Harav Meir Reuven Berkowitz, zt”l, a widely respected posek who served as Rav of the Whispering Pines nusach Sefard bais medrash, was niftar Monday morning, 8 Shvat. He was 64 and had been suffering from a serious illness for the past year.
While those privileged to know him were well aware of the breadth and depth of his gadlus in Torah, the absolute simplicity with which Rav Berkowitz carried himself kept his true stature hidden from many.
It is safe to assume that few of the bachurim and avreichim who passed by the tall thin chassidishe Yid with a warm smile — learning with a chavrusa from an old note-filled Shulchan Aruch or Gemara in one of BMG’s batei medrash — knew Rav Berkowitz’s name or suspected that he could have answered any problem they encountered in Shas and poskim.
“He kept himself hidden, that was his gadlus,” said one son in his hesped. “He didn’t speak a lot and kept himself hidden even from his children…There is no end to what we can say about his gadlus and his middos tovos, [but] one thing we can speak of is that he greeted everyone b’sever panim yaffos, everyone felt chashuv when they met him.”
Orphaned as a very young child, Rav Berkowitz grew up in Williamsburg as part of the Satmar kehillah. The pain of his younger years is not something that would have been apparent to anyone who met Rav Berkowitz, who typically seemed filled with chiyus and simchah.
He was among the talmidim of the Satmar Yeshivah in its relatively early days when bachurim were still privileged to spend a great deal of time in the presence of the Satmar Rebbe, Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, zy”a.
Rav Berkowitz’s sharp mind and tremendous hasmadah quickly distinguished him and made him a great source of pride to the Satmar Yeshivah.
He would go on to join the BMG kollel back when it was much smaller than it is today. There too, amongst some of the most distinguished young lamdanim in America, Rav Berkowitz gained a reputation for the breadth and clarity of his knowledge.
There in Lakewood, together with his wife, tbl”ch, Rebbetzin Pearl, he built a home that exemplified simplicity filled with a ruach of Torah and yiras Shamayim.
As his mastery of halachah became known, many began to turn to Rav Berkowitz as a posek. His ability to recall intricate details of Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries as well as opinions in responsa and to apply what he knew to sheilos impressed even many of Lakewood’s seasoned Rabbanim.
Those who had the privilege to speak with him in other areas of Torah quickly saw that his encyclopedic knowledge extended to Shas, Tanach and its commentators, dikduk, and nearly any other Torah subject.
Some 15 years ago, one of Lakewood’s first housing developments, Whispering Pines, chose Rav Berkowitz to serve as Rav of its nusach Sefard bais medrash. There, he regularly delivered several shiurim per week, as well as precious and memorable divrei Torah at shalosh seudos. Even while weakened by illness over the past year, the Rav made every effort not to miss a Shabbos at the bais medrash, a good 25-minute walk from his home.
Accepting a Rabbanus made little impact on the casual manner with which Rav Berkowitz carried himself, remaining as anonymous and approachable as ever. Those from both his kehillah and beyond who came to him not only with halachic sheilos, but to seek guidance on a myriad of life decisions, or just to pour out their hearts, found a patient and sympathetic ear. Speaking to those who came to him both as a Rav and as a friend, his chizuk and sharp sense of humor often did as much as his sage advice.
Monday afternoon, a levayah was held in Lakewood at the Whispering Pines bais medrash.
“Everything he did was with the whole emes,” said Reb Yoel Reisz, a son-in-law.
One son noted, “You never left a moment empty, filling all your time with Torah, avodah, and gemilas chassadim, but we will never know how much you did, because you never spoke about it.”
Other maspidim included Harav Mordechai Betzalel Klein, Satmar Dayan of Lakewood, and Harav Zalman Leib Philip, Satmar Dayan of Williamsburg.
The levayah continued to Kiryas Yoel for kevurah.
Rav Berkowitz is survived by, ybl”ch, his wife, Rebbetzin Pearl Berkowitz, as well as by his children and grandchildren.
Yehi zichro baruch.