To Elevate the Nation

January 11, 2024

The Mashgiach Rav Matisyahu Solomon Zt”l

Y. Strauss

It was a brisk and sunny day; a strong autumn gust caused the dried leaves to swirl through the mostly deserted Lakewood streets. Inside in the Yoshon beis medrash of Bais Medrash Govoha, thousands of bnei Torah stood somberly to give the kavod ha’acharon to their beloved and legendary mashgiach the tzaddik Rav Nosson Wachtfogel. The levayah extended for an uplifting, inspiring four hours. Gedolim from across America spoke, the roshei yeshivah of BMG bemoaned the loss for the yeshivah, and talmidim of Rav Aharon Kotler reminisced about the Mashgiach’s influence.

The levayah was coming to a close when the throngs of mourning bnei Torah, drained as they were, were startled by the crisp voice with a distinct English accent that came onto the loudspeakers. The voice, unfamiliar to many in attendance, belonged to Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the new mashgiach of BMG. He had joined the hanhalas hayeshivah one year earlier almost to the day, and now, in a mournful singsong tone[SH1] , he enunciated the charge R’ Nosson’s petirah left behind. It was a succinct hesped, but the new mashgiach succeeded in encapsulating R’ Nosson’s legacy and the role he would now need to fill.

He told of the evil neighbors of R’ Zeira who rebuffed the amora’s entreaties to do teshuvah until the day he passed away. “Now that R’ Zeira is not with us, who will daven for us?” they worried, and quickly repented.

“But how did they know that R’ Zeira had been davening for them?” the Mashgiach wondered aloud. “All R’ Zeira did was give them mussar.

“They knew, because of the way he gave them mussar. They felt his love, his concern, and knew without doubt that there was no way he wasn’t davening for them. Today, with the loss of our Mashgiach, we too are faced with their predicament. Who will care for us? Who will daven for us? And we must therefore also do teshuvah, just as R’ Zeira’s neighbors did.”

That teshuvah, R’ Matisyahu explained, should be by doing what R’ Nosson had always demanded from us. He mentioned that often while learning mussar together, he would notice that R’ Nosson’s eyes would close for a moment as he contemplated the lesson they had learned. His eyes would then flutter open, and a faint smile would illuminate his countenance.

“I once asked him if the reason for his smile was because he felt that he had achieved that middah. He looked at me and waved his hand, ‘Men ken alemul veren besser—We can always become better.’

“We must be mekabel right now to learn mussar. Tzu veren besser. If the Mashgiach would be here, what would he say? What is the devarim hayotzim min halev, from this heart that beats no longer? Kinderlach, lerentz mussar…

That 10 minute poignant hesped was punctured with heartrending wails from both the maspid and the bnei yeshivah and succeeded in planting the seeds of a phenomenon Lakewood was about to undergo.

The new Mashgiach was ready, and so were the bnei yeshivah.

He would lead them, guide them, and urge them tzu veren besser. He would give over the mussar ideals that had become part of his essence, and they would eagerly listen and grow.

And yes, they knew, just by virtue of the love that this man exuded, that he would be there for them, davening for them, understanding them and caring for them, and ready to help them in the most selfless of ways.

A ba’al mussar in the making

Born on the first day of Chanukah 1937 to R’ Yaakov and Etel Salomon, the Mashgiach was appropriately named Matisyahu Chaim at his bris, on Zos Chanukah. As a young bachur, he attended the yeshivah of Gateshead and learned under the tutelage of the two roshei yeshivah, Rav Leib Lopian, son of Rav Elya; and Rav Leib Gurwicz, a son-in-law of R’ Elya.

When he was but 17 years old, tragedy struck and his father passed away suddenly. Mr. Salomon’s passing left behind a shocked and grieving almanah and her eight children. Mrs. Salomon needed Matisyahu’s help at night, and he felt obligated to be there for her, but he was not ready to give up on the time he should have been learning. To make it up, he would wake up early each morning and learn with hasmadah. He barely slept in those years and could almost always be found in the beis midrash.

