Rabbi Mendlowitz understood well that he could not accomplish the tremendous work that needed to be done alone. He had to create a battalion of devoted and self motivated students who could become a part of this movement for change and growth. One such devotee was a young and eager student from Williamsburg, New York who, with amazing diligence and uncompromising dedication, found his life’s mentor in Rabbi Mendlowitz, and a future as one of his most passionate soldiers.
His name was Avrohom Abba (Arthur) Freedman, born June 11, 1920 (the 24th of Sivan), a premature and sickly young child who suffered from a difficult case of rickets. His early years were filled with doctors and nurses helping to strengthen his very weak early growth.
His loving and devoted parents, Betzalel and Minna Freedman, had the foresight and Siyata Dishmaya to enroll their son Avrohom Abba as a young student in Mesivta Torah Vodaas. There he came in contact with great Rebbeim and role models, including Reb Mike Tress, America’s model for Torah Askanus (community service) who Rabbi Freedman credited with instilling in him a lifelong thirst for Jewish service.
The most profound encounter at Torah Vodaas for Rabbi Freedman was his relationship and utter fascination and devotion with his Rebbe, Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz. Rabbi Freedman believed that every chapter in history had a purpose both for mankind and for each individual. He said more than once that one of the many reasons the Great Depression of 1929 occurred was because the Ribono Shel Olam felt his family needed to move from Borough Park to less expensive Williamsburg so he could make his way to Yeshivas Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg. He took seriously and believed fervently the Talmudic dictum that “the whole world was created for me” (Sanhedrin 37a).
Rabbi Freedman described Reb Shraga Feivel as his generation’s “Avrohom Avinu.” Through his remarkable determination and foresight Reb Shraga Feivel set out to bring the light of Torah to a drifting and leaderless American Jewish population. He embodied a selflessness which became the trademark of his devoted students.
Rabbi Freedman was drawn to his Rebbe, Rabbi Mendlowitz (who insisted on being referred to as Mr. Mendlowitz), and made every effort to immerse himself in his Rebbe’s methodology and intense devotion to the Al-mighty.
Reb Shraga Feivel was an unusually broad thinker who introduced his talmidim to a remarkable cross section of Rabbinic thinkers and scholars. He taught them selections from the Tanya, Rav Hirsch, the Chidushei Harim and taught them to delve deeply into Rav Tzadok, the Sfas Emes and Chovos Halevovos.
Rav Meir Shapiro
In 1928 Rav Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rov and the founder of the Daf Yomi (a folio of Talmud a day) visited the United States to raise funds for his Yeshiva in Lublin. During his visit, a meeting of Jewish leaders was called to honor his presence in America. At the meeting, attended by many of America’s most prominent leaders and Roshei Yeshiva (head of Yeshivas), Rav Shapiro asked to have Rabbi Mendlowitz seated next to him at the dais. To those in the room this seemed a bit odd, as Rabbi Mendlowitz was not yet recognized as one of the leading personages of the time. When Rabbi Shapiro was asked why he requested that Rabbi Mendlowitz be seated next to him, he said, “Any person who can stay in America and try and build Torah has the greatest place in Olam Habah (the world to come) and I am honored to sit next to him!”
Reb Shraga Feivel’s father was a Sanzer Chosid whose home was constantly filled with orchim (guests) who demanded attention, and Rabbonim who filled the walls of their bayis with the words of Torah. At age 17, with most of Shas already studied, he began to learn under his Rebbe muvhak, the Unsdorfer Rav, Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg zt”l, who had a lifelong and profound effect on Rabbi Mendlowitz.
With his Rebbe’s encouragement, and with some trepidation, in September of 1913 Reb Shraga Feivel arrived on American soil where his footsteps would one day revolutionize Torah in America. After living in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, he moved to Williamsburg in 1926 and founded the Mesivta Torah Vodaas. America at that time had nearly 300,000 Jewish children, almost none of whom were enrolled in a full time Jewish School. This, to Rabbi Mendlowitz, was absolutely unacceptable and gave him license to dream and act in a heroic way.
Ha’amidu Talmidim Harbei
Rabbi Mendlowitz understood the requirement in Pirkei Avos “Haamidu Talmidim Harbei,” to develop many disciples as an injunction to “raise your students very high.” He molded his talmidim to be impervious to the waves of American assimilation. To be fully equipped to not only live a Torah way of life, but to inspire others in a profound and impactful way. He taught the great Mussar (ethics) seforim Shaarei Teshuva, Sefer Chareidim, Kuzari, Chovos Halevovos, which he felt if mastered would ensure a strength and vitality beyond the four walls of the Bais Medrash.
While educating his Talmidim Rabbi Mendlowitz was also training frum Baal Habatim to take their place in the leadership of the Jewish people. He understood that not every Talmid of the Yeshiva could be a Mechanech (teacher) and that the Yissochor Zevulun partnership would be critical to building Torah in America. His overriding mission was to make a complete Jew, one who could withstand the dangerous American pressures and grow and prosper as Yirei Shomayim (G-d fearing Jews) in the midst of a storm of outside pressures.
It was in this backdrop that Talmidim like Rabbi A.A. Freedman became completely enamored and totally devoted to lessons of his great Rebbe. He soaked up every morsel of sustenance from Reb Shraga Feivel and for the rest of his life was the torch bearer of his Rebbe’s philosophies, commitment and ibbergigebinkeit (dedication). Every Jew was a project and his heart was overflowing with love for Klal Yisroel.
Rabbi Freedman, in his later years, endeavored and succeeded in encouraging two written masterpieces; one in Hebrew and one in English, authored by Rabbi Aharon Sorasky and Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum. Rabbi Freedman said over many times that Rabbi Mendlowitz was a malach (angel) from Hashem and a gadol (leader) in his generation.
Rabbi Freedman reported an incident which confirmed his suspicion that his Rebbe, Rabbi Mendlowitz, was endowed with Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration). It happened while he and his best friend and colleague, Rabbi Sholom Goldstein zt”l (Rabbi Freedman’s partner in Detroit and longtime Menahel of the Yeshiva’s Bais Yaakov), were visitors in their Rebbe’s office in Torah Vodaas in 1943. While Rabbi Mendlowitz was discussing an issue with Rabbi Goldstein, Rabbi Freedman was silently daydreaming, telling himself over and over, “My Rebbe, Rabbi Mendlowitz has Ruach Hakodesh, my Rebbe, Rabbi Mendlowitz has Ruach Hakodesh.” After this thought played out several times in Rabbi Freedman’s subconscious, Rabbi Mendlowitz said to to Rabbi Goldstein, “can you imagine? Freedman thinks I have Ruach Hakodesh.”
Rabbi Freedman further confirmed the evidence of his Rebbe’s greatness by quoting from the Mesilas Yesharim, which describes how a righteous person reaches the level of piety and purity which, once achieved, merits the special grant of Ruach Hakodesh in that individual. This was to Rabbi Freedman, irrefutable proof of his Rebbe’s special gift. Rabbi Freedman attested to his Rebbe’s achievement to this great level which therefore he assumed guaranteed Ruach Hakodesh.
Reb Shraga Feival created an institute for educational training in Monsey, New York called Beis Medresh Elyon. Rabbi Simcha Wasserman took charge of this important learning center which provided the students with the skills to go out into communities ready to lead and teach.