Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Adar 5764 - March 11, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Reb Michel Goodfarb -- The Rav Chanina ben Teradyon of Our Generation

by M. Samsonowitz

Part I

This year, on Reb Michel's second yahrtzeit, there are still thousands of people who are mourning his passing. Many of these were the people who faced an empty fridge in the morning, who didn't know how they would marry off their children, or who didn't know how they could celebrate the holidays with their family.

Reb Michel was their saving angel who suddenly appeared before desperation and hopelessness set in. He was there to encourage them to make the shidduch, buy the clothes for their children, and not give up in the face of obstacles. He did it while preserving their dignity and respect.

And he did it while he himself was deathly sick for close to 25 years. Reb Michel was not only a one-man chessed organization, he was a walking miracle.

Early Days

Yechiel Michel Goodfarb was the 12th child in a family of 13, born on 28 Adar, 1957. His father, Rav Shmuel, was a well- known gemora rebbe in the Eitz Chaim cheder in Jerusalem.

His roots presaged his overflowing love for every Jew regardless of his background: on his father's side, he was a descendant of HaRav Yisroel of Shklov, a talmid of the Vilna Gaon and his close disciple, HaRav Zundel Salant. His famous grandmother, Feige Leiba Goodfarb, used to sit in the Meah Shearim shul and collect money for charity. She would tell bypassers, "You have to give or you have to take."

On his mother's side, he was a descendant of the Maharsha, Rav Yehuda Hachossid and the chassidic leader Rav Moshe Kobrina. His grandfather was the former rov of Chevron, HaRav Osher Dov Tannenbaum.

Reb Michel was named after HaRav Yechiel Michel Tikotchinsky, the author of Gesher Hachaim and the revered principal of Eitz Chaim. He was the first child to be named after Rav Tikotchinsky.

Reb Michel grew up in an impoverished but happy home. He was educated in the Eitz Chaim cheder and then went on to study in the Mirrer yeshiva.

He developed a close relationship with HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz and HaRav Nochum Partzovitz, the two Mirrer roshei yeshivos, who both loved him deeply. Reb Nochum treated him like a son and appointed him to attend to personal matters for him, such as maasering the food in the halls where he celebrated his children's weddings.

Reb Michel was a masmid and totally devoted to his yeshiva studies. He was part of the chabura in the yeshiva that included HaRav Osher Arieli, HaRav Chazkel Cohen, and HaRav Binyomin Finkel.

Once, when he and his chavrusa were tackling a difficult gemora, his chavrusa had to step out a minute. When he came back, he saw Reb Michel reciting Tehillim. When he asked why, Reb Michel answered simply, "It will help me understand the gemora."

Reb Michel had a shining, charismatic personality that radiated love and warmth. With other Mirrer yeshiva students, he worked during the summer bein hazmanim in the Yeshivos L'Am framework, where he spent days convincing parents to send their children to religious schools. He was highly successful in this work, and dozens of children in Tiveria and Kfar Yonah were registered in Chinuch Atzmai schools due to him. He kept a book of the names of the children whom he had convinced to enter religious schools, and used to tell his friends that he wanted this book buried with him when his time would come.

"He was effervescent and full of life," recalls his close friend HaRav Binyamin Finkel. "He would go into the homes of people he had never met before, and was able to convince them to listen to him."

A New Career of chessed

Reb Michel's career in chessed started unwittingly. He was a young 17-year- old when he noticed a man hunched over near the Mirrer yeshiva who looked hungry and sick. When he asked the man if he had eaten, the man told him no.

Reb Michel went straight away to Reb Beinish, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, and asked if he could take leftover food from the yeshiva's kitchen to feed the man. After receiving permission, he brought the man food and fed him.

This was the beginning of a relationship that went on for years. He regularly provided this abandoned, lonely old Jew with food, became his friend, and attended to his various needs.

When the man's death approached, he called Reb Michel and told him to take his money because he had no heirs. After the man's death, Reb Michel discovered, to his surprise, that the man had left a very large sum behind. He gave the money to his father, assuming he would use it to marry off his siblings. But the ehrlich HaRav Shmuel refused to take the money for himself, and instead used it to help two orphans marry. This lesson in integrity and chessed left a powerful impression on the young man.

Later on in life, when friends would press him to take a tiny percentage of the colossal charity funds that passed through his hands as a well-deserved salary, he firmly refused. "If I start to take 1 percent of the funds," he told them, "who knows where it will end?"

