Remembering My Father, The Rav

By Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Marlow, in memory of his father, Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow, member of the Crown Heights Beis Din, who passed away last year on 20 Sivan.

It’s very hard for a son to write about his father. It’s especially hard to do so when describing someone so extraordinary, someone so full of life. You never saw him looking tired or weak, and his entire avoda in learning Torah and performing mitzvos was constantly with chayus and incredible alacrity. But we must write something in his memory so people will know something of this special person.

Eleven months have passed since that bitter day on Chaf Sivan. In Shulchan Aruch it says that we fast on Chaf Sivan, which was an eis tzara for the Jewish people, and it is a day that never falls out on Shabbos.

When I think of my father I picture the wondrous sight that everybody who came to 770 was witness to every single Shabbos. After a week of diligent learning, a week in which he barely slept, after a long Thursday night when he was up all night (for the final fifteen years of his life he was awake because he was involved in dinei Torah. Before that, when he was not yet officially the rav, he would spend the entire night learning) and after a full day of teaching or being involved in dinei Torah, he would sit down in his usual spot in the beis midrash, with bags full of s’farim, and begin a program of learning which generally lasted late into the night.

I see in my mind’s eye the wondrous sight of him learning for hours on end with great cheishek and taanug, and with no signs of weariness. On the contrary, his face shone and the light of the holiness of Shabbos was apparent on his face.

After midnight he would go home to eat the Shabbos meal. Even after the meal he did not go to sleep. I can testify that he was not mehader in "sheina b’Shabbos taanug" (i.e., the "mitzva" of sleeping on Shabbos). All the more so on Shabbos Mevarchim - after the Friday night meal he would sit in the easy chair and nod off for a few hours, and then early in the morning he would rise like a lion to serve his Maker with enormous cheishek and chayus, as though he hadn’t learned in a long time.

Throughout the day he learned and davened. Towards late afternoon he would come home for the Shabbos daytime meal. This was his practice every single Shabbos and Yom Tov. I don’t remember a single exception. The Zohar says a talmid chacham is called Shabbos. Indeed, all my father’s days were Shabbos.

On the words "And Mt. Sinai was full of smoke," s’farim say that the ashan (smoke) is an acronym for olam, shana, nefesh (i.e., place, time, person). I spoke a bit about the element of time, how my father would value each second not to waste it. Now I will write a little about "world" and "soul."

The Gemara at the end of the Tractate Makos says, "Dovid came and established them on eleven, as it says, "A song of Dovid...Who will dwell in Your tent?... One who walks upright [holech Tamim] and does righteousness." The words "holech tamim" can be said about my father, for his moral conduct was impeccable. "And speaking truth in his heart" refers to my father, because whatever he said is what he felt in his heart. "Lo rogal al l’shono" - he kept far away from even a tinge of lashon ha’ra and rechilus, and was extremely careful about what came out of his mouth.

They tell a story about the Chasam Sofer, who married the daughter of the gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Once a letter that was addressed to him was brought to him when it was already open. When he asked who had opened his mail, his wife told him she had opened it, thinking it was from her father. The Chasam Sofer told her that people trusted him and relied on him to keep their secrets and their business private, and nobody had permission to look at his mail.

I can say wholeheartedly about my father that he was amazingly reticent and nobody ever heard anybody else’s personal business from him. He was exceedingly circumspect in this area.

"Nivzeh b’einav nim’as" - he despised evil and chose good. "He did not give his money with interest and took no bribe regarding the innocent." He was head and shoulders above the rest and his conduct was utterly modest. He was utterly removed from any desire for conquest, which would pervert justice, and his guiding force was truth.

He had no biases with hatred for one and love for another. When it came to his own honor he compromised, but when it came to the honor of Heaven he never compromised. When something happened that was disrespectful to him, he tried to quiet it down. If word got out it wasn’t because he spoke about it.

He did not accept gifts, especially when it wasn’t appropriate. He never budged from his views in order to find favor in someone’s eyes. The command not to fear another man was his watchword.

His qualities of righteousness and honesty were incredible, not only relative to our spiritually impoverished generation - but even compared to earlier generations he was outstanding. He did not accept gifts, especially when it wasn’t appropriate. He never budged from his views in order to find favor in someone’s eyes. The command not to fear another man was his watchword.

