Rabbi Alexander Naftali Dershowitz
Bio: Born in Newport News, VA where his father, Rabbi Aaron Menashe Dershowitz, was Rabbi, Rabbi A.N. Dershowitz attended Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, and Yeshivas Rabbi Isaac Elchonon. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English Literature, and is the owner and founder of DASH Industries, a national distributor of plastic bags and institutional tablecloths. A scion of Reb Louis and Reb Benjamin Dershowitz who were among the principal founders of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, Rabbi A. N. Dershowitz makes his home in Lakewood, NJ.
My connection to Reb Aharon goes back to the last Elul zman that he was alive. I was privileged to be in Lakewood at that time through Reb Aharon's special permission because I was not a regular student of the yeshiva. I was from outside. But in his courtesy and generosity of spirit, he allowed me to study in Lakewood for that Elul zman.
What immediately came across about Reb Aharon was his passion. When he gave a shiur, he turned fiery red. He would speak for an hour to an hour and a half without notes, and he was just unbelievably quick, unbelievably sharp, covered all phases, Rishonim, Achronim, right down, to his own chiddushim. It was mind-boggling to listen to him. Even watching him - his movements, his actions - you saw the fire.
The Genuine Life
There was nothing that was ever superfluous. There was nothing about any aspect of his existence - from his davening to his learning, to his travels to New York to raise funds for the yeshiva - everything about him was just so ois gehalten that you knew you were looking and speaking to a person who was on a different realm.
There is a famous story that when he was living in Boro Park under very limited material circumstances, which puts it mildly, a group of his baalei batim sent him a truckload of new furniture. When he saw it, he said, "Vos? Shtecken?" And he sent the truck away. He felt it was a waste of their money.
Sharing the Pain
Of course, he was an extremely strong personality, but at the same time, he could be soft and sympathetic. When my uncle passed away and my brother was taking the day off from yeshiva to attend the funeral in New York, Reb Aharon asked him, "Yitzchak, why are you leaving?" When my brother answered that he was going to our uncle's funeral, Reb Aharon's face turned absolutely ashen. This was what his emotions were. Whatever was in front of him, he felt it completely. The same went for his actions. He jumped into the next thing, whatever it was - the next act on behalf of the yeshiva, on behalf of Klal Yisroel, on behalf of Eretz Yisroel. He would change himself in whatever way was required for any time and space.
Everything about Reb Aharon was sincerity. There was not an action or movement that did not bespeak sincerity, Torah, Avodah, Yiras Shomayim every inch of the way.
A Shiur on the Road
When he was going in the car to New York one time, he was in an accident in which he hurt his arm and his collarbone. Why was that? Because he was talking in learning and his driver so caught up in listening to him that he did not concentrate on the road as much as he should have and lost control. Now, ordinarily, Reb Aharon would never waste a second. When traveling, it was his modus operandi to speak in learning, shiurim and chazara reviews. But when he saw that his learning aloud on the road was creating a potential hazard, he stopped.
And the Flame Flickers On
The man was a malach, an angel! Everything was worked out, a living Sefer Torah!
He had a tremendous warmth to him. People who did not know him well sometimes saw him as cold and aloof, but this was a mistake. He was a very warm, fiery individual, who excelled in his love for each fellow Jew, as I showed in the story of my uncle's funeral.
This is the man. Everything about him was fire. Everything about him was sincere. He changed the face of Torah in America. Before he came along, Jewish life was diluted at best, but he created a Torah-only situation, a yeshiva with only ten or twelve talmidim. Ba"h, today we have somewhere in the area of three or four thousand. We have become a mainstay from the much more modified Jewish existence of decades ago.
And those are the recollections I was privileged to have of the Gaon HaGadol, HaTzaddik HaDor.