Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar II 5763 - March 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Strettiner Rebbe: HaRav Sholom Flam zt"l

by Rabbi Yisroel Flam

A pall of darkness, sadness, and dismay descended on the entire Torah world, and especially on the world of Chassidus, with the passing of the Strettiner Rebbe, zt"l. Rabbi Sholom Flam was niftar during the Shabbos of Parshas Yisro, the 22nd day of Shevat. In spite of the short notice, an overflowing crowd of many hundreds assembled on motzei Shabbos at the Strettiner Beis Medrash on Bay Parkway corner Avenue I in Brooklyn, NY, to pay their respects to the Rebbe and his family.

The traditional hakofos around the aron performed by the choshuvah rabbonim and rebbes in the community followed the recitation of Tehillim. Brief divrei preidoh -- words of farewell -- were offered by his son-in- law Reb Yehuda Weinberg and his sons - Reb Mechel, Reb Avrohom, Reb Moshe, Reb Dov Ber and Reb Dovid, as well as his brother, author of this appreciation. Reb Berish Fuchs, the beloved Rosh Hakohol, spoke on behalf of the brokenhearted Kehilloh. The Rebbe's son-in-law Reb Shlomo Moskowitz spoke at the airport.

A measure of the deep respect and love which the Rebbe had engendered in the hearts of so many of his family, friends, and followers could be seen in the unbelievable response to his passing. At the Lod airport in Eretz Yisroel there were more than a hundred people including family, mechutonim, and rabbonim. Among them were his sons-in- law, the Koshnitzer Rebbe Rav Shimshon Sternberg of Tel Aviv- Bnei Brak, and Rav Chaim Wagschal of Yerushalayim, son of Reb Herschel Wagschal of London -- who all joined to receive the Aron.

At the Shamgar Beis Levaya in Yerushalayim, there was an overflowing crowd numbering in the hundreds including Admorim, Rabbonim, family, and many students and friends from NY and Detroit. There, the maspidim were his son-in- law Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg, son of Rabbi Dovid Weinberg of Yerushalayim of Yeshiva Beis Avrohom Slonim, Jerusalem, as well as another mechuton, Rav Moshe Shmuel Stern, another son-in-law Rav Chaim Wagschal, rosh yeshiva in Meor Einayim Rachmastrivkah, and his son Reb Dov Berel Flam of Lakewood, New Jersey.

Leaving Shamgar, the entire entourage walked to the Belz complex nearby where the Admor of Belz came out to join the levaya with a few hundred of his chassidim. Joining in the procession was a large group of luminaries, including, the Stoliner Rebbe, the Slonimer Rebbe, and the Tolner Rebbe.

By the time the levaya reached Har Hazeisim, it was well after nightfall. Nevertheless, over a hundred people braved the cold and the danger of being on Har Hazeisim to honor the great niftar. Once again, Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg gave a short hesped and the levaya was over.

A Righteous Petiroh

The Medrash in Koheles states: When a person does a mitzvah close to his passing away, it shows that through the performance of that particular mitzvah his righteousness is now complete. The final moments before Rabbi Sholom suffered a massive stroke call to mind this Medrash.

On the Tuesday night before his petiroh, the Rebbe and his family celebrated the wedding of his granddaughter Yocheved Flam, daughter of Rabbi Mechel Flam. The chosson was R' Yehoshua Heschel Flintenstein, son of the Kapischnitzer Rebbe of Yerushalayim.

As the grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Flam was in extraordinarily high spirits as he watched the elite of the Chassidic and Torah world come to participate in the simchah. What a joy it was to see the Rebbe's shining face as he danced with the Rachmastrivkah Rebbe and the Kapischnitzer Rebbe.

But the highest point of the chasunah was yet to come: the Mitzvah Tantz, where the Rebbe was dancing with the Kallah! He wished Lechaim to his mechutonim and each one of his children, and went on to dance what turned out to be an exalted, lofty mitzvah tantz. He then sat down and collapsed.

That the Rebbe's last act on earth was the mitzvah of being mesamei'ach chosson and kallah has great significance. If we follow the thrust of the Medrash in Koheles, it points to the Rebbe's shleimus of life. It shows that this mitzvah of special simcha was the one that brought shleimus to his life.

