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Remembering My Friend & Neighbor, Rabbi Dr. Sprecher

Rashi at the beginning of Parshas Vayetzei, commenting on the Torah’s focus on the fact that Yaakov Avinu left Be’er Sheva rather than on his going to Charan, comments that when a tzadik leaves a place, there is a noticeable and palpable, indeed unfillable, void left.

For those of us who grew up on East 23rd Street in Flatbush, we were this past week dealt a blow which, while unfortunately anticipated for some time now, leaves us with a gaping void which can never be made whole. Throughout all the years that we had the pleasure of living quite literally in the Daled Amos Shel Halacha that our dear friend, neighbor and mentor Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Sprecher ZT”L inhabited,  we could take pride in his myriad accomplishments as if they were our own. Now, as we mourn his bitter loss, we feel a sense of pana hoda, pana ziva, pana hadra, our magnificence has gone, our splendor has gone, our grandeur has gone.

As children, playing stoop ball off the stairs of the Sprecher home or playing football in the basement which then housed a fraction of his nascent, but growing, world-famous seforim collection, we grew to view Dr. Sprecher as a larger than life, although at our age somewhat unapproachable, figure.

As we grew older, however, we came to appreciate more and more the sui generis individual that Rabbi Dr. Sprecher was. In a world and community which all too often feels the need to gravitate towards the flavor of the week or conform to the latest societal trend, Rabbi Dr. Sprecher stood as an island of intellectual honesty and consistency, never wavering from his strongly held beliefs despite tremendous pressure from the outside (at times family and close friends included). Whether it was his shita regarding the Flatbush Eruv or his seminal article on the topic of Metzizah B’Peh, Dr. Sprecher never shied away or backed down and, like all great halachic arbiters, which he was for us on so many occasions, he simply called the shots as he saw them.

As a magid shiur for the daf yomi at Sasregen for decades, and later as mara d’asra of the Shiyas Minyan of East 23rd, Rabbi Dr. Sprecher consistently amazed us with his dazzling repertoire of knowledge and never-ending collection of seforim, books and articles. The connections that he made through his scholarship opened up vast worlds of knowledge to us, introducing us to talmidei chachamim and scholars which we would never had known about if not for him. I can truly say that of all the individuals that I have come across in my life, Rabbi Dr. Sprecher had the single greatest impact on my weltanschauung (he always did love a good German word), encouraging me to pursue an advanced degree in Jewish Philosophy as well as ever greater heights in Torah learning. He was always so excited to pick my brain about the latest happenings in Yeshiva University, and always made me feel that I was teaching him something, when in fact the opposite was almost always the case.

However, despite the indescribable magnitude of his intellect and his ability to master any area of knowledge, he did not simply choose to isolate himself in the ivory tower of limud or academia which so many individuals possessing his abilities would. His was a Toras Chesed in the fullest sense of the term. Through his work as a world-renowned radiologist (at the levaya it was revealed, posthumously as was his wish, that during the illnesses of several gedolim, most notably the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L, Rabbi Dr. Sprecher’s expert services were sought and in fact demanded), Hashem gave him the ability to affect and better the lives of so many. As his brother Mendel described at the levaya, one can nary walk through the streets of Flatbush without encountering someone whose life Rabbi Dr. Sprecher touched. I can personally attest that there were dozens of situations in which members of our family found themselves in difficult medical predicaments, and Rabbi Dr. Sprecher, with love and care normally reserved for the closest of family, patiently and empathetically held our hands, both literally and figuratively, throughout the process.  

As many have pointed out, this love for the other extended well past East 23rd or the Flatbush community. Each time an Israeli soldier was, Rachmana litzlan, lost in action, Rabbi Dr. Sprecher would sequester himself in his study and cry uncontrollably for the lost soul which he never met. As Rabbi Geldwerth testified at the levaya, whenever Rabbi Dr. Sprecher had to give an unfortunate diagnosis for a patient, he would agonize incessantly as to how to properly approach the patient and their family.

The gemara in Niddah 70b records that the Wise Men of Alexandria approached R. Yehoshua ben Chanania and asked him how one can best succeed in learning. He responded that one must limit time spent on matters material and spend as much time as possible studying. When the Wise Men protested that empirical evidence proves that such a formula is insufficient, he responded that those who were unsuccessful were missing one important ingredient: yevakshu rachamim mimi shehachachma shelo, we must always implore the Ribbono Shel Olam for siyata dishmaya in all that we do. Rabbi Dr. Sprecher was able to reach the greatest heights in both torah learning and scholarship as well as in his chosen field of medicine. 

The gemara in Moed Katan 17a records the drasha of R. Yochanan on the pasuk “ki sifsei kohen yishmeru da’as v’sorah yivakshu mifihu ki malach Hashem Tzevakos hu” and explains that only if the Rav is reminiscent of an angel of God should we seek to learn from him. I believe that this drasha perfectly encapsulates our relationship with Rabbi  Dr. Sprecher. He commanded respect due not to his force of personality but simply because he was authentic and had one goal in mind: serving Klal Yisrael which in turn is service of the Ribono Shel Olam in the form of imitatio dei. He maintained no airs or cheshbonos, and his singular focus was avodas Hashem and helping others. 

On behalf of our entire block, shul and community, I would like to thank Mrs. Sprecher and the rest of the amazing Sprecher family for sharing their husband, father and grandfather with us for all these years. As his son Uri discussed at the levaya, it was par for the course for Rabbi Dr. Sprecher to arrive home hours after the end of davening after all those seeking his sage advice were satisfactorily addressed. We can never thank you enough for your patience and kindness in affording us the opportunity to grow close to and learn from Rabbi Dr. Sprecher.

Although the void that Rabbi Dr. Sprecher has left us is nonfillable, we must try and continue the legacy that he left us of torah, avoda and gemilus chasadim ad bias goel tzedek bimheira biyameinu.