It happens that you see batei din, who when presented with a complicated din Torah would avoid becoming involved, even if the baalei din are from their community, obliging their involvement. They use various excuses to push the people off and use humility as a reason to avoid it all by saying, "Am I the only one who can address this? Go to another dayan."

Even when he knew ahead of time that he’d have only aggravation from the baalei din, he put himself aside and took care of the din Torah. He ignored the fact that the baalei din would later attack him.

My father wouldn’t do that. Even when he knew ahead of time that he’d have only aggravation from the baalei din, he put himself aside and took care of the din Torah. He ignored the fact that the baalei din would later attack him.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin asks: "What does it mean when it says, ‘A king with judgment will establish the earth, and a man who donates destroys it?’ If a judge is like a king who doesn’t need anything, he will establish the earth, but if he is like a Kohen who goes around to the granaries [to collect the priestly gifts], he will destroy it."

A judge who is like a king who doesn’t need anything - is there anybody else who can compare to my father? Is there anyone else this can apply to? Many people, including me, can testify that he lived his life as a king who needs nothing. He never asked anybody for anything, even that which was coming to him. Unfortunately, many took advantage of this.

Not only did he not take from others, but he was involved in giving to others. He distributed money to the poor from his own pocket, to literally thousands of those in need.

On Erev Pesach he would distribute money to those in need from his office at the beis din. There was a set time that people would come to get the amount of money the beis din was distributing. When one of these individuals would come in, my father did not look up. He would just put his hand in the box on the desk and take out money without looking up at all so as not to shame the person.

At the time of selling the chametz, my father was moser nefesh to teach the laws of Pesach with great patience and would spend nights before Pesach in his office until the morning. At that time, people would give him the money traditionally given to the rav, and he would have them put it in an envelope that was far away from where he sat so that he wouldn’t see who put in what amount. He barely used this money for himself. A large part of the checks (which indicated who the donors were) were never deposited in the bank because of his wariness, and because of other reasons which he did not reveal.

When wealthy people wanted to give him large amounts of money he warned them that if the check was too large he wouldn’t deposit it.

I don’t think I fulfilled my obligation describing the Nefesh of "ashan," but these few lines will have to suffice.

Olam/World: My father served as rav in Beis Chayeinu and was referred to by the Rebbe as "Abir Sh’B’Abirim." Sura, Nahardia, and Pumbedisa - all the centers of learning in Bavel gathered and came here to Beis Rabbeinu She’b’Bavel. All matters other than halachic queries were submitted to the Rebbe, while halachic questions were posed to the rav.

If we say that hundreds of questions came in daily to the office by phone and fax from all areas of Shulchan Aruch, this would be far from the truth, because the questions did not only come by day, but began before morning.

After an exhausting day, my father would rest for a few hours at night. It often happened that shortly thereafter, the phone would ring at home with halachic queries. They came from all over the world. In Europe and South America it was daytime, and here it wasn’t yet day, but an urgent question could not be postponed. My father would get up, say the birchos ha’Torah, and answer the question. He never took any credit for himself, nor did he ever say that he was just a human being who needed some rest. That’s how a new day began.

With his great kibbud av v’eim he would complete a tractate for the yahrtzeits of his parents, his in-laws and his grandparents. He generally chose a large tractate, completing a number of mesechtos each year. In addition to that, of course, he had his other regular shiurim.

He would put on Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam t’fillin at home at dawn and would learn for a while, and then go to shul where he was busy most of the time answering questions. He was careful to treat each person and question seriously, and was the model of modesty and patience. Even regarding those who were drawn into machlokes, and who in the heat of battle wrote terrible things - in his great modesty he would not hold it against them.

I cannot begin to write even a little bit of my father’s greatness and praise. I haven’t even mentioned his awesome expertise in Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, his elevated midos, or his hiskashrus to the Rebbe.

May Hashem, who is the Healer of the brokenhearted, send us balm for our pain, "V’hekitzu v’ranenu shochnei afar" - b’karov, and may his z’chus stand by us, and all his descendents. "And Torah will not depart from the mouth of his children and children’s children forever."


Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow
"He never asked anybody for anything, even that which was coming to him. Unfortunately, many took advantage of this."


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