The chassidic world, and Chabad Chassidim in particular, were shocked and grieved by the sudden passing of the Rav of Kfar Chabad, Harav Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, zt”l, who passed away after collapsing on Wednesday. He was 71.
The Rav was a tremendous talmid chacham, proficient in all areas of Torah, which he learned with great depth; a man of truth; and a guide and marbitz Torah and Chassidus. He also disseminated the Torah of chassidic masters, especially the founder of Chabad, the Baal HaTanya. He served as the Rav of Kfar Chabad and of the Lod Valley Regional Council, and was a member of the Rabbinical beis din of Chabad in Eretz Yisrael.
The Rav was a prolific writer on Torah and chassidic subjects, and a gifted orator. As well as being an ardent, fiery Chassid, he was a gaon and a lamdan, examining every issue with clarity, studying it in depth and then focusing on the crux of the matter. He spoke clearly and was able to convey his message to listeners of all kinds, no matter their level of knowledge.
On Wednesday, 23 Teves, Rav Ashkenazi was traveling to Teveria to daven at the tziyun of his father, Harav Moshe Ashkenazi, on the latter’s yahrtzeit. He was also scheduled to deliver a shiur at the Chabad Lubavitch yeshivah in Tzfas, whose Rosh Yeshivah is his brother-in-law Harav Yosef Yitzchak Wilishansky, which was an annual custom.
He was also planning to attend a shluchim conference that was taking place in Teveria. But when he was just a short distance from his home he collapsed from apparent cardiac arrest. Hatzolah arrived at the scene, resuscitated him and took him to Tel Hashomer Hospital. Doctors battled to save his life, but after a short time he passed away.
The news of his sudden passing shocked the community, especially as he was to participate in events marking the yahrtzeit of the Baal HaTanya and was scheduled to fly to the tziyun in Haditch, Ukraine, as he did every year.
Harav Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, zt”l, was born on 28 Iyar 5703/1943 in Tel Aviv to Harav Moshe and Devorah Ashkenazi. His father served as the Rav of the Chabad community. As a child he attended the Bnei Neurim cheder in Tel Aviv and, as a youth, Yeshivas Chabad in the city. Later, he continued in Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in Lod, New York and Montreal, and finally spent a year studying at Tomchei Temimim at Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights in 1964.
When he was a bachur, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt”l, instructed him on a seder limud during his free time. He was to learn halachah, beginning with the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and the Misgeres, Siddur (the halachic rulings of the Admor Hazaken in Siddur Torah Ohr), with the Derech Chaim and Shulchan Aruch Harav.
After his marriage to Sima, the daughter of Reb Yitzchak Zev Wolpe, he learned in Kfar Chabad and at the same time did shimush under the Rav of Kfar Chabad, Harav Schneur Zalman Gorelick. For a short time he also had a daily learning session with his grandfather, Harav Eliezer Karassik, and served as a maggid shiur in the yeshivah in Kfar Chabad.
After the passing of Rabbi Gorelick, the first Rav of Kfar Chabad, Harav Nachum Trebnick was appointed to the position, while Rav Ashkenazi was appointed as the moreh tzeddek of the town. After Rabbi Trebnick’s passing, Rav Ashkenazi became the Rav.
During the time he was doing shimush under Harav Gorelick, the Rebbe asked him to compile the sefer Marei Mekomos L’Shulchan Aruch HaAdmor Hazaken.
As soon as the sefer was printed he found someone traveling to New York and sent a copy. It arrived on 24 Teves; Rabbi Ashkenazi’s cousin hurried in the morning to take it from the courier and traveled to 770. At that time the Rebbe was on his way to the car to travel to the ohel, and when Rabbi Binyamin Klein saw this, he took the sefer and ran to the car, and the Rebbe rolled down the window and took it.
Later, the driver, Rabbi Yudel Krinsky, related that the Rebbe read the sefer the entire trip there and back. When he returned to 770 he called a hisvaadus and said that one of the reasons for the hisvaadus was that “the sefer Marei Mekomos on the Shulchan Aruch compiled by an avreich from Eretz Yisrael” had arrived. (Years later, Rav Ashkenazi visited the library and saw the sefer, which had been bound in a special black binding, and when he opened it he saw the Rebbe had written on the inside cover: “Received from a talmid chacham.”)
Later, the Rebbe instructed him to give his sefer to Harav Shlomo Yosef Zevin. When he did so, Rav Zevin was most impressed and, on the spot, gave him semichah for Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin.
In his final years he was busy with halachic research and explanations for the siddur of the Admor Hazaken, and each week wrote a column in the local Chabad weekly, which he compiled into a sefer titled Shaarei Tefillah Uminhagim.
His sefarim include Marei Mekomos al Shulchan Aruch HaAdmor Hazaken; Marei Makom V’tziyunim al Hilchos Talmud Torah; Shaarei Tefillah Uminhagim; and Biur Hilchos Talmud Torah in Shulchan Aruch Admor Hazaken.
The Rav is survived by, ybl”c, his wife, Rebbetzin Sima, and their children: Rebbetzin Gitah Brod of Karmei Yosef; Rebbetzin Rivkah Kaplan of Sitriya; Rabbi Meir of Tzfas; Rabbi Chaim Eliezer of Montreal; Rabbi Ezriel Zelig of Yekaterinburg, Russia; Mrs. Chaya Feigel Wilhelm of Detroit; Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kfar Chabad; Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Rishon Letzion; Reb Shalom Duber of Netanya; Reb Yosef of Kiryat Malachi; Reb Yisrael of Holon; and Reb Yehudah Leib.
His surviving siblings are Mrs. Malka Wilshansky (Tzfas) and Mrs. Esther Twersky (Brooklyn, NY).
Yehi zichro baruch.