At the levaya, Rabbi Moshe Flam offered a different nuance to the last dance of the Rebbe. He quoted the Degel Machaneh Efraim to the effect that close relatives who attend a wedding receive the same special gift given to the chosson/kallah, namely, mechilas avonos, the forgiveness of all sins. Consequently, the great niftar passed away in a state of taharoh, cleansed of all sin and iniquity. That a person can enter the next world in a state of such purity is in itself certainly a great simchah to the neshomoh of the niftar.

The entire chain of events following the collapse of the Rebbe brings to mind the uniqueness and special quality of his life. On the day following the stroke, an extraordinary assembly took place at the Rebbe's bedside. Almost 45 members of the family assembled to be mispalel. The very heavens appeared to split open as the group chanted the traditional tefillos for someone who is extremely sick.

Those who were there say that they will never forget the tefilloh "Nishmas Kol Chay" rendered with the incantation and haunting tune of the unique nusach of Strettin and davened so many times by the Rebbe. Who there will ever forget the penetrating singing of Adon Olom, sung with the piercing melody reserved for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? The Adon Olom was also repeated with the tune of the nusach of Belz, proclaiming the mastery of G-d over the entire world.

Is there such a thing as a "Sweet Death"? What is meant by misas neshikoh? The sainted Rabbi Meir Shapira of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin said that misas neshikoh, the death that comes to a person when Hashem "kisses" him, is a phenomenon that occurs when there is singing and dancing as the person's neshomoh ascends on high! It is noteworthy that as Rabbi Meir Shapira was lying close to death, he ordered that all those assembled should sing and dance to accompany his neshomoh to the higher spheres of the heavens.

With the approach of Shabbos, as the majority of the family celebrated the Sheva Brochos of the young couple, the tenuous hold on life that Rabbi Flam had, seemed to grow weaker. His son Rabbi Moshe Flam and son- in-law Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg and grandsons, collected a minyan to daven Mincha, followed by Kabolas Shabbos.

As the counts on the machines went down, the minyan sang louder and louder, with greater and greater devotion. Special prayers for yetzias neshomoh were said. And just as the words, "Hashem yimloch le'olom vo'ed," were pronounced, "Bo'oh Shabbos, Bo'oh Menuchah" and the Rebbe returned his holy neshomoh to its Maker.

To complete the extraordinary minyan, a man whose hairstyle indicated that he was far from religious joined the group. Seeing the display of emunoh and bitochon in such an unusual group, he was overwhelmed with pathos and emotion. Who knows? Perhaps the Strettiner Rebbe, even as he was passing away, had a hand in inadvertently making one last person to be a chozer beteshuvah!

Rabbi Sholom Flam, zichrono livrocho, was certainly a tzaddik who conformed to the Medrash in Mishlei. Here we find the words "Vatischak leyom acharon" -- She laughs at the last day (Mishlei 31:25). The Medrash explains that this refers to the person who studies Torah all his life. He can laugh and be joyful as he leaves this world.

In this sense, the Strettiner Rebbe was joyful and happy as he left the world while involved in Torah as well as simcha shel mitzvah. As his son Rabbi Berel said at the hesped in Yerushalayim, "He danced his way out of this world of sheker straight into the Olom Ho'emes!"


The Strettiner Rebbe was born in Montreal, Canada in 1929 (5689), the fifth of eight children born to Rabbi Dovid Flam, the Olesker Rebbe, and his Rebbetzin Sarah, the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Langner, the Strettiner Rebbe of Toronto. The child was named Sholom after a great-grandfather, the Sar Sholom of Belz, first in the Belzer dynasty. He was also descended from Reb Shlomo Lutzker, the rebbe of the Sar Sholom, as well as from the Kortshiner Rov, Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin. Through his mother (Sarah), he was descended from the Rebbes of Zidichov, Kaliv and Strettin, as well as from the Tosafos Yom Tov and other luminaries.

In Montreal, there were no yeshivos whatsoever. The city, one of the largest in the world, was bereft of yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs. Young Sholom and his brothers would come home every day from public school (which was mandatory) and learn with their father, Rav Dovid Flam, zt"l. Even at a young age of seven or eight, Sholom showed promise of becoming a great talmid chochom and masmid. To Sholom, the Chumash was extremely real and alive! When learning the sedrah of Vayeishev, Sholom burst out crying with bitter tears in sympathy over the forlorn Yosef. He understood and mastered the difficult sedrah of Vayikra, with all the intricacies of the korbonos.