Neither did Reb Michel's well-known position of charity gabbai go to his head and inflate his ego. Not only did he feel he hadn't done anything special, but he worried lest someone learn from him to minimize the value of Torah learning.

A Special Sense for Those in Need

Once he became involved, Reb Michel could `smell out' a Jew who needed help like a Jew smells challos on erev Shabbos. A lonely Russian Jew who had moved to Israel was hired to work in the Mirrer yeshiva kitchen. Reb Michel invited the man to eat in his parents' house for Shabbos. For years he befriended the elderly man and even kept up the relationship after he married. The Russian man was a standard guest in the Goodfarb home for years until he passed away.

Reb Michel especially noticed the poor Yerushalmi bochurim studying in the Mir whose parents were too impoverished to pay for their weddings. He discretely approached students from abroad learning in the Mirrer yeshiva, and asked them to contribute to a wedding fund for the poor students. In this way, he helped many fellow yeshiva students establish their own homes.

The first time he collected the funds to marry off an orphan was when he was merely 19 years old. The family of a yeshiva student lived near the Mir, and the father was bedridden for 17 years from a stroke until his death. The mother and eight children were struggling in terrible poverty.

Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel called the young Reb Michel aside and asked him to open a bank account and raise money to help marry the oldest son. Reb Michel had such a sterling reputation by that time, that yeshiva students would approach him and ask if they could give him money for a worthy cause.

This yeshiva bochur recalls today, "We were close friends. Just when I became engaged, Reb Michel became sick. But he did everything he could to collect the money so I could get married. He understood the importance of money in arranging a marriage. If my brothers and I wouldn't have had some money, no one would have wanted to marry us. No father wants to marry his daughter off to a bochur who has nothing and she'll have to live in the street. He also handled the negotiations with my wife's family."

Not only did Reb Michel provide the funds to marry off the older son, but he eventually helped marry off the remaining seven children. Reb Michel and his wife even accompanied the last three children to the chuppah since the father was no longer alive.

Another mitzvah which Reb Michel did was following his father's practice of going to hospitals on Friday and helping men put on tefillin. One sick person awaited his coming every week and refused to let anyone else help him put on tefillin. Reb Michel also visited the geriatric department and would make the elderly there feel wanted and important.

It was clear that Reb Michel's kindness to others emanated from the love overflowing in his heart. For that reason, the recipients of his chessed never felt demeaned or humiliated. How could they, when Reb Michel made them feel that they were doing him a favor?

Life was good. He came from a distinguished Yerushalmi family, and he had made a name for himself as an excellent yeshiva student with a sterling character. When he reached the age of 20, offers of shidduchim began to pile up for one of the stars of the yeshiva.

Disease Strikes

And then, tragedy struck. After feeling unwell for a period of time, Reb Michel was sent for extensive testing in Tammuz, 1977. The diagnosis that came back was terrifying -- he had come down with Hodgkin's disease, a form of lymphoma -- cancer. The dreaded diagnosis devastated his family and all his friends. HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz was broken upon hearing the news. He later told Reb Michel, "If you knew how much anguish I suffered because of your illness, you wouldn't have become ill!"

HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz prayed with intense weeping and supplications to Hashem on his behalf during Kol Nidrei of 1977.

His rosh yeshiva, Reb Nochum, told him to daven and not to despair. He encouraged him, "There might be medical developments that will suddenly help you." His words proved to be prescient.

HaRav Beinish Finkel told his Rebbetzin, "From now on don't go to the Kosel on Friday. Instead, go to Hadassah hospital to see that Reb Michel is getting the proper care!"

His chavrusas bolstered his spirits by coming to study with him at his parents' home.

In those days, the treatments for that disease were not advanced or reliable. The doctors in the hospital gave Reb Michel radiation and carried out several experimental procedures. He underwent an operation on Chanukah and underwent numerous painful procedures. The doctors' pessimistic mood conveyed that there wasn't much hope -- so what was there to lose by trying every treatment available?

Some doctors told the young man that he probably wouldn't be able to have children, a piece of news which totally devastated him.

But, in the first of the many miracles that occurred to him in connection with his health, after a year and a half, in Adar of 1978, the doctors pronounced him cured. He was informed that the disease might still return within the next 5 years, but if not, he was totally healed. He continued to remain under surveillance.

The bout with the disease had left him weak. Whereas before he could dance at weddings with his friends on his shoulders, now he couldn't. And the future was uncertain. Would the illness break out again?

