The following is a eulogy for HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel
zt'l, the mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva, given
in Yeshivos Torah Or, Yeshivas Yagdil Torah, and various
botei midrash in Yerushalayim.
"And Yaakov went out from Beer Sheva and went toward Choron"
(Bereishis 28:10). Rashi comments that the
posuk "tells us that a tzaddik's leaving a city
makes an impression. When the tzaddik is inside the
city he is its glory, its ziv (aura), and its
splendor. When he leaves, the glory, ziv, and splendor
have departed." A city's glory, ziv, and splendor fade
away from a city when a tzaddik departs.
To our utmost sorrow, this parsha has lately been
fulfilled not only beremez but actually. We are under
the painful impact of "a tzaddik's leaving a city" --
the petirah of HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt'l,
the mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva.
Why did Chazal use the word ziv? Would not another
expression, such as "its light," be more appropriate?
There is a difference between light and ziv. Light is
something that illuminates the environs: with a small candle
the area becomes a bit lit up, and with a large candle it
becomes much more lit up. In comparison, ziv is a
light that illuminates only the immediate place, without
radiating light to the environs.
For example, a shining diamond does not illuminate its
surroundings; nonetheless, if we place it in darkness and
shine a light onto it, everyone will see that it sparkles.
Chazal revealed to us that a tzaddik influences others
in different ways. First he radiates to the individuals near
him, who seek to benefit from the light and the spiritual
abundance emitting from the tzaddik.
But out of the general public, such as in a yeshiva of a
thousand talmidim, how many are there who are really
close to the tzaddik? Perhaps a few dozen. The other
talmidim, although they too benefit from the
tzaddik, receive only a more general and less
individual benefit. When they hear and see how a
tzaddik behaves, how he davens, how he acts
towards other people, how he is devoted to people, this
naturally has a positive effect on them. Even someone not
closely associated with the tzaddik sees or hears
something from him and gains spiritually. This benefit is
called ziv, an aura that shines of its own light, and
someone who pays attention to it will gain immensely.
Chazal reveal to us that when the tzaddik is alive all
the people feel that they have the tzaddik among them.
When the tzaddik is niftar, however, we see
that some were zoche to his brilliance and were warmed
by his light. They were those who, during the
tzaddik's life, valued their privilege to benefit from
the tzaddik. Unfortunately many did not act as wisely
as they. There were those who did not understand, who did not
utilize the golden opportunity to draw the water of his
wisdom and learn from his virtuous behavior.
Chazal teach us that when a tzaddik leaves, not only
those who were near him, who previously benefited from his
radiant light, are now missing something. That is obvious.
When there is no candle, there is no light. The lesson of
Chazal is that even the many for whom the tzaddik was
only a ziv have lost something when the tzaddik
dies. To replace this loss they must make a special effort to
absorb the brilliance from the departed tzaddik, as
the Sages tell us, "Tzaddikim are greater in their
death than during their lives."
The piyut Keil Odon that we sing on Shabbos
Shacharis mentions, "Good are the luminaries that our
Elokim has created; He has fashioned them with wisdom, with
insight and discernment. Strength and power has He granted
them, to be dominant within the world. Filled with ziv
and radiating brightness, their ziv is beautiful
throughout the world" (ArtScroll siddur). Besides
radiating brightness, the luminaries are "filled with
ziv" that benefits even those far away -- "their
ziv is beautiful throughout the world."
Similarly, besides the direct influence and illumination that
a tzaddik bestows upon his close talmidim he
makes an impression on the whole world through his
ziv, each person according to his level. Thus we learn
the great value of a tzaddik's acts and his impact on
This was the Mashgiach. Until his very last day he
disseminated Torah and mussar. Everyone around him
could learn from the exceptional way he behaved. When the
Mashgiach was niftar his ziv, too, departed.
