Rav Matisyahu Salomon Zt”l

January 4, 2024

Paragon of Shleimus

Tribute to Rav Matisyahu Salomon Zt”l, Mashgiach of BMG

Meir Kass

The world of Jewry was plunged into mourning late Tuesday night as word quickly spread of the petirah of the venerated BMG mashgiach Rav Matisyahu Salomon zt”l at the age of 86.

The Mashgiach devoted his life to bettering the lives of others and profoundly inspired tens of thousands to strengthen themselves in limud haTorah and avodas Hashem.

But R’ Matisyahu was not just an iconic imparter of hashkafah and mussar. He was a paragon of shleimus ha’adam whose every action and utterance was deliberate, calculated, and driven by the values that exemplified the essence of an eved Hashem.

The Mashgiach’s passing marked the end of an era and the loss of a link to an ideal of years past. His presence proffered the potential shleimus of an individual as an achievable objective, which was embodied in a gadol whose harmonious symbiosis between the spiritual and worldly mundane will forever stand as a beacon for those seeking its warm and welcoming embrace.

Early years

Matisyahu Salomon was born in 1937 to R’ Yaakov and Ettel Salomon in Gateshead, England. He received his formative education in London, where he was quickly recognized for his sharp mind and dedication to limud haTorah.

As he matured from child to adult, the future world-renowned mashgiach began learning with Rav Chaim Kaufman, who would later go on to found the Gateshead Yeshiva L’tzeirim. Their chavrusashaft would last 16 years, beginning when they were bachurim and concluding as avreichim with a wealth of Torah between them.

R’ Matisyahu was a talmid muvhak of Rav Elya Lopian in Yeshiva Kfar Chassidim, where his perspectives and hashkafas hachaim were sculpted and refined into a shining example of perfection as a person and servant of Hashem.

Rav Shimon Asher Goldberg, rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Porat Yosef and a rav in Bayit Vegan, recounts having spent learning alongside R’ Matisyahu in Kfar Chassidim. R’ Shimon Asher, a mammoth talmid chacham in his own right, relates that R’ Matisyahu was one of the most advanced lamdanim in the yeshivah, and many predicted that he would one day become a rosh yeshivah. In fact, his prowess in Torah learning was so impressive that his appointment as “only” the mashgiach of the Gateshead Yeshiva several years later came as a surprise to those who knew him best.

Indeed, while the mashgiach was world renowned for his fiery drashos and dispassionate yet compassionate worldview, his proficiency in Torah and hasmadah went largely unnoticed throughout his lifetime, as it was overshadowed in a sense by the greatness of his leadership. Rabbi Menachem Savitz, a close talmid of the mashgiach in Lakewood, recounts how he helped R’ Matisyahu unpack boxes when he moved to Lakewood. Among them were “dozens upon dozens” of notebooks filled with the Mashgiach’s personal chidushei Torah on all masechtos of Shas.

Master of mussar

Though he is best known in American circles for his quarter century as the mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha, R’ Matisyahu’s legend began far earlier at the yeshivah of Gateshead, where he spent three decades impressing upon thousands of yeshivah bachurim a lifelong commitment to excellence in all facets and aspects of Yiddishkeit.

Following the petirah of BMG’s previous mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, in 1998, R’ Matisyahu was requested to succeed him as mashgiach ruchani of the largest and most prestigious yeshivah in the United States. Following lengthy deliberations and consultations, R’ Matisyahu acquiesced, and despite the predictable difficulties of moving to new environs in a country foreign to their equanimous English persuasions, the Salomons sacrificially settled in Lakewood for the sole purpose of advancing the cause of Yiddishkeit.

In the following years, R’ Matisyahu brought an unprecedented zest and zeal for Yiddishkeit to what was then still the relatively sleep hamlet of Lakewood. Coupling deeply personable warmth with an unwavering, unalterable mission of refining the character of Lakewood’s bnei Torah, the legend of the Mashgiach swiftly spread. His scope quickly broadened beyond his duties as the yeshivah’s mashgiach as he was transformed into the hashkafic leader of generations of both frum and not-yet-frum Jews in Lakewood and across the globe.

R’ Matisyahu’s weekly schmuessen in Bais Eliyahu would see a minimum of 1,000 yungerleit and ba’alei batim cramming into the beis medrash to hear the clear-eyed and searing insight of the beloved mashgiach; numerous books and sefarim were published based on those speeches in ensuring years.

Carrying the weight of the world

For the troubled and brokenhearted of Lakewood and beyond, the Salomon home served as a refuge, a place where the Mashgiach’s kind words and gentle guidance shepherded untold numbers of individuals and families through the darkest moments of their lives.

On a communal level, R’ Matisyahu became the driving force behind the contemporary adherence to exemplary chinuch standards, setting the stage for the explosive growth in limud haTorah we are witness to today.

For years, the Mashgiachaccepted upon himself the weight of the world, shouldering the burdens of individuals and communities across the vast American expanse. It was a unique and sometimes superhuman demonstration of ibbergegebenkeit and the ability to absorb the worries and troubles of all as a ceaseless smile graced his saintly face.

Ahead of the famous technology asifah held in Citi Field nearly 12 years ago, a gadol in Eretz Yisrael warned R’ Matisyahu—the primary force behind the mass gathering—that by doing so he was starting up with the Sitra Achra, which could take “revenge” on him in various ways. Undeterred, the Mashgiach forged on; the fate of his personal well-being was not a factor when it came to the needs of the klal, and in technology, he recognized a danger of historic proportions that had to be addressed b’rov am.

With poise and grace, R’ Matisyahu uplifted the dignity and honor of others, taking everyone’s unique needs into account while simultaneously shunning any opportunities for self-promotion and accolades.

Rabbi Savitz shares that several years back, a group of bnei hayeshivah gathered at R’ Matisyahu’s home on Chol Hamo’ed Sukkos. The Mashgiachwas scheduled to serve as the sandak at a bris, but he labored mentally over the potential anguish he would cause those who had come to see and hear from him. To avoid any discomfort while also keeping his commitments, R’ Matisyahu announced that Rabbi Savitz would lead the group in zemiros and divrei Torah for several minutes until he could return—even instructing his “successor” to sit in his own seat—so as not to disrupt the simchah the bnei Torah were feeling in those moments.

Such stories with the Mashgiachare quite literally countless, and many, if not most, may never come to light. Yet even a cursory review of R’ Matisyahu’s life reveals the unmistakable and unchanging pattern of the venerated Mashgiachplacing other’s needs and feelings well ahead of his own.

His loss is unfathomable.

Yehi zichro baruch.