The Mashgiach’s Vigilance Shaped Our Technological Landscape Forever
By: L. Stern
It is only a mere hour after the tragic news of the heilige Mashgiach zt”l’s passing, when I reach out to Rabbi Nechamiah Gottlieb and Rabbi Moshe Drew, Directors of TAG International, to share their thoughts.
Rabbi Gottlieb’s first words are, “It’s hard right now to even contemplate our loss. There’s a huge void. Because Reb Matisyahu was so much more than just the guiding da’as Torah of TAG and Hineini. He was its head, its heart and nishamah.”
Just two weeks ago, Rabbi Gottlieb and Rabbi Drew flew to Eretz Yisroel to meet with R’ Moshe Hillel Hirsch shlita to discuss some deciding factors confronting TAG. R’ Moshe Hillel Hirsch remarked, “HaRav Matisyahu was an innovator, a fighter, and a Manhig.”
An Innovator. “That’s what we saw when we worked with the Mashgiach on a daily basis, on so many different levels,” Rabbi Gottlieb remembers. “When we look back, we see all the major keilim that are available today to combat digital technology, are things the Mashgiach thought of, and recommended would be good ideas – years before they came into existence.” In reality, every major tool that is available to us today to help us with the technology challenge was created by the Mashgiach.
The Mashgiach was the innovator of creating gatherings to discuss the dangers of technology. The first internet Asifa was hosted here in Lakewood in Bais Faiga, well over fifteen years ago, long before technology was a “thing to discuss.”
Another innovative idea started by the Mashgiach was the first set of internet takkanos for Mosdos to implement in their schools.
After the Citi Field Asifa, the Mashgiach’s directive was that every city should have their own TAG office. What appeared to be a wistful dream, necessitating a tremendous amount of time and resources, is today a reality with over 55 TAG locations worldwide, in almost every Jewish city in chutz la’aretz. Its ripple effect of awareness, filtering, and education affects thousands upon thousands on a daily basis.
The concept of a technology curriculum for girls was the brainchild of the Mashgiach. It started with an idea, then a conversation, which metamorphosed today to 25,000 high school girls currently learning the Hineini curriculum. (Interestingly, close to 20,000 of those girls are students in Eretz Yisroel. The fact that schools in Eretz Yisroel are learning a curriculum that was created in Lakewood, is itself a massive chiddush.)
The notion of technology va’adim for Bachurim, still in its infancy, but actively being pursued by many yeshivos, was thought of first by the Mashgiach.
A Fighter. When the Mashgiach gently brought up the idea of gathering as many men and bachurim together for the Citi Field Asifa, to establish the chiyuv of filters and to daven for the technology nisayon, not everyone believed it was a good idea. Quite the opposite. Well meaning people tried to dissuade the Mashgiach from what he was doing. The realists said, “The tzibbur is not going to come out in the masses for an internet asifa. It’s not possible to revolutionize the world with one gathering.” Other chashuve Rabbanim and baalei batim also came down to the Mashgiach’s house to dissuade him and explain logistically why it could never be successful.
And yet, the Mashgiach thoughtfully, with respect to others, and a quiet strength, held strong. He knew the emes and stood his ground. When the Mashgiach planned Citi Field, he wanted everyone to be involved. Everyone was invited and encouraged to come, despite their affiliation: Chassiddim, Sfardim, Litvish and Yeshivish; the Mashgiach brought together all sects of Klal Yisroel under one umbrella. And the offshoots and ideas, organizations and filters and speeches and written articles and inspiration and hotlines that sprang forth as a direct result of Citi Field, are only because of the Mashgiach’s dream and execution.
A Manhig. The Mashgiach cared not only about his own tzibbur here in Lakewood, but about the entire dor. He recognized a monumental technology problem, thought of a system on how to deal with it, and put it into practice. In every filtered device we own, in all the divrei hisorirus we hear on this topic, we are benefitting from the Mashgiach laying the groundwork for us.
The Mashgiach’s level of achrayus in every detail was with tremendous thought and clarity. He spent the time to review every TAG ad that was published – even fundraising ads. He explained: If the ad is too strict, and people can’t live up to its standards, perhaps it will turn people off. Yet, equally important was the flip side: if it would be too lenient, then chas v’sholom someone’s standards could be lowered. We can’t allow people who are striving high to feel that they are not being supported. It was very important to him that every ad had the right tone and balance.