Rather than wallow in self-pity or misery, Reb Michel reacted by doubling his chessed work while carrying on with his yeshiva studies. Whenever there was a meeting organized for a charity to which HaRav Shmuelevitz was invited, he would ask, "Is Reb Michel here? Then we can begin."


When he turned 23, he became engaged to Naomi Damelin, a seminary student from South Africa. Sharing similar goals and a similar Lithuanian background, she cherished the modest Yerushalmi yeshiva student for his many noble qualities.

The wedding in Elul, 1980 was celebrated with immense joy and excitement. The kallah and Reb Michel's parents found the wedding tables full of people whom no one knew. Reb Michel reluctantly explained that these were the beggars and mentally ill people whom he had been quietly helping out.

The young couple lived in Sanhedria Murchevet for the first seven years of their marriage before moving to Rechov Rashi. Reb Michel continued his studies in the Mirrer yeshiva, keeping up his three sedorim with his long-time chavrusas, Reb Binyamin Finkel and HaRav Benedict. He was always up at the crack of dawn for the vosikin minyan.

Their first child, Yisroel Meir, was born in 1982. Then their daughter was born, and finally their last son Avrohom Yeshaya.

During these years which Reb Michel spent in full-time Torah study, his chessed projects began to take on immense proportions.

His Charity Organization Booms

When his charity fund reached a sizable amount, he gave it the official name of Yad Yemin (based on his and his wife's initials) and registered it as a nonprofit association, so donations were tax deductible. But if you asked anyone what "Yad Yemin" was, he would have looked at you blankly. The charity was universally known as "Reb Michel."

Reb Michel collected most of his funds from wealthy people who lived abroad. Some of them were friends he had studied with in the Mir years before. Others were religious Jews who knew who he was and knew that they could trust him as their representative to allocate charity funds in Israel. Reb Michel often napped early on Friday afternoon, and when he woke up, he spent hours making phone calls to collect money for his charity fund.

He spent so many hours on the phone, that one person who once asked his ten-year old son what his father does, heard the reply, "My father stays up all night making phone calls."

Reb Michel was a person of great vision. He dreamed of feeding thousands of poor people. He dreamed of building large housing projects where people could buy a home cheaply. He dreamed of more chessed organizations that would handle needs that he couldn't attend to.

Unlike many others, he doggedly pursued his dreams and many of them materialized. The idea of collecting money to set up a large fund to support a widow and her family, a popular plan which was implemented to help many dozens of widows and their families, was his idea.

His desire to help emanated from his big-heartedness. He intuitively understood people and their needs. He knew how to talk to a person and leave him feeling good. People would meet him for the first time, have a short conversation with him, and leave him feeling like a close friend.

Reb Michel's "office" was his kitchen, and this is where he received needy people. A person would walk in, hesitatingly, and Reb Michel would immediately make him feel at home. "What are you learning now?" he would ask a yeshiva student or baal teshuva. "Tell me a good vort on the parsha."

First he had a friendly conversation with the person to put him at ease and make him feel he was delighted to see him. During their talk, Reb Michel would unobtrusively ask questions that would give him a feel for the man's situation. At the end, he would quietly pass the man a check. He utilized this gentle and thoughtful way of giving tzedokoh for everyone, from a simple widow to a great talmid chochom. He particularly left Torah scholars feeling that they were doing him a favor by telling him a chiddush.

Because of his knack of sincerely empathizing with the other person, more and more people sought him out. He didn't look for cases; more just kept coming to him. He couldn't turn anyone down either. He was forced to seek more funding and resources to help the steady stream of needy people, and he saw tremendous siyata deShmaya in how sources of funding suddenly opened up.

His exceptionally caring demeanor put Reb Michel in a class by himself. One divorcee whom he prevailed upon to take aid, mentioned, "Reb Michel gets a special geshmack helping those whom no one else is helping because people think they don't need help."

A constant refrain of many of those who received a sudden check from Reb Michel was, "How did he know that I needed the money exactly now?"

One of his supporters was HaRav Kreiswirth of Antwerp, who was acquainted with his noble character when Reb Michel was still a yeshiva student. HaRav Kreiswirth implicitly trusted him, and knew that he scrupulously checked every needy case before giving out charity. HaRav Kreiswirth managed his own large- scale charity. On HaRav Kreiswirth's frequent trips to Israel, he would pick up Reb Michel and together they would visit needy families and bring them checks. The two softhearted men would sometimes break down weeping when they saw the suffering of some of these families.

