From the Queens Jewish Link
When the news first spread that HaRav Dovid Sharfman, revered mashgiach of Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes of Miami, was hospitalized shortly before Pesach, the initial reaction of shock quickly turned into a collective desire to help. Everyone desperately wanted to do something for a man who did everything for everyone. T’hilim was said around the clock well over 100 times both locally and around the world. Numerous sedarim during bein ha’zmanim were learned in his z’chus. Daily asifos were arranged in Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes and the North Miami Beach Community Kollel as well as a nightly women’s T’hilim teleconference organized by the Bais Yaakov of Miami. Tz’dakah was given and numerous shiurim and days of learning were sponsored. A community-wide Tinokos shel Beis Rabban Asifah stormed the shaarei Shamayim. Talmidim organized three straight nights of round-the-clock learning, and many people accepted upon themselves kabalos as a z’chus. Time stood still as hundreds upon hundreds of people stopped everything they were doing that week to beseech the Rofei Cholim to heal their beloved Rabbi Sharfman. However, on Erev Shabbos HaGadol, the eleventh of Nisan, the special n’shamah of HaRav Dovid Sharfman zt”l was returned to his Maker, leaving his family, his yeshivah, the Queens and South Florida communities, and indeed all of klal Yisrael orphaned.
Rabbi Sharfman was born in 1962 to Rabbi Benjamin she’yichyeh and to Rebbetzin Hilda a”h (nee Weitzman) Sharfman in Brooklyn. As a ben-z’kunim, born after three sisters, young Dovid’s birth was greeted with much joy. His father was one of the original talmidim of HaRav Dovid Leibowitz zt”l and a well-known rav for over 40 years. Growing up in a family of rabbanim and klei kodesh, R’ Duvie, as he was affectionately known, appreciated the importance of being marbitz Torah and would eagerly await his turn to do so as well. As a young boy, his leadership abilities, brilliance, as well as his tremendous care for all, was already apparent, earning him the respect of family, friends, and teachers. He was well liked by all and was a model student in Yeshiva Toras Emes of Kamenitz in Brooklyn and an integral part of Camp Munk. His long-time classmate and dear friend Mr. Michael Schick fondly recalls how R’ Duvie did not have a single mean bone in his body. His sisters cannot remember his parents ever needing to reprimand him. He always seemed to know the right thing to do in every situation.
Tragically, at the young age of eleven, he lost his mother. Two of his sisters were already married and his third sister married shortly after, leaving him without any mother figure in his home until his father remarried three years later. Yet, even this tragedy did not get him down. His simchas ha’chayim and positivity helped him pull through a very trying situation, and he never complained or questioned Hashem’s ways.
Following high school, R’ Duvie learned in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Yerushalayim, before advancing to its main branch, then in Forest Hills, where he learned for many years under the guidance of his rebbe, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l. It was during this time that he, along with his long-time chaver and current Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Chaim Toras Emes, Rabbi Mordechai Palgon, joined the first group of bachurim to “branch” in the fledgling Yeshiva Toras Chaim of Miami to help strengthen the Yeshiva and the community. HaRav Akiva Grunblatt shlita, who was the Rosh HaYeshiva there at that time, remembers how these outstanding bachurim really put the Yeshiva on the local map, earning the respect of numerous local families. In Queens, Rav Sharfman’s reputation as a baal seichel and baal havanah, continued to spread. A chaver of his gratefully remembers the numerous times that R’ Duvie took the time to patiently and thoroughly explain what they were learning. “He was a prince: always generous, gracious, and giving of his time and insight…with sterling midos and a healthy sense of humor.”
In 1988, he married his wife Shifra (nee Kamin), who shared his dreams and aspirations. Together they began to build their home of Torah. At the end of his years in the Chofetz Chaim Kollel, he began teaching in Mesivta Chofetz Chaim of Queens and subsequently in Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel of Brooklyn. Already at this early stage of his career in chinuch he began to earn a reputation as a caring and devoted rebbe who easily connected with his students.