When he was about 7-8 years old, young Sholom organized a Shomer Shabbos club for his friends, even offering prizes and payments for keeping Shabbos. When he was only 11, his father sent him to Mesivta Torah Vodaas with his two brothers. There, he showed his kishronos, hasmodoh and dedication to learning Torah. In the words of Rabbi Yehuda Oelbaum, dean of Machon Beis Yaakov, "He brought a ruach of simcha and kedusha into the Yeshiva."

After learning in Mesivta Torah Vodaas for about 10 years, he was one of a few talmidim chosen out of 40 to advance his studies at Beis Medrash Elyon in Monsey, New York. At a rather young age, he received smicha from Mesivta Torah Vodaas, from HaRav Shmuel Kushelewitz zt"l.

The Strettiner Rebbe had a voracious appetite for learning Torah. Rabbi Henoch Cohen, the executive director of Chinuch Atzmai, remembered his special experience with the Rebbe: "When I was 15, I learned together with Reb Sholom. Our Rebbe was Rabbi Dovid Bender, in second year Mesivta. Reb Sholom was two years younger than the rest of the boys -- he became Bar Mitzvah that year -- and he was considered the star of the class. He was a real masmid, burning the midnight oil in order to learn Torah."

He continued with this zeal for the rest of his life, keeping many sedorim and ultimately finishing Shas several times.

He was a talmid of HaRav Reuven Grozovsky, zt"l. Rabbi Sholom Flam was able to understand, to follow, and to engage the Rosh Hayeshiva in deep discussions -- even though Reb Reuven's shiurim could only be fully grasped by the best talmidim.

When the Rebbe's son-in-law, Reb Shlomo Moskowitz, was a chosson, he was introduced to HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt"l for a brochoh. When he identified who his future father-in-law would be, the Gaon remarked, "Er hot doch an eisenem kop -- he has a remarkably good head."

He was also a beloved talmid of HaRav Gedaliah Schorr zt"l, with whom he formed a special bond of friendship. In fact, the very last conversation of Rav Schorr's life took place with the Strettiner Rebbe.

To Detroit

In 1952 HaRav Sholom Flam moved to Detroit. That year he married his eishes chayil Rebbetzin Baila, the daughter of Reb Yechiel Mechel Brandwein, Turker Rebbe of New York. He served as a rebbe in Yeshiva Beth Yehuda in Detroit for over 13 years.

Like the famous Reb Dovid Lelover who would collect children on a wagon to bring them to study Torah, Rabbi Flam too did not consider it below his dignity to "collect" bochurim to bring them to the yeshiva to learn.

A measure of the deep roots that he planted into the hearts of his talmidim can be garnered from a telephone call to the family during the shiva. Said the talmid, "I am calling to express my hakoras hatov to Rabbi Sholom Flam who was my Rebbe in Detroit almost 50 years ago. I will never forget how he came to my bar mitzvah and offered such tremendous chizuk and inspiration to continue learning."

When asked what he was doing now, the talmid answered: "I have nine children and live in Lakewood, where I am still sitting and learning."

It was while he was in Detroit that Rabbi Sholom established a kehilla based on his ideals and standards of Torah, Avodoh, and Gemilus Chassodim. His congregation flourished, and he expanded his activities, including a deep interest in the establishment of a new mikveh that served as a breakthrough for the Detroit community. It was during his stay in Detroit that the old compromising attitudes towards the use of mikveh changed, as it became acceptable and even fashionable.

Rabbi Flam also established a small kollel in his shul, where a few of the greatest talmidei chachomim of the city participated. The effect that he had in inspiring those with whom he had contact lasted over the years to elevate people to the highest and most committed standards of Jewish living. Many maintained their contact with the Rebbe over the years and over long distances.

In 1966, the Flam family moved to Brooklyn, New York. R' Sholom established the Strettiner Beis Hamedrash in the Ocean Parkway-Avenue J area. At that time, the concept of chassidim/rebbe in that area was relatively new. The Rebbe's magnetic personality, his true caring for each person, and the individual attention he lavished, made him beloved and respected by all. His ne'imus hamiddos, his sweetness in his conducting social relations, established him as a wonderful role model for his chassidim, friends, and family.

Although he was very stringent in the personal conduct of his life, he was totally respectful of all those with whom he came in contact. The Rebbe gave a daily Daf Yomi Shiur throughout his years in Brooklyn. As one man noted, "In the years we learned Daf Yomi we went through Shas one-and-a-half- times." He was also very proud of hosting a kollel erev for many years where the elite of the Torah world learned each night.