His hashpo'oh on the world in general stopped and that
hashpo'oh only remained for the individuals who are
mevakshim, those who make efforts to seek out his
He was unique and famous for "anticipating every day that
[the Moshiach] will come." It is true that we all
believe that the Moshiach will come -- the Rambam's
Thirteen Principles of Faith read, "I believe with complete
faith in the coming of the Moshiach," and often we
even remark, "It is a pity that the Moshiach has not
The Mashgiach not only believed in the Moshiach's
coming, he anticipated it. With every movement of his body he
waited for him. Even forty years ago he would conclude his
shmuessen by saying, "This is the last shmuess
here in golus. The next shmuess, with Hashem's
help, will be in the rebuilt Yerushalayim together with the
His love for Torah was astonishing. His whole
life was saturated with Torah and avoda. He founded
many kollels, and even a half a year ago, when he
visited the Holy Land, he founded new kollels in
places that until then such a thing was not known.
The tzaddik's avodas hatefillah and the ziv of
his behavior cast its impression on the yeshiva's
talmidim. Even those who were not zoche to his
light, his direct guidance, were zoche to the glow of
It is important to know that every person can effect a
positive change in others, each person according to his
particular level. Every person both is influenced by others
and influences others. Of the generation of the mabul
we learn that "all flesh had corrupted its way upon the
earth" (Bereishis 5:12) -- even animals had relations
with other species of animals. Although it seems that animals
do not have any free choice and therefore should not be
punished, Hashem decreed their annihilation, since they too
were influenced by the Creation's rampant corruption.
Chazal tell us that "even three tefochim down into the
earth was destroyed." Why should even the earth be destroyed?
Rabbenu Bechaye explains that Hashem needed to be
metaheir the earth from the tumah's influence
on the Creation. If the earth had not been destroyed it would
have later caused a new generation to sin.
This is man's power. He can be a good or evil influence. Only
the fish living in the ocean remained alive, since they lived
in a different climate and were not infected by man's
I heard from Maran HaRav Shimon Shkop zt'l an
explanation of the concept that a keli "is saturated
with tumah" (Menochos 24a). He said that it is
a fact that after a certain point keilim cannot absorb
any more tumah since they are already full of it. He
added that we see from this that tumah is a real
entity. It is a force generated by evil.
"And the children (Yaakov and Esav) struggled together within
her" (Bereishis 25:22). Rashi writes, "When she went
past the doors of botei midrash Yaakov would struggle
to leave and when she passed by the doors of botei avoda
zorah Esav would struggle to leave."
The commentaries point out that it is quite understandable
why Esav wanted to leave his mother's womb, since there was
no avoda zorah there. The question is why Yaakov
struggled to leave. The gemora (Niddah) writes that
when an infant is in his mother's womb "a lamp burns over his
head and [mal'ochim] teach him the entire Torah." With
such a rav and with a lamp lit over his head, when he was in
such a miraculously sublime situation, why should Yaakov even
want to leave?
The ba'alei drush explain that Yaakov was prepared to
give up such a rav as long as he would no longer be together
with Esav the rosho, so that he would not be in danger
of being influenced by him.
We see yet another point: Yaakov not only ran away from a
harmful influence, he understood that he should try to
influence his brother positively. When Esav left Rivka's
womb, Yaakov's "hand was holding Esav's heel"
(Bereishis 25:26, see Rashi). We can explain, although
not according to the strict pshat, that Yaakov already
saw in his mother's womb the fermenting of Esav's evil power
when Rivka passed by botei avoda zorah. He saw that
Esav wanted to run away from kedusha. The Torah tells
us, "And the boys grew and Esav was a cunning hunter, a man
of the field, and Yaakov was a plain man, dwelling in tents"
Actually Yaakov and Esav were two opposites: Yaakov was
the epitome of kedusha while Esav was the essence of
evil itself. The Torah, however, differentiates between them
by writing that Yaakov dwelt in tents and Esav was a hunter,
a man of the fields. Yaakov would invest all his efforts to
advance himself in ruchniyus. Esav, too, studied
Torah, since, as the Midrash Tanchuma writes, when he
came before Yitzchok he would tell him all that he had
studied. Nonetheless, the Torah reveals to us that even when
Esav was sitting in a beis midrash he was "a cunning
hunter" -- he was thinking about the birds outside. Even in
the beis midrash he was Esav.
