April 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 18, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Remembering Rav Matisyahu Solomon, zt”l

R’ Matisyahu Salomon, zt”l

One night, I had something that was troubling me, an issue that R’ Matisyahu Solomon had been involved in. I went to his house at around 11 p.m., unannounced and without an appointment as was common. His wife ushered me into his study and heard me out. She acted as both his secretary and his assistant. She assured me that this was not a concern, but if I would, in fact, have trouble from it, she would help me even in the middle of the night. Around 11:30, Rabbi Solomon came home from his long and draining day and muttered to his wife several times, “farmattert” (I am wiped out). She gently informed him that there is a young man waiting for you in the study. He immediately came in and was all chipper. He also said that I shouldn’t worry about this issue and then walked me to the door. Already several others had come in for assistance…

I came to BMG a year before R’ Matisyahu joined the yeshiva as the mashgiach (spiritual guide). His weekly speech in the yeshiva (“shmuz”) was an immediate and permanent major attraction. The jam packed shmuz, which was most commonly held in a 2,000-seat room, had everyone in attendance listening intently. For 20 years, he was the most prolific and main speaker in Orthodox Jewry. He constantly gave speeches at venues big and small, famous and not famous. He was very popular and always spoke about something that would interest the audience, was understandable and would always be appreciated. He was articulate in both Yiddish and English. He taught enormous amounts of material. His speeches were well organized and had a summary closing. He ended on time or else he said, “I am about to go over time to finish this subject. Anyone who needs to leave to help out at home should go now.” There would then be a trickle as some would leave, which would continue until he finished his speech.

When I was single, my friends and I decided to go bowling one Motzei Shabbos. One boy backed out after hearing a shmuz from R’ Solomon that evening. He was fired up to spend the time learning Torah instead.

All of his speeches were prepared by himself personally and covered a lot of material. Many books of his speeches were published, and the recordings are widespread and popular. He always spoke without notes, as far as I could tell, but he would have seforim in front of him from which he would quote extensively. His style included saying over a lot from musar and machshava seforim.

One of his most memorable speeches was on the night before 9/11. He spoke of the importance of doing teshuva this time of year. Toward the end he thundered, “It’s five days to Rosh Hashana and you still haven’t repented. You think it’s only in Israel that there are terrorists. There are thousands of Arabs near the Jewish communities in Brooklyn who are ready to shoot.”

A different speech that stuck with me was him declaring that Moshiach would come here first (meaning the yeshiva). Also his saying, “Go declare in Manhattan that Moshiach is a Gemara and a shtender (table used for Torah study),” meaning that we will be doing spiritual pursuits.

I remember him saying that the importance of listening is so underestimated and we should use it much more. He certainly lived up to his teaching. He would listen so well when people spoke to him and would then answer accordingly, with care and concern. He kept track, without notes, of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people and their circumstances. He understood modern problems and challenges and yet was rooted in the past. He bridged traditional yeshivish with some of the modern mindset. He strode through all frum communities and could talk to baalei teshuva and to elite Torah scholars. R’ Shmuel Kamenetsky told me that he heard that R’ Matisyahu had an ability to pick up on things that others don’t pick up. He had so much patience for people with issues, mental health or spiritual and so many other kinds. His stamina lasted amazingly until around 80 years old. He would field calls seeking advice or comfort at all hours. When I brought a young man to him for spiritual chizuk, his concerned comment to the young man was, “You look like you didn’t eat breakfast.”

He focused on the topic of simcha during his first winter at the yeshiva. He, himself, tried hard to be mesameach people. When I passed him in the street on Shabbos, he initiated and gave me a big smile and a friendly “good Shabbos” while looking at me. His “good Shabbos” made me feel so good. I once overheard him greeting someone who was depressed who had come to speak to him with a loud happy “Good Morning! Good Morning! Good Morning!”

R’ Matisyahu brought simcha and excitement, and created tremendous honor for Torah and those who study it. He also coincided with, and partially caused kollel to become mainstream and Lakewood to become “the” place. Not just some small out of the way, mainly kollel community.

He was understanding of and sympathetic to people struggling with contemporary immorality and problems of the world. He had a leading role in dealing with the technology challenge. He was a major driving force behind the formation of the TAG organization that helps limit frum people’s exposure to technology, especially its bad parts. A turning point in the Orthodox world was an inspiring even he led at Citi Field stadium, which was filled to capacity.

He pined for, and spoke much about, Moshiach. Undoubtedly his life brought Moshiach much closer.


Rabbi Eli Reit is a student at BMG, Lakewood Yeshiva.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles