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Shout with a Whisper

Menachem Pines

Until his petirah last week, Rav Dov Yaffe ztz”l offered a piercing understanding of our inner struggles, and for those who wished, a recipe for happiness

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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On my last visit to the Mashgiach, I observed my young son, whose hand was enveloped by Rav Dov’s… In Rav Dov’s eyes, everyone was considered a chavrusa for spiritual elevation, no matter the age, place, or status. “You should be a lomed Torah, a tzaddik, and a baal middos tovos,” he said. He chose his words carefully; every sentence was well considered. (Photos: Lior Mizrachi, Aharon Baruch Leibowitz, Menachem Kalish)

I f you thought baalei mussar are supposed to be stoic and demanding, you probably never met Rav Dov Yaffe ztz”l, the elder mashgiach of Kfar Chassidim whose disarming calm and warm smile were available for anyone who sought what he had to give. Until his petirah last week, he offered a piercing understanding of our inner struggles, and for those who wished, a recipe for happiness.

“Do you learn mussar?”

The Mashgiach, Rav Dov Yaffe, looked at me lovingly as he waited calmly for an answer, as though there weren’t dozens of people in line behind me waiting to wish him gut Shabbos.

I was just a young bochur, newly minted in yeshivah ketanah, having gone to Yeshivas Knesses Chizkiyahu in Rechasim for Shabbos in order to meet the Mashgiach — and now I couldn’t utter a word. Suddenly, I found my hand clasped tightly in his, while his kind, warm, compassionate eyes looked straight into my heart and never left.

I trembled. Did he know, I thought to myself, that over the past two months my mussar learning had mostly fizzled out? Did he somehow sense that the words of Rabbeinu Yona and the Ramchal were a mere buzz in my memory?

“Know,” he said slowly, almost pleading with me, as though he had all the time in the world, “that mussar is the segulah for everything. It is a segulah for yiras Shamayim, for success, and even for memory.” 

The Youngest Mashgiach

Zkan Hamashgichim. That was how Rav Dov Yaffe was known to the thousands whose lives he touched before his passing last week at 89 — both because of his expansive wisdom and because of his advanced age. “Today, they call me the Zkan Hamashgichim,” he told me on my last visit to him, “even though I began as the ‘youngest mashgiach.’ But you know, what’s so unnerving is that the difference between one and the other came so fast… It feels like just yesterday I was playing kugelach… So remember to maximize every minute in life.”

His entire demeanor was one of serenity, contentment, and gratitude. 

For some people, the term baal mussar conjures up an image of a critical or morose person, constantly seeking to point out what others are doing wrong, seated on a wooden bench in a tiny shtibel while repeating words of Chazal over and over to break his yetzer hara.

But Rav Dov Yaffe ztz”l broke many perceptions about a baal mussar. In complete control of every muscle in his body, the Mashgiach exuded the self-authority of Kelm — yet his wit and warm smile were disarming, making you wonder if this was the real thing. But then he would begin to talk, selecting his words carefully before uttering them, and you could see the images of his rebbeim, Rav Eizik Sher, Rav Elya Lopian, and Rav Chatzkel Levenstein shining forth.

Yet his own obvious lofty levels aside, Rav Dov would always remind talmidim that gadlus doesn’t come easily to anyone — gedolim had to fight to get where they were, a lesson he learned from personal experience. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 685)

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