In 1996, the Sharfmans made the big move to leave their extended family and help build the South Florida community where Rabbi Sharfman became a high school rebbe in Yeshiva Toras Chaim. Over twenty years later, Rav Grunblatt still remembers an incident from Rabbi Sharfman’s first year in Miami that illustrates his true essence. There was a boy in Rabbi Sharfman’s class who consistently would not behave to the point where the administration felt that they could no longer service this student. They convened a meeting to discuss the situation. To everyone’s surprise, Rabbi Sharfman stood up and begged the administration to give him another chance and let him stay. Rav Grunblatt was baffled. Rabbi Sharfman was defending a boy who gave him daily heartache? His job would be so much easier if this boy left. However, Rabbi Sharfman’s tremendous m’siras nefesh, coupled with his true love for every talmid, would not allow him to give up, even on this difficult student.
After a few short years, upon the advice of Rav Henoch, Rabbi Sharfman was asked to join the beis midrash as its mashgiach ruchani and a maggid shiur. Rav Henoch felt that a beis midrash needs a rebbe who would dedicate his whole life to the Yeshiva. It was in the Bais Medrash Zichron Ezra that Rabbi Sharfman truly shined. Under his leadership, the beis midrash really grew. Simultaneously, his dedicated eishes chayil opened up her own speech and language pathology practice, filling a much-needed void for the local children. Her reputation as a skilled and highly caring therapist spread as people rapidly sought her expertise and guidance. Together, the Sharfmans quickly became an integral part of the growing North Miami Beach community.
Rabbi Sharfman was extremely proud of the growing South Florida Jewish community, yet he never took any of the credit. Although his position as Mashgiach Ruchani was more than a full-time job, he wanted to give to the community as well and began giving a weekly Chumash shiur, and a woman’s Navi class, in the young Jewish community in Aventura. Despite one attendee’s frequent business travels, he would always make sure to fly back by Tuesday night to attend Rabbi Sharfman’s shiur. Later, Rabbi Sharfman was asked to begin a Sunday morning class for the community in North Miami Beach. His shiur of nine years was a popular, informative, and exciting one on a halachah derived from the parshah. For this alone, his father-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Kamin, stated that Rabbi Sharfman would prepare for ten hours weekly. One attendee said, “There was nobody else like him in our community. I could have sat and listened to him for hours.”
Despite his busy life in the Yeshiva and his involvement in the community, his family knew that they were always his first priority. Whether it meant going to parent-teacher conferences, playing baseball with his sons, or organizing family trips, Rabbi Sharfman was always involved. He knew how to talk to each child, guide each one, and make each one feel special. Family time was important to him, and he would not take any phone call during dinner and neither did the rest of the family.
The Sharfman Shabbos table was always a special place. Rabbi Sharfman would prepare for each s’udah and looked forward to engaging his family and guests in lively discussions. He encouraged everyone to contribute and challenged them to think. He knew how to talk to people on all levels. He loved singing z’miros and knew all the classic as well as new nigunim. Often his children’s friends would hurry to join the lively Sharfman s’udah after their own had finished, and he would make sure to include each guest, making everyone feel comfortable. Also obvious at each s’udah was his tremendous respect and appreciation for his eishes chayil, always waiting for her to finish serving to begin eating.
He utilized each moment to its fullest. When he realized that while driving his daughters’ carpool to school he would often have to wait at some houses, he brought along a sefer to catch a few extra minutes of learning. Eventually, he was even able to make a siyum on his carpool seder.
Rabbi Sharfman was a huge talmid chacham. Though his position in the Yeshiva may have thrust him into the spotlight, nevertheless his simplicity and normalcy masked his gadlus. However, if you watched his actions closely, you saw a man who was a walking Shulchan Aruch. He knew the Mishnah B’rurah backwards and forwards. When listening to his Sunday morning halachah shiur, a novice, as well as a scholar, would find his command of the topic fascinating. His shiurim were on all four chalakim of the Shulchan Aruch and included both classic and contemporary halachic topics. This was in addition to his mastery of the yeshivishe masechtos, the m’farshei Tanach, and sifrei musar. He had a relationship with many g’dolim and corresponded with them in all areas of learning. His loss is a loss to the entire Torah world as a whole.