Interestingly, someone once asked R’ Matisyahu regarding a bachur whose learning caused him to not sleep or eat regularly, and the Mashgiach strongly opposed such behavior. When asked about his tendencies as a bachur, he explained that he felt he had special siyata d’Shmaya since he was a yasom, so he was able to ignore his physical needs.

In yeshivah, he was known for his ahavas Torah and incisive understanding. The gaon Rav Chaim Kaufman, who later served as rosh yeshivas Tiferes Yaakov of Gateshead, was his longtime chavrusah, first in the yeshivah and then in kollel. By the time he left yeshivah, he was already an accomplished talmid chacham and was proficient in the entire Mishnah Berurah.

Rav Leib Lopian saw in his talmid a bright future and urged him to go learn in the yeshivah in Kfar Chasidim under the influence of his father, the legendary ba’al mussar Rav Elya Lopian. R’ Elya was a product of Kelm, one of those venerated mussar centers that changed the Torah landscape for generations. The Talmud Torah, as it was called, was led by the Alter and Rav Itzele Blazer, both talmidim of Rav Yisrael Salanter, who carried the torch of mussar to the select group of talmidim. The focus of Kelm was limud hamussar, tikkun hamiddos and an unyielding striving for emes.

R’ Matisyahu spent less than one year in Kfar Chasidim but nevertheless became attached[SH2]  to R’ Elya, whom he referred to as his rebbi muvhak. He would return each summer to be with his rebbi, to further imbibe the hallowed values and principles of Kelm. These lessons remained with him forever, and he would constantly refer to them later in life, when it was he who was being mashpia on others.

R’ Elya cherished the derhoibener young man who thirstily absorbed his words and in a candid moment told him, “I feel that the achrayus of mussar in the coming dor will be on your shoulders.”

Later, in 1970, when R’ Elya was niftar, R’ Matisyahu spoke at the levayah for an hour and a half, leaving the crowd spellbound with his poetic description of his beloved rebbi. It was a foreshadowing of the oratory prowess he would later become famous for; he always knew the exact ma’amar Chazal to use, how to articulate his point, and how to deliver in the most effective way.

A rising star in Gateshead

Shortly after returning to England, R’ Matisyahu married Miriam Falk, sister of the noted posek Rav Pesach Eliyahu. After their marriage, R’ Matisyahu joined the esteemed kollel of Gateshead and quickly stood out as a gifted and elevated yungerman. He would often learn late at night in his home together with his[SH3] [SH4]  brother-in-law R’ Pesach Eliyahu; Rebbetzin Miriam would later recall with amusement how she would be afraid that they might get physical when she heard them shouting at each at 1 a.m.

Their marriage defied description. They treated each other as royalty; she encouraged him and looked after his needs, and in turn, he appreciated her and all she did for him. When he would arrive home, even when he had to care for urgent matters, he would first go greet her and sit down beside her for a moment and only then assume his other responsibilities. The rebbetzin was once convalescing in Leisure Chateau over Yom Kippur, and as the annual Motza’ei Yom Kippur va’ad was set to begin, R’ Matisyahu requested that someone call her to let her listen in, as she would have done had she been home.

After learning in kollel mitoch hadchak for several years, R’ Matisyahu was asked to join the Gateshead yeshivah as an assistant mashgiach under Rav Moshe Schwab. The hanhalah was looking for someone who would be a role model while still understanding the challenges of a contemporary yeshivah bachur; someone the boys could relate to and respect; someone wise and insightful, determined and devoted.

They found all that in Rav Matisyahu Salomon.

He was a man of great emotion and a deep thinker. He was derhoiben and down-to-earth. He was as practical as he was idealistic. Just watching him was enough to know that he was living in a different sphere, his mind and heart preoccupied with more than just the here and the now.

It wasn’t long before he gained a prominent role in the yeshivah and had a profound impact on the lives of the bachurim. Talmidim of the time recall his royal bearing and total devotion to any need that might arise. They knew to expect him at his seat long before davening began; he was usually there from 5 a.m. learning b’chavrusah.