The Mashgiach personally “lead the troops,” setting the stage for the technology battle. Most Rabbanim who have a tzibbur are following the ideas that the Mashgiach has put into place. The following story highlights the deference that other Rabbanim had toward the Mashgiach.
A year or two after Citi Field, Rabbi Gottlieb went with R’ Leib Klein to speak to HaRav Avraham Chaim Levine zt”l to discuss new technological devices that were projected to appear on the market. They asked, “How does the Rosh Yeshiva propose that we deal with this?” HaRav Levine thought for a moment and replied, “M’darf hubbin a Gezunte Mashgiach.” (We must have a healthy Mashgiach.) At the time, the Mashgiach was already unwell, and HaRav Levine explained that Klal Yisroel needed the Mashgiach to be healthy so that the Mashgiach could guide us as a shepherd leads his sheep in this confusing, new phenomenon.
In another interesting anecdote, when the Mashgiach went to invite the Novominsker Rebbe zt”l to attend Citi Field, and enlist his support, the Novominsker Rebbe responded, “Mir velen dir nuchgein. Uber, ich bin neigerig tzu veisin vus ir vet reddin by di Asifa.” (We will go after your lead. But, I’m curious, what are you planning on speaking about by the Asifa?) The Novominsker Rebbe was older than the Mashgiach, head of Agudas Yisroel of America, and an official Manhig Hador. And yet, he deferred to the Masghiach, following his lead in this tremendous nisayon.
It goes without mentioning that just as we see in this week’s Parshah, Parshas Shemos, how Moshe Rabbeinu lovingly took care of each sheep, the Mashgiach didn’t just create organizations and asifos. It wasn’t just the big things like Citi Field, TAG and Hineini. He lovingly, with tremendous heart and care, had an open door to speak to individuals on general topics, and of course on topics of technology. His love and concern for every yid spilled over into every conversation.
Rabbi Drew remembers when he went with Rabbi Gottlieb a few years ago to the Mashgiach’s house to discuss the question of bringing the Hineini curriculum into the schools. Some schools expressed the fear of exposing their girls to ideas they never heard of, others were afraid that perhaps the parents would feel slighted if their daughters became more righteous than them in this area. After Rabbi Drew presented the question, the Mashgiach was silent for a full 90 seconds. Thinking that perhaps the Mashgiach hadn’t heard the question, Rabbi Drew bent in to repeat it. The Mashgiach nodded softly and said, “I heard the question. I’m thinking.”
That summed up the Mashgiach. He didn’t just do things. He asked questions before he responded, ensuring that he understood each angle of the problem. His answers were strategically calculated, and on the mark; and always with his signature warmth. His care for Klal Yisroel was evident in every response to a question, no matter how complicated the topic of technology was.
The Mashgiach had a deep belief in the innate goodness of Klal Yisroel. When naysayers told him that people wouldn’t come to Citi Field, he wouldn’t let it pull him down, or distract him from his goal. Two weeks before Citi Field, very few tickets were sold, and realists were predicting a real flop. And yet, within a few days, the tickets were sold out, and another stadium was rented, with thousands of hookups worldwide. When discussing the tremendous success of the event, the Mashgiach remarked, “It’s not a chiddush that the Ribono Shel Olam could turn things around so quickly to make Citi Field a success; Hashem made Krias Yam Suf. The chiddush is Klal Yisroel. 60,000 people came together to hear mussar. That’s what’s amazing.” The Mashgiach’s love and belief in each individual was so strong and vibrant, pulsating through every conversation and interaction.
Rabbi Gottlieb ends off. “This in no way paints a complete portrait or does even a tiny drop of justice to the magnitude of who the Mashiach, HaRav Matisyahu Solomon zt”l was. There was so much more. The torah he learned, the shmuzen and drashos he gave, the Seforim he wrote, and the involvement in other areas of tikkun Haklal. This is simply the perspective of the people involved in TAG.”
It is definitely one of the greatest marks the Mashgiach left on our dor, regarding the greatest challenge that Klal Yisroel is currently facing. As we mourn the Mashgiach’s petirah, it is incumbent upon us to live up to the belief that HaRav Matisyahu zt”l had in us; every single member of Klal Yisroel. He believed we could rise to the challenge, he chartered the way for us with so much love, and now it is our job to use those tools, and live our lives in a way that will bring nachas ruach to the Aibishter.