The Rayatz saved Yeshiva Torah Vodaas from Foreclosure
by Rabbi Shmuel Knopfler
The famed Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in New York, originally located in Williamsburg, now in Kensington. Over the years, the yeshiva expanded from what was once only an elementary school, graduating hundreds of rabbanim and mechanchim, roshei yeshivos, and directors of yeshivos
and mosdos chesed.
R’ Shraga Feivel was a most unusual and multi-faceted individual. He was an eclectic scholar who loved Chassidus. He even gave classes in Tanya, despite the fact that his yeshiva was Litvish.
At the same time, he was no Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rayatz, and was quite upset when students of his yeshiva transferred to Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. This was in contrast to his unprecedented and unique policy of sending his best talmidim to other yeshivos simply to support the other yeshivos and
promote their growth.
Shortly before his passing on 3 Elul 5748, R’ Shraga Feivel was quite ill. After being informed by his doctors that he had only a short time remaining, a select group of his friends, rabbanim, and roshei yeshivos organized a sort of farewell at his bedside. At the gathering, much to everyone’s surprise, R’ Shraga Feivel asked to speak. What he was about to reveal had never been told before; now he wanted others to hear his amazing tale as he did not wish to take the secret with him to the grave…
During World War II, the economy was in a depression. The Torah world, which had just begun to blossom in America, and which was based primarily on the donations of wealthy businessmen, was in grave danger.
“For many months I somehow managed by borrowing money from anyone I possibly could to make sure the yeshiva would continue to exist. The teachers had not been paid and the food the boys were served was not the best, but the learning went on, which was the main thing.
“One day I received an urgent letter from the bank. When I read it, I realized how much trouble I was in, for the director of the bank informed me that the yeshiva’s debts had ballooned to $3,000! Today that would be the equivalent of $300,000, and the ability to obtain cash during wartime was far more difficult.
The bank’s intention was to repossess the yeshiva building. All the talmidim would have to be sent away. “I only had three weeks to obtain this huge sum of money, and I knew that that was plainly impossible.
Since I didn’t see any way of saving the situation, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, so as not to create undue panic. I had simply resigned myself to the fact that in another three weeks the yeshiva would close down.
“As I sat there in my office, crying over the fate of the yeshiva, the phone rang. The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s
secretary was on the line saying, ‘The Rebbe asked me to call you in order to ascertain the yeshiva’s general condition.’ I couldn’t understand why the Lubavitcher Rebbe was suddenly interested in my situation, and since I didn’t want to share the yeshiva’s precarious state with anyone, I dismissed him by saying that everything was in
order. “A few hours went by and the phone rang again. ‘I told the Rebbe what you said, that everything is as usual,’ said the secretary, ‘but the Rebbe said that that is not so. Please tell me what the state of the yeshiva really is.’ “Hearing this, I wanted to hang up on him. I didn’t appreciate this prying into the yeshiva’s affairs. I had no
reason to think the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s financial state was better than mine, so I certainly didn’t think he could help me. But finally, after the secretary’s repeated requests, I told him of the yeshiva’s plight and about the contents of the letter I received from the bank that day.
“A short while later, the secretary called once again. This
time he informed me, ‘The Rebbe asked me to tell you the following: In my day, no yeshiva will be closed; not in Russia and not in America!’
That was it!
“This last call really infuriated me. He forced me to give him a full report about the yeshiva’s predicament, and now he was mocking me with illogical statements that had nothing to do with the harsh reality.
There was simply no way to obtain such a tremendous amount of money, I thought to myself in growing frustration. “The next three weeks were the most difficult of my life. “From time to time, the Lubavitcher
Rebbe’s secretary called my office and asked whether the situation had changed for the better, or whether there was still a threat of the yeshiva’s closing. As the day when the money had to be paid got closer, the Rebbe asked, through his secretary, for more details about the debt.
“The deadline was on Monday. The Friday before, the Rebbe’s secretariat called again, asking where the money had to be paid and how. I was utterly appalled by this meddling, but out of respect I gave them all the information they requested. When they mentioned the Rebbe’s promise that ‘In my day, no yeshiva will be closed; not in Russia and not in America,’ I just couldn’t understand what sin I had committed to deserve this mockery.
“Monday arrived. I sat hopelessly in my office, resigned to the fact that in another few hours the bank officials would arrive and close the yeshiva. There was a knock at the
door. My heart pounded as I approached the door. “As great as my fear was, my surprise was even greater when I opened the door to see – not a bank official and not a policeman, but a messenger boy with an envelope.
‘The Lubavitcher Rebbe asked me to give you this envelope,’ he said, and then left. “With trembling hands I opened the envelope and drew out dozens of hundred and twenty dollar bills. It all added up to exactly $3,000. Yes, the Lubavitcher Rebbe prevented Torah Vodaas from closing!” said R’ Shraga Feivel, to the amazement of those
gathered at his bedside.
This was a menahel who opposed the Rebbe, who even stopped his boys from going to learn at Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim. And the financial situation of the Rebbe Rayatz at that time was extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the Rebbe made the effort to obtain the enormous sum of
money to save the yeshiva.
Similar story is told when Olomeinu a Torah Umesorah publication for children was ready to stop its publication due to lack of funds The Rebbe, Reb Menachem Mendel gave a large sum of money to continue the publication for the propagation of Torah & Judaism.
When you enter the Yeshiva Torah Vodaas there is no plaque to commemorate this event. In the hallways of the Yeshiva you have a photo gallery of all Chassidic Rebbes except that of Chabad.
When the 8th Graders graduate in Torah Vodaas graduate they go on a special trip to visit the grave of The Satmar Rebbe in Kiryas Yoel.
Visiting Rav Pam's Kever which is logistically closer is not on the agenda.
Certainly visting the Kever of Rayatz in Queens as a sign of gratitude is not part of the itinerary.
It is regrettable that there is no acknowledgment or minimum Hakoras Tov.
בברכת התורה והארץ