Chazal say that talmidim are called sons. By Rabbi Sharfman this was so true. The way he embraced each one, with not just a handshake, but a hug, was like a father connecting with a child. Many talmidim testified that even though Rabbi Sharfman had the tough task as mashgiach of reprimanding them at times, he did so with extreme sensitivity and utmost care and concern. He would weigh each word as well as the timing of his message. Together with his rebbetzin, they delighted in hosting the talmidim and catering to their needs. One talmid, who grew up in South Florida years ago, commented on how the Sharfman house was his home away from home. It was under Rabbi Sharfman’s care that he developed into a ben Torah. Today, this successful marbitz Torah tries to pass on that same warmth to his own talmidim. Another talmid fondly remembers his relationship with his rebbe. “He took me under his wing…He pushed me to learn…develop an appreciation for daas Torah…Because of his influence, I’m a better person, husband, and father. On my last day, Rebbe brought me into his office and told me…he will miss a true chaver.”
A midah constantly displayed was his sense of achrayus. Rabbi Mordechai Palgon revealed that upon becoming mashgiach, Rabbi Sharfman went through the musar shmuessim of all the famed mashgichim to find insights that may help with a talmid. It was common knowledge that anytime a talmid was in need, he would run to assist. It did not matter if it was in the middle of the night or right before Shabbos – he was there for you. One talmid, Mr. Avrohom Eliezer Friedman, suggested that this was evidenced by the outpouring of support that his talmidim showed when he was sick. How could they not drop everything for Rabbi Sharfman when they knew quite well that he would do the same for them?
Rabbi Sharfman was a towering figure, and not simply because of his 6’4” frame. What made him most imposing was his strength of spirit to stand up for what was right and not back down in the face of opposition. He was a man of truth. He lived what he preached, and detested anything that had even a trace of sheker. “He was living the M’silas Y’sharim,” said one talmid.
Looking back, his family fondly remembers him as the perfect son, caring brother, devoted husband, and loving father of eight, who in turn was loved and respected by all. His brothers-in-law loved him like a brother, and his in-laws viewed him as their own pride and joy. Everyone had a special relationship with him, including his extended family of nieces and nephews, each feeling their own personal loss upon his p’tirah. To his beloved talmidim, he was their father, their mentor, and their confidant. His ahavas haTorah and ahavas Yisrael, coupled with his ehrlichkeit, endeared him to all. He never demanded respect but earned it nonetheless. “Chaval al d’avdin v’lo mishtakchin. Woe to our loss, and let it not be forgotten.”
It was 1:45 a.m., Friday morning, the 11th of Nisan, as the last of the talmidim slowly left the sacred walls of Miami’s beis midrash. The paroches was pulled aside as the community prepared to show the proper kavod ha’acharon to a man who forever changed their lives. A heavy silence permeated the room. What was there to say? What could be said about someone who accomplished so much and influenced so many in just 55 years?
As Rabbi Herschel Welcher, rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel of Kew Gardens Hills, explained at the l’vayah, Chazal say,“Ein osim n’fashos la’tzadikim; divreihem hein hein zichronam (We don’t make memorials for tzadikim; their words and actions are their memorial.” The hundreds upon hundreds of people at the l’vayah, as well as the many who watched and listened from afar, were testament to the profound and far-reaching impact Rabbi Sharfman zt”l had made on so many lives. No words were actually needed. HaRav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, his rebbe muvhak, whose l’vayah was on the same day, in the same beis midrash, nine years earlier, would often quote Rabbi Akiva Eiger with regards to a l’vayah. Going to a l’vayah is considered a big z’chus for all who attend. “M’galgelin z’chus al y’dei zakai.” A large l’vayah is thus indicative of the righteousness of the niftar. All the z’chuyos generated by those attending the l’vayah, as well as all those who davened, learned, gave tz’dakah, and accepted kabalos the previous week, were testament to his true merits, and therefore, no words are really needed.
Instead, each of us is tasked with the tremendous responsibility to carry on the lessons we have learned, and thereby perpetuate the rich legacy of the irreplaceable, highly respected, and much loved HaRav Dovid Sharfman zt”l. Yehi zichro baruch.