In the last year of his life, Reb Mordechai of Nadvorna, the great-grandson of Reb Meir of Premishlan, often said that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, likes to choose the most mehudar Tzadik (choicest righteous person) on Sukkos for the Mitzvah of Arba’a Minim.
His chasidim did not understand his intention until the first day of Sukkos that year when the Nadvorna Rebbe departed this world.
The Rebbe’s namesake and descendant, the Pittsburgh Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yisachar Dov Leifer of Ashdod, would quote this story every year until he too passed away, this Sukkos, after a two-month battle with COVID-19. The Pittsburg rebbe will surely serve as
a worthy Esrog for the Holy One, Blessed Be He.
Born in 5716 (1955), the rebbe grew up under the close tutelage of his father, Rabbi Avraham Abba Leifer, known for his warm and loving personality as well as for his piety and holy ways. On one occasion he travelled from Pittsburgh to Florida despite feeling very weak at the time in order to dissuade a Jew from marrying a gentile. When he returned successful from his mission, he was so ecstatic that he composed the well-known tune Yismechu Hashamayim (May the heavens rejoice), sung worldwide by Jews to this day.
In the prime of his life, Rabbi Avraham Abba decided to make aliya; he moved to Ashdod, which at the time was a tiny, sandy town populated mainly by North African immigrants. The rebbe’s geniality and love for every Jew ensured that he established warm relations with all of his neighbors, but he was not a builder. He maintained a quiet, low profile and continued his service of G-d with his close family and friends.
However, realizing that his son had the potential to build people, he called him back from Lakewood where he was studying in kollel and asked him to establish a Chasidic yeshiva.
Rabbi Mordechai Leifer had also studied previously in Monsey, at Sanz in Netanya, the Grodno Yeshiva in Ashdod as well as in the Chebin yeshiva in Jerusalem, enabling him both to grow in the Lithuanian style of learning and to adopt the Chasidic customs of his ancestors. He was both a magnetic, riveting personality and a born leader who was intimately involved and concerned in the lives of his disciples and chasidim.
The yeshiva he established was extremely successful and when his father passed away in 5751 (1990), the yeshiva bochurim and those who had already married gathered around Rabbi Mordechai, and the Pittsburg chasidic group grew – from a few families at first to more than 150 families and hundreds of bachurim who continue the traditions of the chasidus at present.
The rebbe established and led the Pittsburgh educational system which grew to include a cheder with over 300 students, two yeshivas, a halacha kollel, a Gemara kollel, an early-morning kollel and a night kollel.
The rebbe devoted hundreds of hours of individual attention to helping those bachurim develop into chasidishe young men and continued to be with them as they built their own families in turn. The tish (table) of the rebbe became an attraction to other chasidim in Ashdod (who arrived after his father had established his residence there) as well, and he expounded Torah at length every Friday night, which has been transcribed in numerous books called Pisgomei Oraysah.
The rebbe was also a gifted composer of tunes like his father, composing more than 250 tunes in his life. Some of the most famous tunes are Kah Ribon and Veyedah Kol Pa’ul, which have become features at many shabbos tables.
The rebbe’s geniality extended to those outside his circle and numerous people would come to consult with him for advice and to receive his blessings and counsel. The rebbe’s insight and wisdom helped countless people, but the intense load of carrying all the institutions he had established, wore down his health. Last year he was hospitalized with serious lung problems.
During the first wave of coronavirus the rebbe was very careful but after the situation initially improved, he resumed meeting chassidim until he unfortunately was infected with COVID-19 two months ago and passed away Sunday night.
May his Neshama be bound in Eternal Life.