For him, the job wasn’t the ideal; he would much rather have spent the time sitting at his shtender with his beloved Gemara. But the gedolim had given him a very clear directive: this was his tafkid, and this was what he must do. He repeatedly asked the Steipler whether he could go back to kollel, and the answer was unequivocal.

But he still managed to find time for his primary love. Besides giving schmuessen, R’ Matisyahu was tasked with speaking to the younger bachurim in learning, and he had a chavrusah during second seder learning the same sugyos as the yeshivah. At one point, the rosh yeshivah Rav Avraham Gurwicz had to take leave for a few weeks, and R’ Matisyahu took over giving shiur, seamlessly reverting to his natural occupation, delving into the sugyos with clarity and depth. At times he would take off a few weeks and go to Eretz Yisrael himself to learn without distraction with his former chavrusah from Kfar Chasidim.

One of the focal points of the year was the tefillos that R’ Matisyahu davened for the amud during the Yamim Nora’im. He would elevate the entire yeshivah with his heartfelt tefillos, and many alumni would return for Yamim Nora’im just to experience them again. On Rosh Hashanah, R’ Matisyahu would get maftir and would read the words of Chanah with great emotion. One talmid shares that every year since, when he hears the words “v’eshpoch es nafshi lifnei Hashem,” his eyes well up as the quivering voice of the Mashgiach still rings in his ears.

When he would recite the Avodas Yom Kippur, it wasn’t difficult to imagine him as the kohen gadol engendering kapparah for all.

After a particularly difficult and tragic year in Gateshead, R’ Matisyahu started bleeding from exertion during U’nesaneh Tokef while davening for the amud on Yom Kippur. The blood dripped on the words ma’avirim es ro’a hagezeirah, andincredibly, not one person in the community passed away that year.

When Rav Schwab was niftar in 1979, R’ Matisyahu was appointed mashgiach of the yeshivah, a position he held until he came to America two decades later.

“I need him here”

As time went on, R’ Matisyahu began receiving worldwide acclaim, and he began traveling overseas to inspire Yidden. On his first visit to America, when he was in his low 40s, an alumnus from Gateshead who was learning in Lakewood at the time introduced his former mashgiach to his current mashgiach, R’ Nosson[SH5]  Wachtfogel.

The two met and the talmid asked R’ Nosson what his impression was.

Ich darf em da—I need him here! It’s going to be hard to get him, but in the end, I’ll be matzliach,” he replied with his characteristic smile.

Rav Lipa Margulies, rosh yeshivas Torah Temimah, began inviting R’ Matisyahu to his yeshivah, and the latter would come every few weeks[SH6]  for extended weekends to give schmuessen and speak with the bachurim.

Rav Shach, Rav Elya Svei, and other gedolim also noticed this promising mashpia and gave him their full support. He enjoyed a particularly close kesher with Rav Shach, who would let him sit in while he accepted visitors, teaching the future gadol how to relate to the needs of the people. Rav Shach expressed his trust in R’ Matisyahu’s sechel hayashar, clarity, and iron convictions in making decisions for the klal and the individual.

In 1997, Rav Shach urged R’ Matisyahu to accept R’ Nosson’s entreaties and leave behind his place of birth to go to an unknown land. America, Rav Shach foresaw, was where R’ Matisyahu’s impact would be felt strongest. He was needed there.

On Rosh Chodesh Kislev, R’ Matisyahu was welcomed by the roshei yeshivah of BMG, with R’ Nosson proudly walking alongside them. He had succeeded. He had found someone he knew would carry on his legacy.

At the kabbalas panim, R’ Matisyahu quoted the mishnah in Avos about the need for a rebbi and the even greater need for a friend. “I’m coming not to be a rebbi; the roshei yeshivos are here for that. I’m here to be a chaver,” he declared.

He would be their chaver, and he would also be their rebbi.

