A Last Message From My Rebbi

By BJLife/Reb Dovid Fink

Posted on 09/09/20

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Baltimore, MD - Sept. 8, 2020 - Dear Friends, several years ago I wrote a D'var Torah a week before Rosh Hashana and as usual, I sent a copy to my long time Rebbi, Rav Usher Rubenstein.  Rav Usher had a profound impact on my life and I attribute much of what is good in me to him and to my parents.  Below you will find the final email he wrote to me along with a small tribute I wrote about this great man.  He wrote this to a talmid who had heard his shiurim nearly 25 years earlier.

Wed, 19 Sep 

Rabbi A Z Rubenstein 

RE: Shabbas Shuva




Dear Dovid,

I don't have time to read all of your pieces, but whatever I read really amazes me how you manage to stay a true ben-Torah who can deliver beautiful Torah Thoughts. This piece was especially brilliant. Hashem should bench you and you family with kol tov bruchnius and gashmius


Friends, I appreciate how many of you take the time to read my thoughts each week.  This past Shabbos, one of the major Torah influences in my life, Rav Usher Rubenstein passed away.  Rav Usher was a truly great man whose impact on me personally cannot be overstated.  I hope that these brief ideas give you some insight into the man, the Gadol who helped shape the positive attributes which I try hard to refine each day in the ways he taught me.  Please share these stories with your family.

                                                                                    In Memoriam

                                                                Rav Usher Zelig Hakohen Rubenstein

This past Shabbas while davening Musaf, wrapped in his Tallis, one of the great people and influences in my life left this world for the Olam HaEmes.  Rav Usher, as his talmidim affectionately referred to him, was my first Rebbi upon arriving in Eretz Yisroel at the ripe old age of 17.  As is still the case now, I was quite sure I knew everything then, but the things that Rav Usher taught me were much more than Gemara and Halacha.  Rav Usher taught all of us what it meant to be a Torah Jew – how we live, how we think, how we act.

My first Thursday night in Eretz Yisroel was in August of 1983.  As was typical, our Yeshiva had a mussar shmooz on Thursday nights and while we had some illustrious guests such as Rav Shalom Shvadron and others during the year, this first week in Chodesh Elul, Rav Usher gave the shmooz.  One would think that as Rosh Hashana was approaching he would have devoted his words primarily to teshuva.  He did not.  Instead, most of the shmooz was devoted to his personal path from Far Rockaway, NY which led him to be a Mashgiach and Rosh Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel for more than 50 years.  This choice of topics was intended to accomplish a single goal – to impart to his talmidim the impact which a single act of chesed can have.

Rav Usher explained that as teenager in New York’s  HAFTR school, he was not much of a ben Torah.  He was a largely modern orthodox kid growing up near the 5 towns.  His parents were quite frustrated with the path he seemed to be on and when he graduated from high school his father bought him a train ticket to go learn at the Telzeh yeshiva in Cleveland.  His father told him, “this is my last try, if you don’t ‘get it’ in Telzeh, you are on your own”.  Rav Usher took the ticket with him to Penn Station in Manhattan and got on the train to Telzeh with the sole intent to satisfy his father and “be done” so he could pursue the paths which interested him. 

Upon arriving in Cleveland, he found his way to the Yeshiva.  Rav Usher described his clothing as dungarees and a colorful shirt as he entered the building.  He left his suitcase in the hallway and walked to the Beis Hamedresh.  He never even made it inside.  He looked into the Beis Hamedrash through the window on the door and observed all of the Talmidim wearing white shirts and black pants.  He clearly was not going to fit in here.  These were not his “kind of guys”.  Rav Usher turned around and began heading back down the hallway to reclaim his suitcase and head back to New York.  And then, it happened.

A boy from the yeshiva was coming down the hallway and stuck out his hand.  He said “Shalom Aleichem, are you a new guy here?”  Rav Usher replied, “No, I’m just passing through.”  Then the boy said “well we are about to have lunch, why don’t you join us?” Rav Usher realized that he was quite hungry after the trip so he said, “why not”.  “So I sat down for lunch and stayed for 17 years.”  Rav Usher neared tears as he told over this story in Chodesh Elul some 30 years later.  His voice stammered as he asked us, what would have happened if one young guy hadn’t stuck out his hand to an oddly dressed modern orthodox kid and invited him to lunch?  The tens of thousands of Talmidim which he taught, the shidduchim he had made, the families he counseled, the bochurim he advised, the lives he had touched – all due to one small act of chesed.  This was Rav Usher’s message to us in chodesh Elul 1983.  One act of kindness can change the course of history, can change a life, can change the world.  This was who Rav Usher was. 