Over the years the Strettiner Beis Hamedrash served as a center not only for Torah, and not only for avodoh and tefilloh, but also as a center for gemilus chassodim. People in need found the doors wide open for tzedokoh, sholom bayis problems, interpersonal relationships and advice. The ears and heart of the Rebbe were always receptive and warm to the ongoing problems of society.

The Strettiner Rebbe truly empathized, identified, and felt the responsibility of helping anyone with whom he came in contact. Money would never stand in his way to do a mitzva!

After he moved to New York he was apprised of a woman who was desperately trying to receive a get from her husband, who did everything possible to leave her an agunah. Fortunately the Rebbe had earlier established a relationship with the husband and apparently had some influence over him. Using the excuse that he had some unfinished business to take care of in Detroit, the Rebbe flew to the husband and after some "effective persuasion," prevailed on the husband to go immediately to the beis din to arrange a get. And so the woman was freed from a most difficult situation. This was not the only woman who was rescued from the misery of being an agunah by the Rebbe.

Setting an Example

How did these recipients of the favors of the Rebbe and his Rebbetzin return the goodness that they received? They themselves, in turn, became the "givers" to others.

An excellent example of the Rebbe's creating a new generation of givers is the following story: During the shivah, Rabbi Binyomin Carlebach, a ram at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, came to the family. He remembered quite clearly how Rabbi Flam, his rebbe in Yeshiva Beth Yehuda in Detroit, conducted his class. Rabbi Flam would explain the gemora and text with excellent clarity and hasbarah. He would invite, accept and listen patiently to all questions that were asked.

Inevitably, a talmid would ask a question that was irrelevant and showed that he did not understand the basics of the subject. So what did Rabbi Flam do? Invariably he would gently say, "Why don't you come to my home after school is over and I will explain everything."

When the talmid came to his home his Rebbe would give him a private lesson, giving the talmid a complete understanding of the subject.

"To this very day," said Rabbi Carlebach, "I use Rabbi Flam's method in teaching and guiding my talmidim."

And so the torch of Torah is passed on to the next and future generations!

During the shivah, one friend reported to the family about the extraordinary sensitivity of the Rebbe. This occurred when the shul had to move temporarily while the new Strettiner Beis Hamedrash was being built. His words: "The Rebbe never even once asked me to come to complete a minyan, even though I lived right across the street, and many times he needed me badly. Why did he not ask me to come? Because he did not want to infringe on the needs and feelings of the local rabbi!"

A few years ago, a piece of land was purchased at the corner of Bay and Ocean Parkway. Rabbi Flam displayed a remarkable understanding of architecture. There is practically not a nail, wire, or fixture that was installed without his personal supervision. He had a discerning eye not only for the hundreds of minutiae required, but also for the aesthetic appeal appropriate to a mokom kodosh. He invested so much of himself into the impressive structure of the Strettiner Beis Hamedrash even to its most minor detail.

He was often found saying Tehillim at a certain place, explaining, "Here is where the Aron Kodesh will be standing, and that is why I am saying Tehillim so that all future tefillos davened here will be accepted on high."

A New Mokom

In the new Beis Hamedrash, the Rebbe delivered many shiurim, including a daily Daf Yomi shiur. His ahavas haTorah was so great that on the day of the wedding of his grandchild just before his petiroh, he could not be dissuaded from delivering the daily shiur in gemora at the Home for the Sages on the East Side, only a few minutes before he left for the wedding. Min haShomayim, the last shiur that day ended with the words mikveh taharoh -- perhaps as a signal that like Rabbi Akiva of old, yotzesoh nishmoso betaharoh, he left this world on a note of taharoh.

In his avodas Hashem, he was always "on duty." His thoughts were always focused on the Presence of Hashem around us. During the chasunah, the Rebbe observed the Gabbai of the Kapischnitzer supervising things. "You go here . . . You do this . . . " The Rebbe suddenly called over the Gabbai and told him with a smile. "Do you really think that you are running things? Zollt Ihr vissen -- You should know -- that everything that is going on here, and every smallest thing that is happening in the world, is all being guided and arranged by Hakodosh Boruch Hu from above, and it is all letov -- for the good."

What was so unique about the Strettiner Beis Hamedrash? It was that on the shores of treif America, the Rebbe succeeded in crafting, molding, and transforming his home and Torah center into a genuine "Rebbeshe Hoyff," reminiscent of the dynasties of our past history. All his resources, all his "kochos," all his goals, hopes, and his very being, were focused on realizing his dream and vision of a special center for Torah and Chassidus, disseminating the light of Yiddishkeit to others, brightening up the future with worthy generations.