HaRav Kreiswirth once mentioned that Reb Michel's and his souls were from the same source. "Reb Michel is my rebbe in chessed," he was wont to say.

Guidance from Poskim

Early in his career as a gabbai tzedokoh, Reb Michel realized that his life would be punctuated with constant and conflicting demands because of the large number of Jews who are needy. The many calls for help frequently interfered with his learning schedule. On top of that, he knew that halacha established a system of priorities concerning which charity cases were more needy than others, and who was more deserving. Reb Michel frequently consulted with poskei halochoh on how to arrange his day and how to allocate the funds at his disposal.

The poskei halochoh whom he consulted the most were HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Fisher, zichronom livrochoh. There were periods when he breakfasted three times a week with HaRav Shlomo Zalman to be able to ask the difficult questions which needed resolution. He quickly became a favorite of HaRav Shlomo Zalman and was permitted to visit his home even during the last months of HaRav Shlomo Zalman's life when he was very weak and received few visitors.

Reb Michel's great respect for rabbonim never eroded even when he became very close to many of them. His awe of them and his emunas chachomim was the third pillar of his life, together with ahavas Torah and chessed.

Because of the many demands on his time, Reb Michel learned to live in the fast lane. Whatever he did, he did with alacrity. He walked quickly, he ate very little, and he slept minimally. He didn't go to a wedding or an event unless he had a pressing reason. Everything he did was allotted a time slot. He kept a tight cheshbon on how much time he spent for chessed and how much for Torah study.

The one sefer which was always at his side was Ahavas Chessed of the Chofetz Chaim. This was his guidebook for life which he constantly consulted. Interestingly, the one haskomoh in the sefer was written on 28 Adar, Reb Michel's birthday.

Reb Michel recalled the Chofetz Chaim in another way too: his extreme dislike for loshon hora. His communal involvements required him to speak about people all day long, but he carefully avoided even a speck of loshon hora. In his queries to discover if a person deserved tzedokoh, he would ask the minimum necessary to decide whether the person was eligible.

Once, Reb Michel was in a car when an askan stopped him and began to speak loshon hora. Reb Michel suddenly pressed on the gas and zoomed off, to avoid hearing even a second of loshon hora.

Even the checks which Reb Michel gave out to needy families were stamped with "Strengthen yourself with shemiras haloshon."

End of Part I

A Widow Speaks

We knew Reb Michel's family because my father-in-law had been very involved in Eitz Chaim yeshiva and my husband had taught there. [Reb Michel's father was a well-known melamed in Eitz Chaim.]

My husband died from an illness 8 years ago, and left me with 9 children, only one of which was married. I had several children at the ages of shidduchim then -- three girls aged 24, 22, and 20. I had nothing to marry them off with. My husband hadn't put away any money. I didn't work. Our situation was very difficult.

I don't know who turned to Reb Michel; maybe it was a brother- in-law. Reb Michel encouraged him to look for a shidduch for our girls, and told him to call him, "even in the middle of the night" if something sounds good. Reb Michel was even involved in several of the shidduchim.

When my oldest daughter became engaged -- 2 months after my husband's passing -- Reb Michel helped a lot. He worked out with my son the money required. He helped with the expenditures of furniture, clothes, wedding gifts, and the wedding. He didn't just give us the money to buy things. He kept pushing us to go ahead and get what was needed. "Don't ask yourselves if you have the money or not," he told us. "Just buy!"

He did the same thing for my second and third daughter -- a year-and-a-half later. I married 6 kids off in the past 7 years, and he helped with each.

Two years ago, my son became engaged. Reb Michel phoned a married son and said he wanted to bring him money for the wedding. My son told him, "I'll come pick it up." But Reb Michel told him, "I wouldn't think of making you miss out on your Torah study."

At the time, Reb Michel was deathly sick. Yet he went to my son's kollel and gave him the money. He gave people charity in such a sensitive, kind way.

I live in a small apartment, so I had to make the aufruf for my son somewhere else. My married son wanted to make it in a cheap guest house so the whole family could attend. Even though the price was the same as it would have cost me to make it at home, my son was afraid people would look and say, "They have no money but look at the lavish way they celebrate." He asked Reb Michel's advice, and he told him, "Don't look at what people say. Look at what you have to do."

Before the holidays, Reb Michel also helped us out. He actually ran after us to give us money. It made us feel important. We didn't feel demeaned. He always asked how our shidduchim are going. We felt he was thinking about us, and cared about us.


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