He just wanted to help others, but he had no idea how many people wanted his help. R’ Matisyahu would later reflect that he’d thought he would come a give a few schmuessen and be able to sit and learn the rest of the time. That vision couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Changing the landscape

His arrival infused new life into the quiet yeshivah town. Every one of his schmuessen attracted hundreds of mesmerized yungerleit. And they couldn’t get enough. They clamored around to hear the pearls of truth that flowed forth with such beauty and clarity. And like a true good chaver, when they asked, he didn’t have to heart to refuse.

Before long, yungerleit were lining up to speak to him, to learn from him[SH7] . They began requesting va’adim, intimate mussar talks on specific growth-inducing topics. There were va’adim for mechanchim and vaadim for ba’alei batim. There were va’adim for those involved in kiruv, and there were va’adim for madrichim. Each va’ad was tailor-made for the needs of its listeners.

Soon he established weekly va’adim on all the basic sifrei mussar, with specific groups of yungerleit for each one. He gave a va’ad each morning on the weekly parshah, in which he taught the yungerleit the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit and emunah. He also gave va’adim on chinuch (which were later collected and published in English), shalom bayis, and bein adam l’chaveiro.

Many of these va’adim were later printed in the renowned sefarim Matnas Chaim, of which tens of thousands of copies have been sold.

The beauty of an elevated lifestyle

Although he was soon too overwhelmed to continue this daily schedule, his weekly schmuessen remained a highlight. The topics ranged from middos to yiras Shamayim, from kedushah to avodas Hashem, and would often be given as a series over a few weeks.

Yamim Tovim would be preceded with detailed explanations of the significance of the upcoming chag. Elul and Yamim Nora’im are days of awe, and the Mashgiach helped us feel it.

It is difficult to quantify the impact of these schmuessen; they covered so many important aspects of a Yid’s life.He set the tone on so many burning issues that it is hard to imagine Lakewood without his imprint.

But if there was one common thread that could be found in all of the schmuessen, it was the loftiness of a Torah’dig life, specifically the life of a ben Torah whose days are devoted to learning Toras Hashem. His goal was to lift them up by showing the true beauty and sweetnessof a life devoid of the pursuit of physical pleasures and luxury.

He would demand that bnei Torah themselves appreciate the greatness of their lifestyle. He lifted the kavod haTorah and stressed the importance of a ben Torah living a hechere life. A ben Torah’s life is one of romemus, and besides the sense of pride he should feel, he must realize the responsibility that comes along with it. R’ Matisyahu worked to instill both feelings into them.

One of the most noteworthy changes the Mashgiach instituted in the yeshivah was establishing the lively and lofty mesibah on the first night of Purim. These mesibos not only substituted what tended to be a night of silliness with a productive event for bachurim and yungerleit alike, it elevated the entire Yom Tov and instilled simchah and chizuk in all those in attendance.

A gifted orator, he had the unique ability to not only understand the hashkafas haTorah clearly, but to communicate it in a pleasant and appealing way. He masterfully trained a generation to be eager to hear words of mussar. He became one of the most sought-after speakers at events in Lakewood and across the world.

He would always craft his words according to the listeners. To the bnei yeshivah, the Mashgiach made certain to say “lomdishe mussar,” mussar that would resonate even with the more intellectual minds. He liked to say that training oneself to understanding others leads to understanding Torah because we learn how to negate our thoughts to someone else.

When speaking to women, he would demonstrate such open warmth that the women felt drawn to his words and receptive of his message. At the first internet asifah for women, the Mashgiach began by saying, “Tayere, tayere mammes fun Klal Yisrael and tayere, tayere techter fun Klal Yisrael, I am speaking to you like you are all my daughters and granddaughters, because that is how I feel…”

A true friend, a loving general

As a true chaver, he felt the responsibilityto sometimes deliver uncomfortable messages. They were not easy to hear, and they were certainly not easy to say. But the Mashgiach was not one to be swayed by public opinion and was loath to take the easy way to avoid confrontation. He would lovingly point out faults in the behavior or attitudes of some and his words were accepted. The recipients felt and knew that it was his love for them that caused him to say what needed to be said.

