The world was shaking this week, and it had nothing to do with the Presidential election.
It was because of the death of Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, the renowned Halachic authority, who passed away last Friday at age 91.
“When a person like that goes, the whole world shakes,” said Rabbi Eisenberg, a great-nephew of Rav Dovid. “Their loss affects everything.”
As someone who didn’t grow up Orthodox and who never learned in Yeshiva, I’m ashamed to admit, I knew little about Rav Dovid. I’m much more familiar with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, another Torah giant, who passed this week. I’m well aware of Rav Dovid’s father, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
So, why don’t I, and others with similar backgrounds, know more about Rav Dovid?
According to his great-nephew, it’s because Rav Dovid steered clear of the limelight.
“He wasn’t a schmoozer. He was extremely quiet,” said Rabbi Eisenberg. “His words were extremely measured.”
A man of few words, but the words he did use, were unparalleled.
“Anyone who was stuck, he was the one you would call. He would answer those questions with clarity and confidence,” Rabbi Eisenberg said. “This is a person who knew the whole Torah backwards and forwards, inside out.”
At age 8, he left communist Russia, where he learned Torah by heart because Jewish books were outlawed. At 11, he knew Talmud proficiently; both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud, according to his family.
Rabbi Eisenberg recalled a family function, where he knew he’d be sitting next to Rav Dovid. He prepared twenty questions that he assumed would take the entire meal for his great uncle to answer. Not quite.
“He had all the answers by the appetizer course,” said Rabbi Eisenberg. “These were questions that took me years to comprehend, and I still couldn’t find the answers.”
For the record, Rabbi Eisenberg is no slouch. He’s the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Horaah of America. He even received Smicha from Rav Dovid Feinstein.
Another memory of his great uncle revolves around Rav Dovid’s choice of breakfast. Every morning, the Rabbi would eat a Danish at a pizza place. Not what you’d expect from someone of his stature.
“One of my cousins finally asked him, why wouldn’t you eat at the Yeshiva? Rav Dovid replied that his original Yeshiva contract with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, decades earlier, never included food.”
Rav Dovid never took as much as a glass of milk.
Because of that humanity, “for years, there was only one way to reach Rav Dovid,” said Rabbi Eisenberg “You would need to call the payphone at the back of the Yeshiva.”
Even more so than his knowledge and humility, Rav Dovid will be remembered for his kindness.
A final food story from Rabbi Eisenberg: The least likely place you’d expect to find Rav Dovid was at Reserve Cut, the most high-end, expensive kosher restaurant in Manhattan. But to everyone’s surprise, that’s where he was spotted one night. But he was not there for himself.
“There was someone who had no one to take him out for his birthday. He wanted a steak dinner so Rav Dovid joined him,” said Rabbi Eisenberg, “What would people think? He didn’t care. If someone needed a friend to take him to a fancy restaurant—that’s what he did.”
Rabbi Eisenberg said at the funeral, few people spoke about Rav Dovid’s knowledge. Every single person spoke about his kindness.
“From Communist Russia to our current Covid crisis, all he did was pour out kindness,” said Rabbi Eisenberg. “Every minute of his life was learning and kindness. He made kindness like Avraham Avinu.”