A few months later as I grew to know and love this unique Talmid Chacham, Rav Usher was delivering a halacha shiur on a Monday morning.  We were learning about the issur of giving a matana, a present to a goy.  Rav Usher quickly distinguished the situation of giving a holiday gift to a coworker or secretary as not really being a “gift”.  There, you are giving the item with the hope that the coworker or employee will do a good job for you going forward, so it’s not really a gift.  However, one of the boys in the shiur asked, “does that mean if I’m walking down Broadway in New York and some drunken bum sticks out his hand begging for money, I’m not allowed to give him?”  To this Rav Usher paused and responded, “On my cheshban, my account, you give him”.  Rav Usher went on to explain that the midda of a Jew is middas Avraham Aveinu, the mida of Chesed.  “You should never corrupt this most basic and fundamental mida to the point where you can ever turn away from someone in need.  On my cheshban, give him”.  This was the man who became my Rebbi, my Rosh Yeshiva. 

Over the years, Rav Usher and I developed a close bond which transcended time and continents.   We communicated regularly through telephone, email and always got together when he was in America or I was in Eretz Yisroel.  My family grew accustomed to hearing stories, divrei Torah and mussar which I had learned from Rav Usher over my years in Eretz Yisroel at the Shabbos table. A few years ago, Rav Usher payed a visit to the Baltimore/Washington area.  I was at work one day when the phone rang and the caller identified himself as “Usher Rubenstein”.  I immediately stopped what I was doing and said Shalom Aleichem Rebbi, to what do I owe the pleasure?  Rav Usher explained that he would be giving a shiur at Ner Yisrael and meeting with Bochurim there and in Silver Spring over the next couple of days.  I of course was excited to see him in person and made plans to attend the shiur.  I also asked him if perhaps we could have the privilege of hosting him for dinner while he was in town.  Rav Usher graciously accepted the invitation and the next evening I met him at Ner Yisroel to hear his shmooz. 

The shmooz was, as always, penetrating, insightful and inspiring.  Afterward, Rav Usher and I walked around the Yeshiva campus discussing the events in our lives over the last few years and matters of Hashkafa, an area Rav Usher was singularly expert in.  I asked him what time would be convenient for dinner the following night and he indicated he would be in Silver Spring most of the day but would call me when he was on his way back to Baltimore so we could gage the approximate time.  When I arrived home, I explained to my children that the famous “Rav Usher”, my Rebbi, of whom they had heard so much over the years, was coming to dinner tomorrow night!

My wife, Chaya and I began discussing what would be an appropriate meal for such an honored guest?  After a moment she said, “do you think Rav Usher would be more comfortable if we bought dinner from one of the locally owned Star K restaurants? After all, many local Rabbonim avoid eating at individual houses so as not to insult someone else in whose home they may not feel as comfortable.  I replied that I believed Rav Usher was quite clear that the invitation was to our home, but that I would check with him.  The next day when I spoke with Rav Usher about his schedule, I asked if perhaps he would prefer if we brought in dinner from one of the local supervised restaurants.  I was greeted with stone silence.  After perhaps 15 seconds, Rav Usher asked “is there a problem?” to which I responded “of course not, but there are Rabbonim who have this policy not to eat… Again I was greeted with silence. Finally, Rav Usher stated simply, “R’Dovid, you are my Talmid!! If I won’t eat in your home what does that say about me?”.  And the matter was settled.

We enjoyed a wonderful evening where Rav Usher met, talked with and gave brachos to all of my children.  He explained that while he was currently the Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivas Toras Simcha in Yerushalyim, his “hobby” was being the Mashgiach at Kiryat Chinuch L’banim in Ashdod.  This was a Yeshiva for young men who have had difficult lives and really needed him.  He voluntarily went there three evenings a week and one Shabbos a month to console, motivate and share who he was with them.  This was what Rav Usher did as a “hobby”, in his spare time. 

Rav Usher than took the time to read some of my writings on the Parsha and discuss some of the shiurim I had recently given.  He insisted on receiving my weekly email which contained my ideas on the Parsha Hashavua or other Inyanei D’yoma.  From that day several years ago I could always count on some weekly feedback and genuine joy that Rav Usher feigned over my writings.  His comments, responses and encouragement were a great motivation to me.  After all, this great Talmid Chacham took the time to read and comment on my musings.

 Rav Usher did always have an agenda.  He was committed to spreading the light of Torah throughout the world without regard to political affiliation or religious spectrum.  He believed in the Kedusha and value of every Jew. While he gave shiurim on par with any Gadol B’Yisroel he always knew how to talk to the little people.  Perhaps because in his mind, their were no such things as little people.