Jerusalem – I think I can safely say that there is probably not even one Hamodia English reader who does not know the name Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller. Following the sudden passing on Monday of her revered husband and life partner, Harav Avraham Dovid ben Zev Heller, zt”l, the shock of this abrupt and unexpected loss could be seen on the faces of all who were present at the levayah. I know I say this on behalf of thousands of people all over the world: Rebbetzin Heller, we mourn deeply along with you and your family.
Harav Heller was first and foremost a loving, warm and understanding father, an outstanding mechanech, and the menahel of Harav Yonasan David’s yeshivah, Pachad Yitzchak, based in Har Nof, Yerushalayim, just down the street from where he lived. He was a tremendous talmid chacham, but was so warm and down-to-earth that whoever came to their home felt immediately drawn to him.
The tremendous size of the crowd gathered Monday night at the levayah was testimony to just how far his influence extended. There were the hundreds of yeshivah boys from his yeshivah — of course. There were women of every age bracket and across the spectrum of Yiddishkeit, all of them a direct outgrowth of the many years of kiruv and teaching for which Rebbetzin Heller is so rightly famous. And there were many young men wearing all manner of dress — some with long hair, some in jeans — also present out of respect for Harav Heller. Each one came on such short notice because each one really felt close to him. And as I got to speak with a number of people directly before and after the levayah, it became more and more apparent that this humble, outgoing man was even more of a tzaddik than most realized.
Harav Avraham Dovid Heller was born 69 years ago and grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. When he was a young boy, he was close with Harav Laibel Heiman, z”l, his Rosh Yeshivah. As a teenager, he went to Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, where he became a talmid of Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, and of his son-in-law, Harav David. Harav Heller came to Eretz Yisrael as a bachur and learned in Slobodka in Bnei Brak.
Harav Heller and his eishes chayil, Tziporah Krasner, married in 1967 in the United States and returned right away to embark on their life together in Eretz Yisrael.
He began married life learning in Brisk under the son of the Brisker Rav, Harav Soloveitchik. During that time he was sent by an organization that wanted to establish kollelim in the non-religious yishuvim around Eretz Yisrael to establish a kollel in Segev, in the Galil. The Hellers lived there for about two years and then returned to Yerushalayim. Harav Heller taught in Ohr Somayach and Rebbetzin Heller began teaching at Neve Yerushalayim. In addition to teaching the bachurim, Harav Heller also took over the kitchen management at Ohr Somayach and all the food requirements of the boys. Soon after this, he went on to become the general menahel at Yeshivas Toras Moshe, led by Harav Meiselman, shlita.
After his work in Toras Moshe, Harav Heller went back to his former Rebbe, Harav David, at Pachad Yitzchak, where he retained his position as menahel until the day of his sudden petirah, 26 Tishrei 5774.
One theme that ran through the hespedim was that of the week’s parashah: “Noach ish tzaddik hayah — Noach was a righteous man.” With this one passuk, the eulogizers epitomized the essence Harav Heller. His days were filled with mitzvos, Torah, learning, caring for his family, and tremendous gratitude to Hashem. There was not a dry eye on the ladies’ side when his eldest son cried out how his father would constantly repeat what a wonderful family Hashem had given him, and how he would say Nishmas just to thank Hashem for his family.
That appreciation towards Hashem was always on his lips. Harav Heller was someone noted for his smile, his open warmth and his readiness to listen to any person.
The timing of Harav Heller’s passing is also noteworthy. For the past few weeks Klal Yisrael has been showered by mitzvos and brachos from Hakadosh Baruch Hu: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos and the arbaah minim, prayers and forgiveness and the love that comes from our Creator being so close to us during Hakafos … Harav Heller joyfully performed them all, just as we did. Then, to top it off, Hashem also gave Harav Heller one last Shabbos filled with Shabbos mitzvos and his family before the tragedy struck. It was as if to say, “You lived your whole life ensconced and busy with mitzvos; I will give you this entire package of mitzvos to send you off with, before I must take you back to Me…”
To many it may seem that Rebbetzin Heller was really the more outgoing one in the home, the one who accomplished so much, the one who was so readily “out there” for the Klal. However, after speaking to some of those who were very close to the Hellers and had the zechus to work intimately with them, it became clear that the Rav was the backbone behind all the tremendous work in which Rebbetzin Heller is involved.
“In everything they did, including both his own kiruv as well as all the outreach of Rebbetzin Heller, they were always a team. It was such a beautiful experience to be able to work with both of them. There was never a time that I spoke with Harav Heller that was finished until it had a story, a dvar Torah, a lesson in emunah — this is ‘typical’ of what one walked away with from any kind of conversation with Harav Heller, whether it was for business or for learning. He had learning and Torah ‘shagur b’fiv,’ constantly. A vort, an encouraging word, a smile and a strong message of emunah — THIS was Harav Heller.”
It was he who convinced his wife to begin teaching; it was he who helped organize her speaking tours; it was he with whom Rebbetzin Heller would discuss things, it was he who encouraged her. Harav Heller was the pillar that stood behind her; all the many thousands and thousands of her students worldwide are to his credit, as well. He discovered her talent and it was he who brought it out in her. They were very much a team in all that they did. Together they created their warm and open home, together they were mekarev so many, together they hosted thousands of guests, and together they accomplished all the Klal work they did.
There is much to be learned from Harav Heller’s strengths, his dedication to his talmidim and to Torah, and there will be much more written about this great man in the days to come.
Chazal teach us that the relationship between husband and wife can grow to be much more than just a partnership; in this, Harav Heller excelled well beyond the average person.
Harav Heller will be mourned and missed by thousands of members of Klal Yisrael, but most especially by his entire large family of sons, daughters, grandchildren and talmidim, and by his very special wife.
May Harav Avraham Dovid ben Zev Heller be a meilitz yosher for all of us in these trying times.
Yehi zichro baruch.