One of the first battles the Mashgiach fought was for kedushash hamo’ed. Chol Hamo’ed, he said is not a time to go to amusement parks or concerts; it is a time for families to spend time together in derhoibene fashion.

At the time, a circus was being arranged specifically for frum families, and the Mashgiach strongly opposed going. But he would not oppose it without giving an alternative. He therefore opened the doors of his home for everyone to visit, wives and children included. He sat at his table and warmly greeted[SH8]  every child, bachur, and yungerman with a smile. The children received a candy, and the girls and women were welcomed by the rebbetzin in the next room.

A young boy came to the Mashgiach, a ticket to the circus in his hand.

“I have a ticket already; can I go?” he asked shyly.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” the Mashgiach replied.

The boy asked again, and the Mashgiach answered the same way. Finally, the boy realized that the Mashgiach wouldn’t give in, and he crumpled up the ticket.

The Mashgiach looked at him fondly and smiled. “Are we still friends?” he asked, his arm outstretched.

The boy nodded and shook the Mashgiach’s hand heartily.

At the boy’s bar mitzvah a few months later, the father of the boy was shocked to see the venerated Mashgiach walk into the hall.

“We’re friends,” the Mashgiach explained plainly. “How can I miss my friend’s bar mitzvah?”

Not everyone understood the Mashgiach’s sensitivity, but he always had just the right words. A woman called shortly before that Yom Tov and said that she had bought 20 tickets for the circus her entire family. “What is so bad about going?” she wanted to know.

“Let me ask you: Is your son going to be more excited about the Pesach Seder or about the circus?” R’ Matisyahu responded.

It was all the woman needed to hear.

A group of bachurim was once expelled from the BMG dorm after violating the yeshivah’s rules. The mother of one of them called Rabbi Yirmi Rieder, a talmid of the Mashgiach, for help. She was nervous that this incident could hinder her son’s shidduchim, and he had nowhere else to sleep.

R’ Yirmi called the Mashgiach, who said that the boys could not return to the dorm, but they were welcome to sleep in his house. He also made a chavrusashaft with them and said that if anyone had any questions regarding shidduchim, they should call him.

Incisive vision

Simple people view the events around them with simplicity; their gauge of its importance is based on its recreational value. But R’ Matisyahu had a hechere blik, a keen and incisive perception of events taking place both inside the community and outside of it, and he would use his gifted tongue to share it with the bnei yeshivah.

Every news tidbit was a message from the Ribono Shel Olam telling us to wake up and sense His control over world events. The Mashgiach was a master at finding the perfect ma’amar Chazal and exact lesson for each event. He heard the Borei Olam in every tsunami or volcanic eruption. “Fear Me!” Hashem is calling out to us.

Even seemingly minor events were a reason for a schmuess. When he saw pictures of icicles hanging from oranges in Florida, he saw a message in it—when the world gets corrupted, Hashem alters nature as well.

In an eerie schmuess given the night before the September 11th attacks, the Mashgiach warned of how a Yid can never become complacent. “Who knows whether the Muslims in Brooklyn might one day decide to declare jihad? We are headed toward a conflagration, and we need rachamei Shamayim merubim. Now, in the days before Rosh Hashanah, is the time for us to be mispallel!”

One week later, on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Mashgiach spoke, as he did each year, shortly before the end of Yom Tov. He noted how despite the fear and angst, we should appreciate the purity of the moment. “Everyone realizes now that there is a Borei Olam and we need Him for protection.”

He knew what to say when no one else did.

When tragedy struck, R’ Matisyahu always found the words with which to comfort the family and the community. Whether it was when a child passed away after being mistakenly left in a car or when a woman was killed on the way home Friday night, R’ Matisyahu found a remarkable way to encapsulate the tza’ar while giving chizuk and nechamah to those in pain. And he would never tire from reminding those present that there is Borei Olam who has a master plan.

Kinderlach, lerentz mussar!

