Harav Sholom Dov Ber Lipshitz, zt"l, was niftar early Friday morning, Erev Shabbos Parashas Nitzavim-Vayeilech, after a difficult illness. He was 83.
Rav Lipshitz headed Yad L'Achim, the organization he founded 61 years ago. Until his final days, he was personally involved in every rescue and every operation, large or small. His mesirus nefesh on behalf of Klal Yisrael was guided by one principle: We cannot give up any Jew, no matter how far he's fallen.
The levayah began Friday morning at Rav Lipshitz's home in Ramat Gan, and proceeded to the Chabad Shul on Uziel Street in Ramat Gan, where he served as Rav for 50 years. A large crowd assembled at the shul, including all of the neighborhood Rabbanim and the city's Chief Rabbi, Harav Yaakov Ariel.
"We are parting with broken hearts from the elder of the Rabbanim of Ramat Gan, and we ask in the name of the mispallelim and in the name of all the residents of the city mechilah and selichah. We are certain that as you rise up to the World of Truth, you are being received by the hundreds and thousands of souls that you saved during your lifetime. Go in peace and rest in peace."
From there the levayah proceeded to the head offices of Yad L'Achim on Yerushalayim Street in Bnei Brak. Hundreds of people, including public figures and askanim, headed by Gedolei Torah, crowded in to pay their respects to the man who stood for so many years at the head of the camp that is committed to saving our brothers and bringing them under the wings of the Shechinah.
Harav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, the Rav of western Bnei Brak and a member of the beis din of Harav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, spoke with pain about the loss. "With the setting of the year 5771, the sun of Hagaon Harav Sholom Dov Ber Lipshitz, zt"l, set," he said in an emotion-choked voice. "I personally merited to sit in his office and see the pain on his face for every Jewish soul that, R"l, was lost to shemad. How much of his energy, time and resources did he invest to ensure that no one was lost to the Jewish people."
Harav Chaim Rosner, a veteran Yad L'Achim staffer who worked at Rav Lipshitz's side for many years, spoke in the name of thousands of Yad L'Achim staffers and volunteers, past and present. He described with great feeling the sense of responsibility that Rav Lipshitz felt for each worker and recalled heroic episodes from the early days of rescuing religious youths from immigrant camps.
He quoted Gedolei Hador who showered praise on Rav Lipshitz for his legendary mesirus nefesh.
Rav Rosner stressed that Rav Lipshitz never took a penny for his work at Yad L'Achim. "His goals, his entire aspirations, were strictly for the sake of Hashem," he said.
Participating in the levayah was the Rosh Yeshivah of Ponevezh, Harav Baruch Dov Povarsky, Harav Zochovski and a long list of other leading Torah figures.
From there the levayah proceeded to Yerushalayim. At the Shamgar funeral home, Harav Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss was maspid in a pained, sobbing voice. "This morning," he began, "an announcement was heard on the streets of Yerushalayim that a great minister had fallen among the Jewish people. Rabossai, this wasn't an exaggeration. ... Before us is the Gadol Hador in saving souls. There was none like him."
Rav Weiss spoke of his personal connection with Rav Lipshitz and the scope of activities that Yad L'Achim oversaw for the sake of the klal. "We must continue these activities, l'ilui nishmaso and because there is no other organization that is involved in pidyon shevuyim and rescue from shemad like Yad L'Achim has been for decades."
Harav Yitzchak Ezrachi, one of the Roshei Yeshivah of the Mir, called out in tears: "How the mighty have fallen." He depicted the difficult journey Rav Lipshitz had traveled in a barren land, as the personal representative of Gedolei Yisrael to save Jewish boys and girls from leaving the fold. He stated with confidence that the many neshamos that Rav Lipshitz saved were welcoming him as he arrived in Gan Eden.
After noon on Friday, Rav Lipshitz was buried in the Chabad section at Har Harzeisim.
Rav Lipshitz was born in Russia 83 years ago. His father, Harav Yisrael Leib Lipshitz, z"l, was a model of mesirus nefesh; he disseminated Torah in the underground, despite the Communist rule that did everything in its power to stamp out religion and hunt down those who taught it.
When he was a boy he made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael with his parents. At a very young age, it became obvious that he was destined for greatness in Torah. He was among the lions of the chaburah who learned in Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in Tel Aviv, under the guidance of the well-known mashpiah Harav Chaim Shaul Brook, zt"l, and Harav Povarsky, zt"l. From there he went to Yeshivas Ponevezh, where he continued to grow in learning and became one of the leading talmidim.
The turning point in his life came during a shiur of the Rav of Ponevezh, Harav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt"l, when a young man who had been working as a counselor with Yemenite immigrants at Ein Shemer burst in and screamed, “Rebbe, they are turning children away from their faith!”
Rav Kahaneman asked for volunteers who were willing to infiltrate the immigrant camp and save children whose peyos were being cut and who were turned away from shemiras hamitzvos. One young man's hand went up right away, that of Rav Lipshitz, who announced, "Hineni." He was joined by two others, Harav Shlomo Noach Karol, zt"l, who went on to become the Rav of Chemed, and, yblch"t, Harav Yitzchak Yakobovitch, who became the Chief Rabbi of Herzliya. The three snuck into Ein Shemer and returned the next morning with several young boys whose parents had handed them over so that they could be raised b'derech Yisrael Saba.
This was the first episode of rescue that soon became institutionalized under the name Chavrei Pe'ilei Hamachaneh Hatorati, and later, Irgun Hap'ilim Yad L'Achim. Rav Lipshitz headed the organization, which held its meetings at the home of the Rav of Bnei Brak, Harav Landau, zt"l.
Yad L'Achim stood at the forefront of the battle to preserve the fire of mitzvos among immigrants from Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Hungry, Georgia, Poland and, later, from the former Soviet Union. Over the years, a series of institutions for young people were set up and run by Rav Lipshitz.
These activities grew into a network of learning programs aimed at strengthening those who were distant from Judaism. A wide range of activities brought Torah-true Jewry to far-flung towns.
Over the years Rav Lipshitz invested major efforts to save Jews who had been lured by cults and missionaries.
He drew guidance, support and encouragement from Gedolei Yisrael headed by Harav Dessler, Harav Abramski, the Gaon from Tchebin, the Brisker Rav, the Satmar Rebbe and others.
Until recently, when the Rav became bedridden, he oversaw every aspect of the avodas Hakodesh at Yad L'Achim. Ten days before his petirah, he was on the phone to Yad L'Achim's director general, Harav Yosef Ganz, asking about what was being done for Jews from Caucasus. The fate of these Jews deeply touched his heart.
He left behind his wife, the Rebbetzin, tblch"t, and his son Harav Yisrael, who is assuming his position at Yad L'Achim; his son Harav Shmuel, one of the Roshei Yeshivah of Tomchei Temimim in Migdal Ha'emek; his son-in-law the Dayan Harav Binyamin Kuperman; his son-in-law Harav Shlomo Chaim Feldman, Rosh Yeshivah of Tomchei Temimim in Cholon and his daughter, and descendants going in his ways.