More than 350 men and women packed the beis medrash of the Lander College for Men Beis Medrash L’Talmud (LCM), a division of Touro College, for the investiture of Rabbi Yonason Sacks as the rosh hayeshivah. It was an emotional evening highlighted by Rabbi Sacks’s address demonstrating his unique ability to teach and connect with students and to continue to build on the tradition of LCM.
“I stand before you with an overwhelming sense of pride in this institution and intense personal humility to be able to be part of Beis Medrash L’Talmud at Lander College for Men.”
Prior to delivering a shiur on the topic of teshuvah, Rabbi Sacks, holding back tears, said that he recognized the incredible significance of continuing the vision set forth by Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder of Touro College. He said that when Rabbi Doniel Lander, rosh hayeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim, co-rosh hayeshiva of LCM, and son of Dr. Lander, asked him to accept the position, he told Rabbi Sacks that he wanted him to “perpetuate the legacy of my father.”
“At that moment, I felt a crushing weight that I could not bear,” said Rabbi Sacks. “To be able to stand in his footsteps, to be able to try to mold and grow the yeshiva is something I cannot do alone. I can only be mispallel for a sense of siyata dishmaya because with that, b’ezras Hashem, we’ll be able to succeed in fulfilling this mission that was so important to Dr. Lander, zichrono l’vrocho.”
Rabbi Sacks, a revered and beloved Torah scholar, was appointed as the rosh hayeshivah in May. For the last quarter century, he has been a leading figure in harbatzos haTorah as a rosh yeshivah and rebbe. He was ordained and awarded semichah Yadin Yadin, an advanced rabbinic ordination, from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), and later served as rosh yeshiva. He has been the rav of Agudas Yisroel Bircas Yaakov in Passaic, NJ for more than 18 years.
When he first met with Dr. Alan Kadish, president and CEO of the Touro College and University System, Rabbi Sacks said that besides sharing great mutual respect, they each had a sense that they would be working together not just for the good of the institution, “but for all of Knesset Yisrael.”
Despite the enormity of the task ahead of Rabbi Sacks, Dr. Kadish said that, “I have every confidence that his leadership and vision will meaningfully impact future generations with his skillful oversight, knowledge, and erudition.”
Dr. Kadish told a story about Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the rosh hayeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva, during the Gulf War, describing an essential quality that a rosh hayeshivah should have to connect with students and allow them to reach their potential. When the air sirens first screeched throughout Israel in 1991 signaling incoming scud missiles, students at the Mir donned gas masks and sealed the doors and windows to their dorm rooms with tape. But as they steadied themselves for explosions, they heard a soft knock at the door. They removed the tape to find Rabbi Finkel, out of breath and gas mask in hand. He had arranged for a taxi to pick him up as soon as the first siren sounded to bring him to the dorms.
“Their rosh hayeshivah had left his own family to be with them during that dangerous time,” said Dr. Kadish. “The quality of extraordinary compassion is one of the unique virtues of a rosh hayeshiva.
“Rabbi Sacks is a role model for our talmidim who will enable them to continually transcend their capabilities, both in intellectual excellence and character development,” Dr. Kadish continued. “This is the power of a role model. This will be the impact of Rabbi Sacks on the hearts and minds of our talmidim.”
The relationship between Rabbi Lander and Rabbi Sacks began 35 years ago when they studied together in a shiur given by Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik. Rabbi Lander spoke about the Rambam’s hilchos teshuvah as it related to the upcoming High Holy Days and then said that if people were asked why Rabbi Sacks was chosen, they might give several reasons.
“His striking brilliance, his vast reservoir of yedios haTorah, his ability to routinely hold audiences of different stripes spellbound. Others may respond that it is because of his humility, and yet others will point to his caring and concerned nature, his interpersonal skills, and his devotion to chesed.” However, Rabbi Lander said, there was one reason that stood above the rest. “His defining trait is that he’s never content with what he has achieved,” he said. “Rabbi Sacks has attained levels of accomplishment that few can dream of, but he has never reached a plateau.”
Dr. Moshe Sokol, the dean of LCM and the evening’s master of ceremonies, said that “the appointment of a new rosh hayeshivah is a milestone in our history and it carries with it a promise of a great new future, of vistas of Torah taught and studied, of elevated ideals of ruchniyus strived for and achieved.”
Before the investiture, community leaders, Touro College administrators, faculty, students from around the Touro universe, and members of Rabbi Sacks’s synagogue in Passaic attended a catered reception in the dining hall. The room buzzed in anticipation and Rabbi Sacks greeted the well-wishers.
Following the shiur, copies of Yom HaZikaron, Rabbi Sacks’s new 380-page sefer on various halachic issues relating to Rosh Hashanah, were distributed to all the attendees. Yom HaZikaron is Rabbi Sacks’s 19th sefer.