The Mashgiach succeeded in changing the face of Lakewood. He stood at the forefront of many battles and held the line of kedushah, tzniyus, and histapkus.

But more than that was the way he revived the forgotten ideals of limud hamussar.

As a talmid of Kelm, he made this his personal mission. He played recordings of his rebbi Rav Elya Lopian learning mussar with the tune of ba’alei mussar of old. He gave va’adim in which he taught the art of mussar, how to take a piece of a mussar sefer and allow it to sink into one’s conscience.

He arranged a bonus shmiras hasdarim check for those who stayed after second seder to learn mussar and designated the Yoshon beis medrash as the place for the many yungerleit who wanted to learn mussar b’hispa’alus; the walls would reverberate with the voices of the bnei Torah deep in introspection.

He also instituted a beis hamussar, a room where bnei aliyah could come at any hour of any day to learn mussar and make a cheshbon hanefesh. An elite group of ba’alei mussar would gather there each day for set va’adim, often with the Mashgiach there to guide them in their quest for the truth. R’ Matisyahu cherished this group immensely, telling them that their avodah made an immeasurable impression on those around them and they were impacting the entire yeshivah.

In his personal life, he was a paradigm of what limud hamussar could do to a person, and he showed others the beauty and joy in perfecting oneself.

In his younger years, he would spend much of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah in deep introspection. Later, when his responsibilities to the tzibbur did not allow it, he would spend a few hours every Erev Yom Kippur in solitude, making a reckoning of his deeds. No one was invited in; it was just he, the trustworthy eved Hashem, alone with his Maker.

Emunah was one of the topics he often spoke about, and he lived with an acute sense that everything was from Hashem. A talmid recalls when, 12 years ago, the Mashgiach’s grandson was severely injured in a car accident. As per Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s suggestion, a name was added, and the Mashgiach joined the heartrending tefillos that took place when they changed the name. When the ma’amad was over, the Mashgiach walked out with a smile on his face. “Tefillah mit emunah!” he said when he noticed someone questioning his simchah.

When he lost his ability to function properly in recent years, the Mashgiach did not lose his equilibrium. Here was a man whose essence was to inspire others, and that ability had been taken from him. But he believed that this was Hashem’s plan, and he accepted it with grace.

He would quote R’ Elya as saying that he pitied a person born with good middos, because he looks around and is fooled into believing that he doesn’t have to work on himself. “Uber di emes iz az men darf alemul veren besser”— the truth is that one must always work to improve himself.

When R’ Matisyahu was a bachur in Kfar Chasidim, R’ Elya told him to be mekabel never to get upset on Shabbos. Shabbos, R’ Elya explained, is a time that one spends with his children, and they are likely to aggravate him at some point. “If you work on it as a bachur, you will be able to stay calm later in life as well.”

R’ Matisyahu once told a close talmid that ever since making that kabbalah, he never got angry on Shabbos.

Not knowing any better, one could be excused for thinking that the Mashgiach was born with an easygoing nature. But he once said of himself that the opposite is true. He was born with a harsh tendency but worked on himself until he attained enviable menuchas hanefesh.

That serenity was often on display at the Shabbos seudos in the Salomon house. Many guests would be invited to eat there, including some suffering from emotional and mental difficulties. They could often be irritable and even dangerous, but R’ Matisyahu took it all in stride. He would sit at the head of the table like a king, singing zemiros with peaceful joy. He would engage each guest at his level and allow them to do and speak as they pleased.

It is interesting to note that while the Mashgiach would often be very stern when speaking publicly and demand constant growth, when he spoke to others in person, he took on the persona of a warm and doting zeidy.

Indeed, when asked what he learned from his rebbi R’ Elya, he replied, “He taught us when to use our hergeshim.”

All in his heart

While the Mashgiach’s primary role was to build and perfect the yeshivah’leit, he did not shy away from the other needs of the tzibbur.

He had been taught when to use his hergeshim, and he used his compassion to the fullest.

