Rabbi Reuven Youkhehpaz
It was once again Shabbat afternoon and here I was, a 15 years old high school student walking up the steps which lead to Rabbi Yaakov Shechet’s (הרב יעקב בן מנחם מנדל זצ”ל) apartment. I had met the Rav in a Shul on Fairfax, and realizing that I had no background in learning, he invited me to join him in his apartment and learn with him every Shabbat.
I knocked on the door knowing that he was sitting at his dining room table bent over a small print Gemara. I would often hear him involved in learning from behind the door. He greeted me with a warm Shalom Aleichem and asked me to come in. We would pass his piles of books on one side and his couch and brit surgical tools on the other and take our seats at the table. He would ask me how my week went and how my Shabbat was going and soon after we would start with the learning.
It did not matter to him that he was light years ahead of me in his skills or the fact that he had studied these subjects in depth and now he was teaching them on a beginner’s level. The only thing that mattered to him was the work of Hashem. If a high school boy wanted to stay up and learn on Shavuot night but did not have a chavrusa to learn with, he was more than happy to volunteer. If he felt it was Hashem’s will to travel to a small city in a different state that needed a mohel and spend an entire Yom Tov with people he had never met before, there was nothing stopping him. Not only did he consider it a privilege, he felt it was his duty, considering that another mohel might have his own family and would not be able to go.
As I grew older and began to know him better over the years, I realized that the path of Hashem was the only direction to which his compass pointed. On many occasions I had the merit of accompanying him to perform a brit. Although he had done hundreds if not thousands of circumcisions, the enthusiasm and excitement that he would express would always make me feel as if it was his first time performing this special mitzvah.
About a month and a half before his passing, when he could barely stand for a minute, let alone for an hour and a half, he was asked to do a brit for a young family on a Sunday morning. He called to ask if I was available to help. For a reason which I do not recall any more, I pointed out that perhaps it would be easier to push the brit until the following week. With firm and penetrating words he responded, “If Hashem has given me another day to live I do not want to delay the mitzvah”. Needless to say the brit was performed that Sunday.
Watching him daven Shemona Esrei was a lesson in emunah and bitchon . Always dressed to stand before the holy of holies, his movements and facial gestures were of a servant standing before his master praising and pleading as if his life depended on it. Every Shemona Esrei was as if it was the day of Yom Kippur and he was praying neilah in the final hours. Observing him at prayer would fill anyone with a sense of awe and inspiration.
I treasure every moment when I had the privilege to be around the Rabbi, and cherish the opportunities that I had to learn from his words and actions. Although the 12th of Sh’vat, will be Rabbi Shechet’s first yahrzeit, he continues to be a source of inspiration in my life and the life of many others. He lives in our hearts, our minds, and hopefully in our actions.