When Yaakov realized that Esav was this way, he was not
content that he himself was going in the proper way but
grabbed on to Esav's heel, trying to prevent him from going
in his warped, improper way, attempting to guide his feet. We
see here a remez that a person must think about
others, about both the other's gashmiyus and his
In this trait the Mashgiach excelled. We do not have any
concept how much time he spent thinking of how to help
others. I will cite just one short anecdote: One evening I
walked into the Lakewood Yeshiva. He came over to me and
said, "Let us make a vaad (a mussar talk for a
small group)." He called me and another boy over and told us
some reflections that would strengthen us in
When a guest came, his outlook was that you must do
something for him and try and fulfill the mitzvah of
hachnosas orchim through him. How could he possibly
help a guest? He would make a vaad for him. An act of
It is well known that in his last year on earth,
although extremely weak, he braced himself and traveled to
Europe to save an old Jewish graveyard. He said to others
that he was going there since he hoped it would help. Those
who traveled with him later related that his presence was
truly what helped. Initially the government authorities
refused to issue a permit, but when the mayor saw that an
eighty-seven-year-old man had troubled himself to come so far
he said that it seemed it was an important matter and granted
HaRav Wachtfogel always went out of his way to help
individuals when he could. A few years ago a talmid in
the Lakewood Yeshiva became a chosson. After the
teno'im someone wrote a letter to the kallah's
father in which he accused the chosson of certain
unacceptable things, some of which were true and some not.
The mechuton was greatly disturbed and asked R'
Nosson what to do. The Mashgiach answered that part of what
was written in the letter was false and the other part was
not personally known to him, making it loshon hora,
which a person is forbidden to accept.
But the mechuton asked again what he should do.
R' Nosson said that he should not break the shidduch
and that he would take full responsibility. The time of the
chasuna arrived, and R' Nosson, although he was in his
last years and extremely weak, decided that he would attend.
(It should be noted that the chasuna was held far away
from Lakewood.) He had a doctor accompany him on the eight-
hour flight to the wedding. He said that he felt that if he
went to the wedding he would somewhat calm down the
kallah's father and the chosson. If he did not
go, he felt that the kallah's father would be inwardly
sad and full of worry, and that would interfere with the
simcha. In the end it was necessary for him to rent an
ambulance to arrive at the chuppah, but he went
This was an example of the Mashgiach's bein odom
lachaveiro. No power could stop him from doing a
chesed. He himself fulfilled what he had said in a
shmuess in the yeshiva (parshas Vayeitzei),
that the ma'alah of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs was
their strength of spirit. A Jew must make a tremendous
effort, he said, to be zoche to fulfill a mitzvah and
do some good deed, even when there are great difficulties
involved that might prevent him. How great is his portion in
Gan Eden if he does the mitzvah anyway!
What he said to others in his shmuessen he
himself fulfilled. His whole thought was to benefit others
even when it involved mesiras nefesh.
This is the ziv that we have lost. A person rich
in good deeds has departed from this world. Chazal
(Shabbos 105b) write that "everyone is a relative of a
chochom who has died. Can this possibly mean that
everyone is [literally] his relative? No; they are like his
What does the gemora mean? If everyone is only
like a relative then Chazal should have initially said that
everyone is like a relative and not that everyone is a
The ba'alei mussar write that Chazal are implying
that everyone is really the tzaddik's relative, as
Chazal say, "The reward for a eulogy is [given for] raising
one's voice to break the people's heart and make them cry
more" (Brochos 6b). When a rich person is
niftar and has left behind many possessions and
wealth, even the most remote relatives will perhaps receive a
little of the inheritance.
The same applies when Chazal say that everyone is a relative
of the chochom who died. Each one of us can inherit
one of his ma'alos: either awaiting the Moshiach,
ahavas Torah, middos tovos, or his avoda
in tefilla. How beneficial it will be if we adopt some
of his ma'alos for his illui neshomoh.
HaRav Zeidel Epstein shlita is the menahel
ruchani of Yeshivas Torah Or in Yerushalayim.