A parking spot was hard to come by for blocks around Toronto’s Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Shmayahu on the afternoon of March 7. Inside the yeshivah, there wasn’t a seat to be had. The beit midrash was packed. Men were standing shoulder to shoulder through the foyer, all the way back into the stairwell. And for close to two hours, they watched and listened as rabbi after rabbi did his best not to eulogize Rabbi Moshe Goldberg, who had passed away the day prior after suffering a sudden heart attack.
It was Rosh Hodesh Adar – technically, in this Jewish leap year, the first day of the second month of Adar – and halakhah forbids giving a hesped (eulogy) on the occasion of a new month. But the task was proving difficult.
“V’ha-ir Toronto navocha,” moaned Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Lowy of Agudath Israel Congregation, referencing the words of the Book of Esther at the precise moment when Haman’s evil decree against the Jews becomes public – “V’ha-ir Shushan navocha” (“And the city of Shushan wept”). Now Toronto was weeping.
Rabbi Seth Grauer, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Or Chaim, proposed that Rabbi Goldberg might have been happy to know that his funeral was taking place precisely on a day when people would be forbidden from extolling his virtues more elaborately. As a student of Rabbi Goldberg – one of thousands he taught in Toronto during a 30-plus year career – that sounded about right to me. Or as Rabbi Goldberg might have said it himself: “Short and sweet. Now listen good!”
“He was full mit Torah,” Rabbi Goldberg’s brother, Rabbi Aharon Dovid Goldberg, rosh yeshivah of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Ohio, recalled. “Every person’s Torah, he was machshiv” (listening). In other words, it didn’t matter who you were – if you wanted to talk Torah, Rabbi Goldberg would always oblige.
Noting the suddenness of his father’s death, Rabbi Goldberg’s oldest son, Yisroel Tuvia, added almost incredulously, “Tatti said shiur on Tuesday” – and in that moment, you could hear a little bit of his father’s voice wafting through the building.
It’s that voice that I’ll remember most about Rabbi Goldberg. It was so out of place during my days at Or Chaim, when most of the rabbis on staff were Israeli shlichim who struggled to communicate at all, let alone teach. Rabbi Goldberg never had that problem. Rather, in a turn of events almost no one could have predicted, somehow his voice – a textbook example of the haredi yeshivah world’s Eastern European style of Hebrew pronunciation, complete with side trips into Yiddish – seemed the most inviting of all in our modern Orthodox, Zionist study hall.
Nu, so in honour of Rabbi Goldberg, let’s end with a little bit of Torah: the Rambam, Maimonides, says that in the Messianic days, all of the Tanakh will be nullified, except for the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Esther. Furthermore, all the tragedies that befell the Jewish people will be as if they never existed, save for the story of Purim. Why is that? Said Rabbi Goldberg, of blessed memory, Purim, at its heart, is about celebrating two things: everyday miracles and the love between the Jewish people and ha-Shem. And those lessons transcend time. They will be with us forever.