A few weeks ago, a man who truly gave from his heart to family, friends, plus thousands of others in the local Clifton-Passaic community, around the country and in Eretz Yisrael passed away, Rabbi Mordechai Rindenow, zt”l. This was a major loss for all he touched and who he could have touched in the future. In this week’s parsha of Teruma, a pasuk says “…asher yidvenu libo (Teruma 25:2)—who will give generously from the heart. But literally it means “who gives his heart.” When building the Mishkan—a home for Hashem—one needs to give his heart. This type of giving exemplifies the life of Rabbi Rindenow.
Rabbi Rindenow helped “build” so many Jewish homes in our midst, doing so with such a full heart, it’s hard to describe. In paying tribute to him I think we’ll gain a deeper understanding of our parsha and what’s possible when we give with a full heart.
Simply put, Rabbi Rindenow made everyone feel like they mattered. Everyone felt like they were his best friend. He was a scion from the Chernobyl Rebbe dynasty, a rabbi and a psychologist. During the week he wore a colored shirt with a blazer, slacks and a tie. On Shabbos he wore a chasidic bekishe. He looked at each Jew and felt for him no matter what stripe or color he wore. Everyone could relate to him, and everyone was able to count on him; he helped so many.
I heard two stories from Rabbi Dovid Merkin, a best friend of Reb Mordechai:
It was the night of the first Seder, and a person who was visiting Rabbi Rindenow for Pesach forgot to bring along a critical medication. After Maariv on Seder night, Rabbi Rindenow walked to several pharmacies in town until he found one willing to fill the prescription without any payment. He didn’t come home to his Seder until a few hours later.
Family and guests were waiting when he finally arrived, medicine in hand. He asked his wife if she was upset about his lateness. She replied, “Not at all. Why should I be upset? I knew my husband must be doing chesed, taking care of some people.”
Another time there was an individual in a hospital in Paterson, and on Shabbos afternoon Rabbi Rindenow told his son he had to go visit this person in the hospital in Paterson. His son indicated it was a two-hour walk! He could take a car after Shabbos and be there just a half hour later than if he would walk. Rabbi Rindenow responded, “Yes, but do you know what kind of simcha (joy) I will bring to him if I show up on Shabbos? It will make his entire Shabbos!” So, he walked there.
I personally know a story of a family that wanted to move into the Jewish community, but couldn’t guarantee the lease payments. Rabbi Rindenow not only signed the lease himself, but he also paid a year’s rent in advance! Who would do that?
We at Passaic Torah Institute (PTI) enjoyed him for 20 years as a rebbe, leader of the “tish” on Shabbos, and as a friend. People in San Francisco Bay benefitted from him for 13 years. Each of us had our special connection and we now have our priceless memories of his impact on our lives. Rabbi Rindenow’s common approach was using Torah and chesed with a full heart to change the world.
There was one constant that never left him: his wife Mindy, his eizer kenegdo—his helpmate and soulmate. They were a team. Mindy was a nurse in a hospital and worked the night shift. Reb Mordechai would tend to often “bend time,” but never when it came to Mindy. He was known to say, “I have to leave; my wife is getting out from work at the hospital and I need to pick her up on time.” He valued her time more than his own.
His home was the place not only to drop in, but even to live temporarily when needed. It was open to everyone. He had a large family, but his “family” was much larger than him and his children. The little house on Rutherford Boulevard was a home to so many.
Why was he taken from us, at his prime? Why such a righteous person? There are many calculations that Hashem takes into account and we don’t understand them. Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakuda tells us it could be there is a shaas ha’din, a time when HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants to send a certain judgment, and many people’s lives are at stake. Sometimes Hashem takes a tzaddik who is worth many thousands of individuals as a replacement for them.
We are living in a time of judgment and people are passing away because of COVID and other illnesses. It’s a shaas ha’din. It’s very likely that Rabbi Rindenow offered not just to live for everybody else, but in leaving us, to spare others as well.
May his soul be bound eternally with the bond of life.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.