word and even letter. His devotion to the Mitzvah of Kriyas Shemah was so great that he would often repeat the prayer several times to make sure that he properly fulfilled it. Reb Zev would always make sure that people would repeat Kriyas Shema on the night after fast days when the Yeshiva would daven Maariv earlier than usual by announcing it and putting up signs around the Yeshiva.

He was also known for his meticulous observance of the laws of Tefillin. He would commonly stop passersby in the halls of the Mir Yeshiva and ask them if his Tefillin was aligned properly. He was also very careful to thoroughly comb his signature peyos so that it would not create a chatzitzah between his head and his Tefillin. 

Reb Zev was loved by all those merited to meet him. He often helped out Bachurim deal with Shidduchim, even though he was old enough to be their grandfather! He commonly put his creative genius to work in preparing special "gramin" (humorous poems) to be sung at weddings and/or Sheva Brachos.

Reb Zev Schlifstein in front of
the Mir Yeshiva on a snowy day
He also was known for his devotion to charitable causes and used his genial humor to be everyone at ease. In fact, this is how I first met Reb Zev. On my first day in the Mir Yeshiva when I had arrived as a bachur with no place to live and no friends, I had prayed Maariv in the Yeshiva and was slowly walking down the stairs and while I was looking around to familiarize myself with the place where I would be studying. As I slowly walked down the stairs "taking in" my surroundings, a short Yerushalmi man with a white beard and peyos came running down the stairs and almost knocked me over before he quickly said, "sorry." I was so taken aback that a local Yerushalmi spoke English with such an American accent, that I flinched out of the mere shock. Then, the Yerushalmi who noticed that I was frightened and surprised tried to comfort me, "Oh, I'm sorry, you probably thought I was a polar bear". That was Reb Zev. From then on, I was good friends with Reb Zev (although, I'm sure that almost everyone in the Yeshiva probably that he was also good friends with Reb Zev.)

Reb Zev used to prepare weekly papers on the Parsha containing his insights (usually Gematrias and other similar style) and which sought to show how the words of the Torah hint to deeper (usually Hassidic) ideas. Sometimes, these papers were handwritten and sometimes they were typed (depending on whether he could afford it that week). This weekly paper was distributed in the Yeshivas Mir area and at different times was printed under different names (including Pardes Zev and more). He would sometimes ask me to look it over before he made copies to fix up any obvious mistakes and typos and/or to offer my comments. 

He also published at least two books including Insights on Chanuka and Purim (1987) and שפת זאב על פי שפת אמת (see below for a letter which the Gerrer Rebbe wrote about this work). Rabbi Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum of Jerusalem printed some of Rabbi Schlifstein's insights (in his work Aromimcha Elokai HaMelech) as two separate treatises, called Parparos L'Tefillah and Maase HaGedolim.

 Reb Zev Schlifstein at the
  Pidyon HaBen of a Mir Yeshiva student
His dedication to the study of Torah regularly extended even beyond the regular hours of the Yeshiva and he could regularly be seen in the front right corner of the main Beis Midrash of the Mir learning, if not davening. His daily calls for the beginning Mincha at the end of First Seder are still ringing in my ears; I can still hear him calling out in his trademark American accent, "Ashrei Yoshvei Baysecha". And indeed Reb Zev lived the life of אשרי יושבי ביתך.

He is survived by his father R' Yehuda Leib Shlifstein, his wife, and daughter-in-law, the wife of Rabbi Yoel Katz (of Beit Shemesh)

May his memory be blessed and may he serve as a advocate of good for us and for the entire Jewish Nation: Amen. ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

The following letter was written by Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter (the Gerrer Rebbe "Pnei Menachem") about Rabbi Schlifstein's work (source):

ב"ה יום ב', לס' והזהרת וגו' ואת תורותיו, י"ז שבט תשמ"ז לפ"ק 

לכבוד ידידי הנכבד הרה"ג חו"ה החס' הרב... שליט"א 

אחד"ש בכבוד הראוי ובידידות! 

בנידון הספר "שפת זאב על שפת אמת" המיוסד על תורותיו, מאמריו, של הרה"ק בעל "שפת אמת" זצ"ל מתוך הספר "שפת אמת" על התורה - הנה כפי שאמתי לכ"ת, עובדא ידענא - כאשר החלו בארה"ב לפרס' "אורות מתוך שפת אמת" (בערך בשנת תשל"ו) והייתי שליח לשאול על כך לאחי מו"ר זצ"ל בעל "בית ישראל", וענה לי כי מכוונות זקננו בעל ה"שפת אמת" זצ"ל באמרותיו ובספרו הי' להטות לבות בנ"י לאביהם שבשמים, ולפיכך אם הדברים נאמרים ע"י יראי ה' וכוונתם להטות לבות בני ישראל לאביהם שבשמים, ולפיכך אם הדברים נאמרים ע"י יראי ה' וכוונתם להטות לבות בנ"י - והנוער שבהם - לתורה וליר"ש אין לו שום התנגדות לכך ואדרבה צריך לחזק את ידם. עכת"ד כפי שהנני זוכר כעת. 

ולפי שאין לי ידיעה מספקת בשפה האנגלית לא יכלתי לעבור על החומר שבספר, אבל לפי מה שאמר לי כת"ר ועוד שעברו על החומר של הספר, הנני מברך את הרב זאב שלייפשטיין שליט"א אשר חיבר את הספר הנ"ל "שפת זאב על שפת אמת" שיזכה להפיץ את ספרו בה"י בהצלחה. 
א"ד ידידו הדו"ש 
פינחס מנחם אלטר

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