Living Legacy: The Divrei Yoel of Satmar, zy”a

Living Legacy: The Divrei Yoel of Satmar, zy”a

It is with great temerity that we turn our focus to the indescribable legacy of the Satmar Rebbe, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum, zy”a, upon his 42nd yohrtzeit, which fell yesterday, 26 Av.

 One of the greatest leaders of American Jewry of all time—the Rebbe introduced entirely new approaches to Yiddishkeit and to life in galus… pathways that continue to illuminate the way, not only for Satmar chassidim, but for the entire charedi community. His legacy, and his towering, multi-faceted personality, is still being marveled at to this day.

 The Rebbe was born in Sighet—where his father, Rav Chananya Yom Tov Lipa, known as the Yetev Lev, all the way back to his holy ancestor, the Yismach Moshe, served as Rabbonim—in the year 5647 (1877). In the year 1905, he came to Satmar, where despite his youth, he soon gained a reputation as a forceful and brilliant leader. His Chinuch for chessed began early. Once, he called in a wealthy Yid, and asked him to cover the Shabbos needs of the poor people in the town. The man agreed, one one condition: “Rebbe, please don’t convert me into a chossid.” To which the Rebbe replied: “If you give to others, I will become your chossid!” Because there was no higher ideal in the Rebbe’s mind.

 His survival of the Holocaust came about through great miracles, and the Yom Hatzalah is celebrated to this day by greater and greater numbers of Satmar Chassidsm who ardently follow in his ways.

 There are some who would describe the Satmar Rebbe’s approach as “extreme.” But a more accurate way of viewing his nature would be “uncompromising.” He was uncompromising when it came to Zionism, and in every single area of Torah and mitzvos… and he was also uncompromising in his chessed and his ahavas Yisroel. The Rebbe simply did not take half measures in any area of Yiddishkeit—and it was this philosophy that he introduced to American Jewry as it was reestablishing itself following the great Churban.

 The Satmar Rebbe trained generations of Torah’dige balebatim with the understanding that the primary purpose for their wealth was to help another Yid. To this very day, there is no match for the tens of millions of dollars that flow out of Satmar each year.

 But it was not only the wealthy whom the Rebbe obligated. He demanded selflessness from all of his chassidim; to always think about what they can do for others, no matter who they were or where they belonged. The list of chessed organizations that have since been founded by Satmar chassidim—who pioneered chessed on extreme levels—and by those who have been inspired by their example, is endless.

 Another fascinating facet of the Satmar Rebbe is that he was so many things to so many different people; everyone was able to connect to a different aspect of his avodah and his teachings. The legendary hoasha’anos, Shalosh Seudos Torah, and so many other occasions that were marked by such emotion, remain vibrant in the hearts of his chassidim—even though the first “Yoily’s” (named for the Rebbe following his passing) are already grandfathers. There was also the incredible dichotomy of his extreme kano’us against Zionism, while loving fiercely every Yid, even Zionists.

 The Rebbe was a brilliant builder, and the network of Satmar institutions that only continues to grow is a testament to this.

 Although the Rebbe’s philosophy on chessed is most easily identified, it was his outlook on so many other aspects of Yiddishkeit that has permeated the entire charedi world. When yeshivos and girls schools, and shechitah, and kashrus, and mikva’os, which were the standard in America at the time did not meet the Rebbe’s high standards… he simply replaced them. He created new institutions, new infrastructure. And his example was followed by everyone else—who learned to observe mitzvos unequivocally, without compromise, without apology, and to place Torah, Yiddishkeit, and mitzvos as the highest priority.

 Perhaps the words of Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, most accurately describe the Satmar Rebbe’s living legacy: “We have to know that the Satmerer Rav represented an old tradition. He was ninety-three years old, which means that he had spent a great part of his life in the old world among the old talmidei chachomim. And therefore, when he came here he brought along with him not American ideas — he brought along the tradition of the Am Yisroel. He represented a continuity of our great past. And not only that, but he was a fighter, and his presence here had a very profound influence on everyone.”

 So, as we reflect on 42 years that have passed—it becomes clearer and clearer that as the Rebbe’s holy neshamah rises higher and higher, his living legacy illuminates brighter than ever.


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