By a student
On Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parashas Ki Savo, hundreds of family members, friends, neighbors, and students of Rabbi Dovid Lapa gathered to pay last respects to this gadol. I attended Rabbi Lapa’s levayah and upon leaving after escorting the meis, I felt an immediate need to return home to record a few of my own thoughts and feelings. I submit these for publication anonymously as a way of honoring a man who lived his life with humility, in a quiet, unassuming nature–a tzniyus that was so unique and special.
Rabbi Lapa was my fourth-grade Hebrew teacher in Hillel Day School nearly 40 years ago. We referred to him as “Mar Lapa,” a title that in and of itself speaks volumes about his humility, given his incredible level of knowledge and erudition. Everyone loved Rabbi Lapa. It wasn’t just how he taught and his unique way of conveying information. It wasn’t just the little prizes of plastic cups with little pictures beautifully drawn by his hand or the small rectangles of paper with his famous “bullim”–stamps–pasted on them. I propose that it wasn’t even the abundant love that he showered upon us. There was just something about him, something that caused people to be attracted to him. Despite the passage of nearly 40 years and being at a stage of life where my own children have begun to reach adulthood, I could never forget Rabbi Lapa as my fourth-grade teacher.
I also had the good fortune to know Rabbi Lapa as a neighbor, being a resident of Bayswater myself for a number of years. When I would see him in shul, Rabbi Lapa would often introduce me as one of his talmidim, expressing pride and showering me with praise. He always had a pasuk and a berachah to bestow on those he met. He always acted b’simcha–not in an overly jovial, loud way, but with a quietness, a “shtillkeit” (if that’s a word) that I’ve never really seen in anyone else.
Bayswater residents will recall the frequent walks he took with Mrs. Lapa. What an example this set for all of us to see. Life is busy, and it is easy to forget and take for granted the most important of relationships. Rabbi and Mrs. Lapa showed us that the relationship between a husband and wife was the most important of all human relationships because it was the foundation for all other relationships that a person can have. By strengthening your relationship with your spouse, you strengthen your relationship with your children, your friends, your parents, and your colleagues. And most importantly, with Hashem Yisborach. Such a valuable lesson–all conveyed without saying a word. Once again, Rabbi Lapa was imparting wisdom with shtillkeit.
I had the pleasure of sometimes driving Rabbi Lapa home from minyan. He always asked me about my children, how they were, and what they were up to. And he always gave me a berachah as I dropped him off and walked him to his door. But not just a stam berachah, but a berachah like the kiddush cup overflowing with wine. His berachos overflowed with–well–berachah. And love. I’ll never forget how he would wish me “Hamon, hamon, h-mon, hamon nachat” from my children. I don’t recall ever seeing him more animated than when he was giving a berachah. And even then, that quietness permeated his very being.
When I came into the Young Israel of Wavecrest and Bayswater to daven this morning, the first thing I noticed was that the sign indicating that Rabbi Lapa was in the hospital had been taken off the board. I had hoped that this meant that he was home–but I feared that it meant the worst. A few moments later, as I put on tefillin, another mispallel broke the news to me. As I struggled to concentrate a little on davening, I couldn’t help but think about that one special Rabbi Lapa trait of shtillkeit.
As I was sitting at the levayah today and listening to the divrei hisorerus being delivered by the rabbanim of the Bayswater community, his sons, and his sons-in-law, a notion began to formulate that I think for me encapsulates what was truly special about Rabbi Lapa. His quietness was not at all a reflection of introversion. Rabbi Lapa wasn’t at all an introvert. He was personable and affable. Rather, it was a reflection of his incredibly deep emunah in Hashem. His emunah was so rooted in his core that it fairly oozed from him. His calm came from the belief–so firm that it was factual for him–that Hashem ruled the world and that we were completely in His hands. It came from the belief that Hashem only wanted to be meitiv with us. With that faith, Rabbi Lapa only needed to concern himself with creating the environment to allow the Shechinah to reside among us and inside of us. Rabbi Lapa knew that Hashem would take care of everything else.
And that is what made him so attractive to other people, particularly his students. As his nine-year-old students, our souls understood, if even our conscious minds didn’t, that we were in the presence of someone that was perpetually close to Hashem, someone who, as was said at the levayah, walked with Hashem. We connected with Rabbi Lapa because our neshamos were drawn to his like a magnet. The styrofoam cups, the bullim–they were just to keep us interested so that the environment for learning would be there. Rabbi Lapa didn’t need them to make us love him. We loved him because of who he was.
May Rabbi Lapa be a meilitz yosher for his beautiful family, for his students, for our community, and for the entirety of Klal Yisrael. And may we be zocheh to be reunited upon be’as goel tzedek, b’meheirah b’yameinu. T’hiyeh zichrono l’berachah.