Anyone crossing the threshold of the Strettiner Beis Hamedrash immediately felt a warm sense of home -- of a place where one could turn to unburden the heart from any problem be it trivial or great, mundane or sublime. The Rebbe's ear and heart were open. The broad sense of "today, the now" coupled with the "wisdom of the ages" - - past and present -- blended to render the Rov as truly approachable. He was an advisor, a friend, a sheliach tzibbur to Hashem, and an intermediary on behalf of young and old.

The Shivah

All this was clearly evident during the shivah period. Volumes could be written of so many personal anecdotes.

One young bochur burst into tears upon arrival at his beloved shul. One woman told that the Rebbe arranged for a down payment on her home to preserve her sholom bayis. A rebbi who said that if not for Rabbi Flam he would be a drug addict today... Yungerleit avowing that all they are today is in a great measure due to the influence of the Rebbe.

There were young mothers, many of whom came from out of town, who said they always daven with the "Rav's" voice and niggunim humming in their heads, even though they now live far away and boruch Hashem have young children who cannot get to shul. Americans -- young and old -- European Jews, Sephardim and Russians all felt that in the Rebbe's presence they found the emes -- the undiluted truth. His concern was genuine. So, too, was the admiration and love for him expressed by one and all in return.

The lessons that his children learned in their home are being continued. They all became exceptional moros, leaders of congregations and organizations with a zealous drive to contribute to the spiritual and material welfare of Klal Yisroel. This exemplary quality of chesed is carried out with grace, charm, and finesse by every one of them.

Chazal in maseches Brochos tell us that when a person passes away, the aveilim make a brochoh of Dayan Ho'emes. The gemora tells us that the big chidush is that this brocho is to be said besimcha.

One wonders at this Chazal: How is it possible to make this brocho besimcha? How can we expect a person to be in a joyful mood when a beloved one has just passed away?

Our Rishonim give an answer to this question. We may be saddened by the death of the person. However, we are besimcha when we realize that the death was not a chance event. It was decreed and arranged by Hashem, Who knows exactly what is best for the person and for all those affected by his demise. Hashem calibrates the tza'ar, the pain, the anguish, and sadness that will come to each one of the relatives, his friends, and even his acquaintances.

People with a deeper understanding of life have a better view of death. They realize that we were placed on this world for a purpose, and when a person fulfills his tafkid, he can leave this world in true inner joy.

In fact, the sefer Me'or Einayim tells us that the amount of true, inner, spiritual joy that comes to a person during aveilus is directly proportional to the amount of acceptance he feels regarding G-d's decree! The family of the Strettiner Rebbe continues his great legacy in the way they were mekabel this great loss.

We are not privy to the way Hashem runs the world. In the words of the Rambam, the tzaddikim will enjoy the Ziv HaShechinah and there will be techiyas hameisim. We must wait till the end of the story to understand what has happened in the past.

Rebbetzin Baila Flam, who assisted the Rebbe in all his holy works and chassodim, survives the Strettiner Rebbe. His sons are Rabbis Yechiel Mechel Flam and Avrohom Flam of Lakewood, Rabbi Moshe Flam of Flatbush, and Rabbis Berel Flam and Dovid Flam of Lakewood. His daughters are Malkie, married to Rabbi Yehuda Weinberg of Slonim, Miriam, married to Rabbi Shlomo Moskowitz in Lakewood, Tziril married to Rabbi Shimshon Sternberg, the Koshnitzer Rebbe of Tel Aviv, and Tova, married to Rabbi Chaim Wagschal of Yerushalayim. Two brothers, Rabbi Yisroel Flam of Monsey, New York, and Rabbi Shlomo Flam of Rechovot, and two sisters, Chana Rochel Preschel of Yerushalayim and Leah Nemetzky of Brooklyn, also survive him.

One of the major goals of life of the Strettiner Rebbe was to act in such a way that "Shetehei Sheim Shomayim mis'aheiv al yodecho," that through a person's deeds and actions, the Name of G-d would become beloved. The Rebbe's life was dedicated to bringing ahavas Hashem to all with whom he came in contact.

Let us hope that the fire and warmth that he lit in the hearts of all who knew him will serve as an inspiration to true ahavas Hashem, ahavas Yisroel, and Kiddush Hashem! Yehei Zichro Boruch!


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