Thursday, July 03, 2014

Rabbi Yosef Loschak, z"l

I remember when I first met Rabbi Loschak.  “Met,” doesn’t properly describe the experience… he ran across the room to grab me.  He had been giving a class at Hillel (which I hadn't attended) and I happened to be minding my own business on the other side of the room when suddenly this huge bull of a Rabbi who looked like he was from Poland and talked like Crocodile Dundee was pumping my hand and inviting me over for Shabbos.  It was the first of many Shabbosim at what we college students came to call, “The Loschak Compound.”  Here we were, off at college in sunny Santa Barbara, far from the watchful eye of our parents, exposed to all the temptations of modern secular life, but for some reason we constantly found ourselves drawn back to a few acres housing the Chabad shul, school, and mikvah. 

How is it that, when we always talk about the importance of defeating the Yetzer Harah (evil inclination,) a bunch of us, “frei,” (free) college students found ourselves gravitating back to this place of our own accord?  I think it’s because his strategy wasn’t to waste time on fighting the Yetzer Harah, what he did was create a safe place for the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) to grow.  When you came for a Friday night dinner as a student and, after dinner, started getting ready to leave, there was never a word about not driving on Shabbos.  He would just say, “If you’re tired, we have a bed for you to sleep in.”  The next day you woke up and it was time for shul, after shul you stuck around because you were hungry and there was lunch, after lunch you were too full to move too fast, so you would sit down for learning, and then, when you were debating whether or not to get up to go, there was someone showing you where you could take a nap, and so on, until you didn’t even realize that you had been shomer Shabbos. And after a few weeks or months of it you couldn’t imagine being anything else.

Those of us who grew up in a secular environment sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that we discovered the beauty of halachic Jewish life through our own rational thinking.  The reality for me, however, is that it’s the depth of character and strength of soul among the people I met in the religious world that drew me in.  Since Rabbi Loschak was my first Rabbi, I didn’t know that they weren’t all like him.  When I asked him a question on any Halacha, he didn’t just answer, he pulled out a book, showed me the source, and was careful to explain what was Halacha (binding law) and what was minhag (tradition,) what was the chumra (stringent opinion) and what was the kulah (leniency.)  Once I had moved on from college life, I was shocked when rabbis would couldn't make these distinctions or would answer my questions like, “Why do we do it this way?” with, “Because my Rabbi told me so,” or, “Because that’s the way I’ve always done it.”

Creating this atmosphere took constant dedication and work.  The Shabbos drasha always started, “This weeks announcements are as follows: We have installed four hundred feet of sewage piping and will be bringing the electrician to wire up the mikvah just as soon as we get some more of the green stuff.” After one spat with the neighborhood planning committee which was trying to stop him from opening a school, I asked him how he responded to them, “I told them it’s simple.  MY REBBE told me to come here and MY REBBE told me to build a school and it’s going to happen.”  And it happened.  Endless projects and initiatives, tireless fundraising to make them happen, he dedicated his life to building a safe space, both spiritually and physically, for the Yetzer Tov. Now, he will rest near HIS REBBE and his family will have to carry on the work.  They have a great example to follow.  Good bye for now, Rabbi Loschak, we’ll see you again soon.  Thanks to all your hard work, I don’t think it will be much longer.

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