Thousands of Yidden attended the levayos of Hagaon Harav Chaim Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, over the weekend, giving final kavod to a giant in Torah, chessed and halachah, beloved Rebbi to generations of talmidim, who was strong as a rock in defending the honor of Hashem, yet a sensitive and caring soul to those in need.
After Rav Belsky’s petirah on Thursday night, the mittah was brought to the beis medrash of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Yidden came throughout the night, tearfully reciting Tehillim around the pure body of their holy Rebbi, covered in a tallis and surrounded by lit candles.
The levayah was held at 10:00 a.m. on Friday in Torah Vodaath. Crowds spilled out of the beis medrash, as well as live-hookup areas in the dining room, auditorium, hallways and out of the building onto a cold East 9th Street outside, as Rabbanim and family members were maspid this one-of-a-kind tzaddik, whose brilliance and greatness was matched only by his anivus.
The maspidim, each of whom was introduced by Harav Yisroel Reisman, included: Harav Yosef Savitsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Torah Vodaath; Harav Shmuel Kamenetzky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Philadelphia Yeshivah; Harav Meir Weinberg, Rosh Mesivta, Torah Vodaath; Harav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshivah at Mirrer Yeshivah; Harav Yeruchim Olshin, Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha; Harav Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kashrus division; Harav Mendel Belsky, brother of the niftar; Rabbi Aryeh Belsky, son of the niftar; Harav Yaakov Gross, son-in-law of the niftar (who, as a Kohen, spoke from the porch of the yeshivah); Rabbi Elimelech Belsky, son of the niftar; Rabbi Avraham Belsky, son of the niftar; Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, son-in-law of the niftar; and Rabbi Tzvi Belsky, son of the niftar.
The crowd was then melaveh the aron down Ditmas Ave., before it was brought to Shomrei Hadas chapels and held over Shabbos.
On Motzoei Shabbos, before the mourners flew with the aron to Eretz Yisrael, a thousand people braved cold temperatures to be melaveh the aron at the El Al cargo area at JFK Airport. Several more maspidim spoke about the profound effect of the life of a gaon, posek, loving father and Rebbi.
Rabbi Duvie Frischman, a Rebbi in Yeshiva Darchei Torah who assisted Rav Belsky with the Camp Agudah Masmidim Program for nearly 20 summers, spoke of the intense devotion, concern and love that Rav Belsky had for his talmidim.
Rabbi Frischman described how, when Masmidim would ask him a she’eilah, Rav Belsky would not merely answer, “Mutar” or “Assur,” but would patiently explain the shakla v’tarya of the discussion, and do so again and again even when multiple groups of bachurim would ask the same question, thus teaching his talmidim and making them feel unique.
Rabbi Frischman also related the following story, just one of numerous that illustrate the devotion Rav Belsky had to each individual talmid: One summer, on the final day of camp, Rav Belsky expressed extreme disappointment to Rabbi Frischman that Rav Belsky had been unable to help a particular bachur, whom we will call Efraim. Efraim had entered the Masmidim program at the beginning of the summer with a very bad stutter, and Rav Belsky had determined to help him: He instructed Efraim to come to his office to practice speaking properly, but after several visits, Efraim had stopped coming. Now, on the final day of camp, Rav Belsky, with tears streaming down his cheeks, expressed to Rabbi Frischman his profound sadness that he had been unsuccessful in helping Efraim with his stutter.
Efraim returned to camp the next summer, and on the very first day of camp, Rabbi Frischman noticed a marked improvement in Efraim’s speech. Elated, Rabbi Frischman went to Rav Belsky and informed him of Efraim’s improvement; Efraim must have taken speech lessons during the year? As Rabbi Frischman was speaking, Rav Belsky smiled, and Rabbi Frischman realized … “Was it Rebbi?” Rav Belsky then admitted that after his tearful meeting with Rabbi Frischman on the final day of the last summer, he had called Efraim into his office and instructed him to come to his home every Sunday for speech lessons. Indeed, a noticeable improvement was seen in Efraim’s speech by the next summer! Soon thereafter, Efraim went on to take professional lessons and improved his speech further. Efraim has since married — with Rav Belsky serving as his mesader kiddushin at his chasunah — and had a child, and now he himself counsels boys with stuttering issues.
Another maspid was Rav Belsky’s youngest son, Yaakov Binyamin, who was married just two months ago. Many of the maspidim recounted the great joy and nachas that Rav Belsky had expressed at being able to marry off his youngest child. Four years ago, Rav Belsky had seemingly been on his death bed after a terrible illness; he made a recovery that was nothing short of miraculous, and was zocheh to see his youngest child married.
Other maspidim at the airport included Rabbi Eliyahu Belsky, a son of the niftar; Rabbi Rafael Presby, son-in-law of the niftar; and Rabbi Yitzchok Gottdiener, Executive Director of Torah Vodaath.
The levayah then continued to Eretz Yisrael on Sunday, where multitudes of bnei Torah gave the kavod ha’achron to this Gadol b’Yisrael.
The levayah began at Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim on Sunday evening, shortly after 7:00 p.m. Israel time. Maspidim included Harav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, Rosh Yeshivah, Mir Yerushalayim; Harav Boruch Dov Povarsky, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Ponovez; Harav Reuven Feinstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Tiferes Yerushalayim in Staten Island; Harav Binyamin Carlebach, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah, Mir Yerushalayim; Harav Reuven Cohen, Rosh Kollel, Kiryat Sefer and son-in-law of the niftar; and Harav Dovid Goldstein, Maggid Shiur in Torah Vodaath and son-in-law of the niftar.
Rav Belsky was absolutely unafraid to enter into issues deemed controversial, in his unyielding, singular goal of safeguarding halachah, although this caused him much heartache and created many enemies who spoke badly of him.
Rav Goldstein recounted an incredible story that demonstrates how Rav Belsky, though as firm as one could be in defending Torah, was also as sensitive as one could be to the needs of another: One of Rav Belsky’s talmidim had an employee who would frequently speak badly of Rav Belsky. This talmid warned his employee not to speak badly of his Rebbi in the employer’s presence. But the employee repeatedly violated his boss’s orders, and the boss eventually fired him. The ex-employee then came to Rav Belsky himself and begged him to intercede on his behalf with his former boss. Rav Belsky called his talmid and said that although he understood that the talmid was seeking to defend his Rebbi’s honor, Rav Belsky did not wish that this should cause another Yid to lose parnassah, and Rav Belsky prevailed upon his talmid to rehire the employee.
After the hespeidim at Mir, the mittah was escorted to the headquarters of the Central Committee for Taharas Hamishpachah in Israel — an organization whose holy work Rav Belsky had been heavily involved with — where Harav Mordechai Auerbach, head of that organization, delivered a hesped.
The levayah then continued on to Yeshivas Kamenitz, where maspidim included Harav Yitzchok Scheiner, Rosh Yeshivas Kamenitz; Harav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath; Harav Benzion Berl, son-in-law of the niftar; and Reb Moshe Shamshonovitz, head of Bais Hamussar in Yerushalayim.
The body of the holy niftar was then escorted on its final journey, for kevurah at Chelkas Harabbanim on Har Hamenuchos.
The family accompanying the aron to Eretz Yisrael will be sitting shivah in Kiryat Sefer on Sunday night and Monday morning for Shacharis, at Rechov Sdei Chemed 36/1. After returning to New York, they will sit shivah in Rav Belsky’s home at 506 East 7th St. in Brooklyn. Rav Belsky’s siblings, who did not make the trip to Eretz Yisrael, have already begun sitting shivah in his home.