WISE IN MANY WAYS
By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
I attended a levaya today, something Rabbis do all too often. Each situation is different yet this one had a deep sense of hurt and pain. A levaya usually ends with a glimmer of strength as participants stand together to share their condolences with the principle mourners. This time, as the last words of our joint prayers drifted into the air, we each looked to one another with a deep feeling of heartfelt sadness. The nifta passed away with no family, we were all bereft with no one to accept our bonding words. As we stood looking at one another, the enormity of our communal loss dawned on each of us.
Dr. Yaakov Wise was a unique soul, one that suffered greatly yet only sought to share Yiddishkiet with others and create Kidush Hashem. A world class intellectual, he was a recognised historian who lectured on the history of the Jewish Community of Britain at University level. Yet at the same time, and to him more vitally, he was a teacher of young boys in a number of our mosdos. His private life was racked with troubles, ill health dogged his every day, yet, his greatest wish was to give our youngsters an understanding of who they are as Yidden in a world that is growing ever further from our Mesorah.
I believe his last teaching position was in our Mosad, and his great knowledge of the story of Manchester’s Jews enthralled the teenagers of his class. His teaching of youngsters was a labour of love, his renown saw him speaking often on the public airwaves, and his deep voice was respected as the authoritative voice of the community. His powerful mind, with his great love for Klall Yisroel gave his listeners a true sense of what is the glory of our Torah community, yet, he always returned to the children, teaching, sharing, giving an anchor of understanding of who we are.
Reb Yaakov was a Cohen, and in the years he davened in our Shtieble, his duchening was something we all looked forward to. Despite his physical infirmity, he would shuffle to the front and then, as if transcending all physical borders, he would raise his hands in loud and firm blessing.
We shared many hours in discussion, about the world, the future, personal stories and so much more. I always left a bit of a better person because of him, his life was a living sefer of true Kidush Hashem. He wrote for all the Hiemisha newspapers, and his style was clear, concise yet colourful and informative.
Yet behind his larger than life figure was a challenged Yied who lived alone for most of his later life. Never blessed with children of his own, his heart would go out to those in need of a solid supportive adult who would listen to their dreams.
I can only speak of a window of his fascinating life, I met him personally a mere eight years ago. I had read so very much of his brilliant writing, but never had the opportunity to meet the man behind the words. When we moved to North Manchester and opened our Shtieble and Mesivta almost simultaneously, the wordsmith became the larger than life reality of Reb Yaakov, the Cohen, teacher and friend. He was a force of nature, battling for what is right, despite in own physical pain.
In Parshas Bamidbar we are told:
“And these are the generations of Aaron and Moshe….and these are the names of the sons of Aaron.” (3:1-2)
Rashi notes that although the Torah tells us “these are the generations of Aaron and Moshe” it lists only the children of Aaron. This is because Moshe taught Aaron’s children, and we are to understand from this that whoever teaches another person’s child Torah is considered as though he begat him.”
Reb Yaakov left hundreds of children, both those of our youngsters who were blessed to be his students, and the untold numbers who learned from his lectures, interviews and articles.
After washing our hands and mumbling our goodbyes to one another, we straggled out of the cemetery grounds, each enwrapped with our own thoughts and remembrances.
Reb Yaakov was niftar on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, in the days before we celebrate Kabolus Hatorah. Shevuous is about being together as one nation, with one love for Hashem. Reb Yaakov strived to make this happen wherever he was, and we will miss him deeply.