RABBI MENDEL FARBER: “IN HIS OWN WORDS”
Since Rabbi Mendel Farber joined Shapell’s/Darche Noam in 1990, he has been one of the pillars of the institution. The first to arrive and the last to leave each day, continually radiating words of Torah, Rabbi Farber serves as a worthy role model for our students and alumni- many who seek him out to learn whenever they visit Shapell’s. It is an honor to recognize him for 30 years of dedication to Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel v’Chaya, as well as to present some of his reflections.
I was fortunately born into a typical Jewish family in a typical Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn N.Y. My father arrived to the States as a young teenager and had to go to work immediately to help support the family. He did not have the advantage of a serious Torah education. His whole Torah education was the cheder in his town in Europe where he learned to daven and a bit of Chumash. Nonetheless, my good fortune continued and the neighborhood we lived in had a Yeshiva elementary school, Yeshiva Toras Chaim. The principal of the Yeshiva was a very dynamic person and would actively seek prospective candidates for his Yeshiva. Again, to my good fortune he was successful with my parents and I ended up starting first grade in the Yeshiva elementary school.
When I was thirteen and a half, the principal of our Yeshiva day school took me and several other boys that were graduating, to the Yeshiva high school that we would be attending, Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin. It was then I met the man that would form my life and was surely the most important influence on myself and my family, the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Yitzchak Hutner ztvk"l. It was surely the most important day in my life. There is no way I could possibly express my feelings towards the man and what he meant to me, to my life and to my family. I was, of course, too young at the time to realize the importance and significance of that meeting but looking back it was the real beginning of my life.
My Rebbe introduced a new/old path in the Yeshiva world and in the realm of learning Torah. The learning of Musar had lost the appeal and effect it had when it was introduced by Rav Yisrael Salanter zt"l. The urging to be more careful in the fulfillment of Mitzvos failed to speak to the typical American young fellow and wean him away from baseball and basketball. It was necessary to find something that would spark the young man's mind and impassion his heart in the direction of serving Hashem. My Rebbe spoke to us about ideas that explained the idealism of fulfilling mitzvos. We weren't simply doing this or that that the Creator wanted but we were involved in achieving God's purpose for creation, we were involved in creating the perfect world God wanted when He created the world.
There is another important event that was going to have a major impact on my life and that is that I joined the Bnei Akiva; it was called Shomer Hadati at the time. I, as many other people, was fascinated with the establishment of the State. It captured my imagination. I dreamed, as many young people did at the time, of coming to live in the Jewish State. As I grew in my learning and became more of a Ben Torah, the Bnei Akiva became less important but the love for Eretz Yisrael kept growing within me. My involvement in Bnei Akiva, surprisingly, brought me close to the Rosh Yeshiva. He also, surprisingly, did not attempt to get us to leave Bnei Akiva; he felt we had a very positive influence within the organization, but nonetheless watched us carefully.
I also met my wife in Bnei Akiva, even though she was not very much involved.
Bnei Akiva was a very important segment of my life and even though in the circles I travel today I cannot say that it is looked upon very positively, nonetheless I would be guilty of a great lack of "Hakarat Hatov" if I would fail to mention it. I look back with amazement at the confidence the Rosh Yeshiva had in us by permitting us to stay and maybe even, in a certain subtle sense, encouraging it.
In high school, it was under the tutelage of a great Talmid Chacham, Harav Shurkin, that my serious learning began. He introduced me to the fascinating, intricate reasoning and logic of the Gemora. I finished high school and got my parents to agree to delaying college for a year so that I could devote my full time to learning.
Kollel and Beyond… To Eretz Yisrael
I learned for five years after my wedding in the Kollel of Chaim Berlin. Afterwards, I went into the family business. Even after I went into business (finance and real estate) I continued to have a seder every day in the Yeshiva. I would arrive at four o'clock and learn until six thirty.
My wife was born in Eretz Yisrael and there was a great love for Eretz Yisrael in her home. My father-in-law studied under the great HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook zt"l and never lost his great love for Eretz Yisrael. His love for Eretz Yisrael was contagious. I was interested in spending less time in business and more in learning which I found very difficult because of family pressures. I was looking to free myself from those family pressures; so we therefore decided, after having seven children, that the time had come for us to take the step and we did. We bought an apartment in 1969 and in the summer of 1970 we took our seven children and came to Eretz Yisrael. When we first arrived, I established a business that took my mornings. I would be in the office until one thirty and then went to the Yeshiva. I taught at Yeshiva Dvar Yerushalayim from the early seventies until the early nineties.
Arriving at Shapell’s
I had become partners with an old high school mate of mine, Rav Yaacov Yellin zt"l. He was associated with Yeshiva Darche Noam and he kept telling me about a Rav Karlinsky and Rav Hirshfeld that had a Yeshiva similar to Dvar Yerushalayim. I was fairly satisfied at Dvar Yerushalayim and was not particularly interested in making any changes. Rav Yaacov was a very, very special person and we had a wonderful relationship. He kept trying to get me to meet Rav Karlinsky. He was finally successful and to this very day I could never express my gratitude for the great favor he did for me by arranging that introduction and meeting. As soon as I met Rav Karlinsky I needed no further urging. On the contrary, I was anxious to be accepted by Rav Karlinsky and Rav Hirshfeld and be given the opportunity to teach at Darche Noam. I say with all my heart, my days at Darche Noam were surely the most creative and productive days of my life!! My gratitude to my very dear friend Rav Yaacov of blessed memory and my gratitude to two very dear friends, Rav Karlinsky and Rav Hirshfeld knows no bounds.