He had a burning desire to help others in need and would constantly take upon himself more roles despite his already unrealistic and hardly sustainable schedule. He barely slept at night, retiring past two, only to be up at five to say his daily Tehillim. But he had a passion to do more for Klal Yisrael and the simple Yid that no one else noticed.

His home became known as the place where issues would be addressed and resolved, and all of the tzarchei haklal ended up at his door. Nothing was above or beneath him; he was ready to be there, to guide and to help. If a woman in the hospital was refusing to take lifesaving medication, R’ Matisyahu was ready to go down to Manhattan to convince her to change her mind, despite his fatigue and ill health. When a family that suffered tragedy had a difficult time coping, R’ Matisyahu made it his business to be in the house every single day until things calmed down.

It wasn’t only for the needy that he extended himself. The playgroup in his basement was honored each year by a visit from the Mashgiach to wish mazel tov to the three-year-old children when they started learning aleph-beis, just because the morah had asked him.

He made a point of visiting camps for children with special needs, explaining that these neshamos were near perfection and their tikkun was to get people to smile by seeing their joy. While there, he would encourage the staff members and allow himself to be photographed by campers and counselors alike.

When it came to his attention that there were children without a school to attend, he made the problem his own. He traveled to Eretz Yisrael for a day to gather signatures of gedolim to support his plan of closing all the schools until every girl had a school whose uniform she would wear and every boy had a cheder where he would learn Toras Hashem.

He made himself available for others with complete selflessness, and he shared their pain. He was able to understand the feelings of others and he did all he could to help.

He always knew exactly what to say to comfort those in pain. He gave a monthly va’ad for women suffering from infertility, encouraging, explaining their avodah, and simply feeling their pain.

People would often speak to him about their spiritual struggles as well. A native of the quaint Jewish kehillah of Gateshead, R’ Matisyahu was completely removed from the challenges of today. He himself was so pure, yet he understood those who were not yet there. They felt at ease discussing their issues, and he was a rock of strength and chizuk during their challenging times.

When couples came to unburden themselves, they would leave with lighter hearts; he would speak to them softly and empathize in their pain. And, because he really cared, he would ask for the names to be mispallel for.

And often, there were no words.

A talmid whose son had strayed from the path was set to get married in a nonreligious ceremony. The night before the wedding, the talmid received a phone call from the Mashgiach. He didn’t say anything. He just cried for 10 minutes. There were no words to comfort the father. But the father felt comforted because someone had felt his pain.

Sometimes words were not enough; action was required. When a couple’s shalom bayis was challenged due to a question of how to afford renovations in their home, the Mashgiach advised the yungerman to borrow the necessary funds from a gemach and then arranged that the money be paid up in full without the yungerman knowing any better.

Avi yesomim

While R’ Matisyahu had an open heart for all of Lakewood’s needs, there was a special place in his heart for yesomim and almanos, perhaps because, as a yasom himself, he was able to relate to their pain. He would visit the homes of many of Lakewood’s almanos on a weekly basis, speaking to the children, playing with the youngsters, and complimenting the almanah on her beautiful family. These visits were a burst of light in the darkness of their pain.

He established a “club,” with admission open exclusively to those who had lost a parent. The club members could call him at any time, and he would pick up the phone. He might have been in the middle of an important meeting, but if a club member called, that took precedence. Some children would call every night to say good night, and he would ask them how their day was and say Shema with them.

He made chavrusashafts with the young boys, learning with them once a week and catching up on their lives. It was their biggest pride that they were friends with the Mashgiach, and showing their rebbi that their homework sheet was signed by Matisyahu Chaim Salomon made them feel on top of the world.

An almanah once asked the Mashgiach to convince her son to go to a camp he wasn’t excited about, rather than the one he desired. The Mashgiach was successful in discouraging the boy from wanting to go to the other camp, but that was not the end of the story. A few months later, shortly before camp began, R’ Matisyahu called the boy in and gave him a siddur with a beautiful inscription from his best friend, the Mashgiach.

