Last week, as I was walking back from an aufruf and double bar mitzvah at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, I ran into Marc Rothenberg, a longtime acquaintance, and a partner at The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP, one of the leading personal injury law firms in the Northeast.
Marc and I hadn’t spoken in a while and our walking companion and good friend from my MTA and Queens days, Ari Nat, mentioned to us that he and his son, Avi, were both enjoying the new sefer published by Marc’s son, Zach, who had returned from learning at Yeshivat HaKotel for two years and was now at Yeshiva University.
“What sefer?” I asked. “Tell me more.” I am always amazed at some of the accomplishments of our community’s young adults and students, and perhaps even more so when they are in the Torah realm. I was eager to hear more.
In response to my question, Marc immediately invited me to his home for a quick post-Shacharit kiddush and cholent, which I greatly enjoyed, and proudly handed me the handsome 78-page hardbound sefer titled Ki Mitziyon— כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן. Marc explained the sefer was the product of his son’s experiences and interactions with noted gadol Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, Shlita, the former Chief Rabbi of the Old City in Jerusalem and the official posek at Yeshivat HaKotel. Rav Nebenzahl, in addition to being a prolific author and known as one of the closest talmidim of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, z”l, also delivers multiple shiurim at Yeshivat HaKotel.
Marc explained that in his Shana Alef and Shana Bet years, his son Zach had worked hard to build a relationship with Rav Nebenzahl and sought to ask him all kinds of questions, mainly on the weekly parsha, on which he then took copious notes and ultimately turned into the sefer just published.
I certainly had more questions but it was clear that I needed to speak directly to the author to get the full details. I thanked Marc for the sefer and he committed to giving me Zach’s info and making the introduction so I could speak to Zach myself after Shabbat. In the meantime, I had a chance to look at the sefer between Mincha and Maariv. I went through the haskamot (approbations), and the hakdama and a few of the chapters on the weekly parshiot...and I came away deeply impressed by the Torah thoughts and ideas expressed and how clear and easily digestible they were. I also noticed that Zach included some of his own ideas and divrei Torah from other rebbeim to whom he was exposed over the years.
After a few days, I finally caught up with Zach after he finished night seder at YU, and I got the full story.
“I didn’t have the intent of writing a sefer and I wasn’t planning to publish anything originally,” he explained to me over the phone. He noted that many of the questions and answers came from the Q&A sessions that Rav Nebenzahl held after finishing Shacharit Vasikin and the kiddush that was held in his apartment that the Rav would insist upon serving himself. “After a short five-minute sicha, Rav Nebenzahl would open the floor to questions and I always tried to ask as many as I could. Admittedly, I didn’t always ask the best questions and therefore, I didn’t receive the best responses. However, there were always one or two questions that he would answer with enthusiasm and a smile. My batting average with him was probably about .300, but I would always get one or two geshmake answers a week. Then, I would try hard to remember the sicha and the questions and I would write them down after Shabbos.”
After doing this for over 18 months and filling two full notebooks, a senior Israeli student from shiur zayin—the oldest shiur—told Zach that he had to publish what he had written up as, he exclaimed, “this is Rav Nebenzahl’s Torah!” This same fellow challenged Zach to write up his notes over the Pesach vacation and that if Zach did so, he promised he would edit the Hebrew and bring it up to par upon his return
That’s exactly what Zach did. Over Pesach vacation, he spent nearly all his free time working on it and completed the first draft. The sefer was then edited and prepared for publication.
“Originally, I wasn’t going to make a big deal of it and only publish it as a pamphlet (kuntres), but when I went to Rav Chizkiya Nebenzahl (Rav Nebenzahl’s son who succeeded his father as the Chief Rabbi of the Old City), he was so happy to see what I had done that they wanted to help publish it for me as a sefer...the Nebenzahl family helped me publish it. I tried to put the best and most inspiring ideas I heard into it.” Zach also told me that Rav Asher Weiss gave him a bracha as well to complete it.
I noted that in the introduction to the sefer, Zach also thanked by name nearly every rebbe he has had since his middle school days at Yeshivat Noam and his time at TABC, which is not something one often sees in hakdamot like these. “Back in eighth grade, Rabbi Hagler of Yeshivat Noam gave me free time to learn parsha and I went through them asking my own questions...and I started writing them down. Some of those questions even ended up in the sefer.” Zach feels a tremendous debt of gratitude to his family and the rebbeim at Yeshivat Noam, TABC, Yeshivat Hakotel, Rabbi Shalom Baum, and his old neighbor and current Rebbe, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, for setting him on the path that led to the sefer’s publication.
What’s next for Zach? He is currently a sophomore at YU’s Sy Syms School of Business and told me he will likely be heading for semicha and either a career in finance or law, like his father, grandparents, and his many aunts and uncles before him. He also hopes that the sefer and its publication will inspire others to start writing down their ideas and questions and think about sharing them with the world-at-large.
“Bli ayin hora and Im Yirtzeh Hashem, I am going to write more seforim,” he stated. He still has a lot more notes on the rest of the parshiot with Rav Nebenzahl and keeps adding to them, he explained.
I am sure he will write more seforim and look forward to seeing what else Zach is going to produce in the years ahead. So do all of his family, friends and rebbeim. Zach, we are all rooting for you!
(Editor’s Note: According to Zach, the sefer has just been reprinted after nearly selling out its initial run of 500 copies and is now available in local stores and 30-plus seforim stores throughout North America. Go check it out!)