The following is a four-part story. The last part is well-known, and was rekindled recently in a remarkable Shabbos morning drasha recently given by Rabbi Meir Braunstein of the Agudah of Long Island. The drasha was about making Kiddush Hashem not just a one-time thing, but a way of life.
The Gemorah in Brachos (17a) tells us about one of the character traits of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai. He was, of course, a Tanna who appears quite frequently in the mishnayos. He was the one who predicted that Vespasian would soon become emperor of the Roman Empire. He fought the tzadukkim and was the one that eventually saved Yavneh and chochmeha.
But the Gemorah in Brachos tells us something else about him as well. It tells us that he would be, “makdim shalom lechol adam – afilu lenachri shebashuk.” He was always the first to greet another – even a gentile in the marketplace. Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai was always sanctifying the Name of Hashem in his interactions with others.
We now move to part two of our story.
Most people who travel back and forth to Lakewood, even occasionally, are familiar with this exit off the Garden State Parkway. It is often mispronounced as, “Cheesecake,” but it is really named after a Lenape Native American word. In Native American it was, “Cheseh-oh-ke” which meant, “upland” or “upland village.”
Cheesequake is located about 48 ½ miles from the Five Towns, and some 28 miles from Brooklyn. When travelling to Lakewood, it is one of the more well-known gasoline and or bathroom stops that are on the way. It is still about 36 miles from Lakewood, and is often seen as a halfway point, of sorts.
It is also a place where people see people there that they have not seen for years or decades. Yeshiva students without rides back to New York sometimes Uber to Cheesequake, and find a ride back from there. And, in that exit called Cheesequake, there is one lone gas station – a corporate-owned Sunoco station.
We now go to part three of our story.
Rabbi Eliezer Geldzahler zt”l was the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Geldzhaler zt”l. His father was born in 1926 in Antwerp, Belgium into a family of Zhikover Chassidim.
On May 10th, 1940, the Nazis y”m began bombing Belgium and the Geldzahlers knew what was in store. They quickly set out on a trip to France and Spain. Eventually, they miraculously obtained a visa to the United States – without knowing anyone in New York.
Arriving in New York Harbor in 1941, Rabbi Geldzahler was 15 years old,and was soon enrolled in Yeshiva Torah VaDaas. There he developed a close relationship with Rav Shlomo Heiman, Rav Gedalia Schorr and Reb Shraga Feivel Mendelevich. In 1946, Rav Geldzahler attended the newly launched Yeshiva in Spring Valley – Beis Medrash Elyon and was one of the 18 founding Talmidim. There, he learned under one of the greatest Talmidim of the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Reuvain Grozovzky zt”l.
Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt”l, grandson of Rav Yisroel Salanter, and a talmid of the Kelm Yeshiva was, in 1949, the Mashgiach of the Gateshead Yeshiva that he had helped launch. A shidduch for his daughter Henny was suggested. Rav Dessler flew to America and the shidduch was made.
They lived in Monsey and eventually moved to Williamsburg. At the time, Torah Vadaas had a branch in the Forest Hills section of Queens that was floundering and the Yeshiva wished to close it.
Wishing to spread Torah to the younger generation, Rav Geldzahler asked to take it over. He did, and eventually renamed the Yeshiva after his shver’s grandfather, Yeshiva Ohr Yisroel. This Yeshiva inspired and taught generations of Talmidim – including one of my sons. They were farhered by Rav Doniel Geldzahler, who is the head of Monsey’s famed Machon L’Horaah Beis Din.
Rav Geldzahler zt”l had a close relationship with his shver and many of the letters between the two are found in Michtav M’Eliyahu. He also had a close relationship with Rav Reuvain Grozovsky zt”l. Rav Yehoshua Geldzahler was a gadol BaTorah who had fully mastered the entire Talmud Yerushalmi and authored brilliant Seforim on the Yerushalmi. He also personified both menchlechkeit and Mussar. Rav Geldzhaler zt”l passed away in 2015 after an illness.
Rav Eliezer Geldzahler zt”l was niftar in a tragic car accident in Eretz Yisroel.
We now go to part four of our story.
One of Rav Eliezer Geldzahler’s daughters is travelling on the Garden State Parkway. She stops at exit 120 – to fill up at the Sunoco Station. On the front of her car, just below the windshield is a picture of her saintly father.
Filling up her gas tank is someone suffering from a genetic disorder known as “achondroplasia.” This disorder causes complications in bone production – where cartilage is unable to fully develop into bone. The result is that those with this genetic disorder are unusually short.
The gas station attendants in New Jersey still clean the windshields. As he is doing so, the attendant sees the picture just below. In shock, he asks her, “Do you know that man??”
“Yes, he is my father.”
“I have not seen him for years! Where is he?”
“Unfortunately, he passed away.”
“I must tell you that he was a saintly man. As you can see, I am extremely short. Most people uncomfortably turn away from me when they talk to me. Not your father. He looked me straight in the eye and once said to me.
Each time I come here and see you, I am extremely inspired. You come to work every day, and smile all the time. You work extra hard, despite your handicap, and you always give it your best effort. I must tell you that you are a personal source of inspiration to me. G-d bless you!”
Your father, always made me feel so very tall.”
These ten days of Nissan are those of the hakamas hamishkan. The pasuk tells us, V’Asu li mishkan, veshachanti besocham – And they shall make for Me a Mishkan and I shall dwell within them. It does not say that I shall dwell within it – it says “them.” If we look to constantly make a kiddush Hashem – then the Shechina will be dwelling within us. And that is what we truly need these days.
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