“This is because you agreed to go to the camp you weren’t really interested in,” he explained.

Guardian of Torah Jewry

Much has been said about how the Mashgiach fought his final battle against the evils of technology. He was on a mission to uplift and purify Klal Yisrael, and nothing, not even the knowledge that the Satan would try to harm him, would stop him. He was fearless when he felt that[SH9]  the only way was to declare war. Like the kohen gadol he was named after, R’ Matisyahu gathered a few tzaddikim with him, including the Skulener Rebbe, and declared “Mi laShem eilai.” With wisdom and grit, he fought and saved our entire generation.

What is perhaps most astounding of it all is what he told his son R’ Yaakov Yehudah when he asked his father what he was thinking as they entered the Citi Field arena on that fateful Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan. “I was davening that this event should be a zechus for all those who were nichshal, that they merit having a hirhur teshuvah.”

Not a zechus for himself to be saved from the relentless attacks of the Satan. Not even for Klal Yisrael. A zechus for those who were drowning in the swamp that this event was to put boundaries around. Those whom most had long given up on, but not the Mashgiach. They were still on his mind, and he hoped they would yet return.

The fight against technology was not the first time he exerted himself for the[SH10]  sake of Klal Yisrael’s ruchniyus. In 1999, he assumed the role of nasi of Vaad L’hatzalas Nidchei Yisrael. He would go on yearly trips to the former Soviet Union and inspire hundreds of Yidden about the glory of Klal Yisrael and the great zechus they had to be part of this nation—a nation devoted to Hashem, a nation with eternal blessing. These trips made everlasting impressions on those nidchei Yisrael who had no other connection to the rich heritage of which they had been robbed.

Yearning for the geulah

Those in the Mashgiach’s orbit knew that the highlight of the year was the va’ad in his house on Motza’ei Yom Kippur.

The joy at having achieved kapparah was palpable, and the Mashgiach would speak with passion and emotion, wrapping up the hisorerus of the Yamim Nora’im while preparing the listeners for[SH11]  the festive days ahead. Toward the end of the event, the crowd would sing the “Adon Olam” from Kelm. It was a slow and moving song with a rich history, and they would repeat it over and over. As the enthusiasm grew with each time, the Mashgiach’s face would be bedecked with an ethereal glow.

They would then sing “Ani Ma’amin,” also a unique Kelmer tune. On a spiritual high, the Mashgiach would visibly pine for the day that we will return home, to once again be in His embrace in the Land He promised us.

Tzipisah l’yeshuah was something he often expressed, and he once received a hint that he would actually merit seeing that glorious day.

In 2009, the Rebbetzin’s suffered a health crisis. The Mashgiach was under a lot of pressure from his work for the klal, and was struggling to keep his rigorous schedule.

And then he had a dream.

The rosh yeshivah Rav Aharon appeared to him and said that the rebbetzin would have a refuah shleimah, and he would be here until the coming of Mashiach. Shortly thereafter, the rebbetzin underwent a complete and miraculous turnaround and resumed her regular life. The Mashgiach, his family, and all his talmdim rejoiced.

But there was another part of the dream. R’ Aharon had said that he would be here until Mashiach’s days. And he is no longer here.

But if we know how to look at it, the explanation is simple.

Because while the Mashgiach is not with us, he is still very much alive. The values he showed us and the ideals he taught us are burning strong. His word will still be heard through the countless recordings and sefarim. And we will continue to follow his path, to learn mussar, tzu veren besser.

Rav Aharon’s promise will yet be fulfilled.

The writer spoke to many talmidim of the Mashgiach, many of them talmidei chachamim and rabbanim, and their time is very appreciated. Among those who helped were Rabbi Shmuel Yeshaya Keller, Rabbi Dovid Katzenstein, Rabbi Avrohom Deutch, Rabbi Ahron Lopian, Rabbi Ahron Sochet, Rabbi Naftali Cukier, Rabbi Ephraim Hasenfeld, and Rabbi Zev Aurbach as well as family of the Mashgiach.