This week marks the shloshim since the passing of R' Nosson
Meir Wachtfogel, the mashgiach ruchani/dean of students of Beth
Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey (commonly known as the
R' Nosson (as he was known) was born on 9 Adar 5670/1910 in
Kuhl, Lithuania. His father, R' Moshe Yom Tov was a student of
the Slabodka Yeshiva and was one of the 14 original students of
the yeshiva in Slutsk. (Another of these students was R' Aharon
Kotler, later rosh yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha.)
R' Nosson himself began his education in the yeshiva in Kelm.
When he was fifteen, he came to the United States - his father
had accepted a rabbinic post in Montreal - and enrolled in
Yeshivat Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan (forerunner of the Talmudic
division of Yeshiva University). After two years there, he
returned to Lithuania to study at the Mir Yeshiva. He also
studied under R' Shimon Shkop, who gave him semichah/rabbinic
ordination, and in Kamenetz, under R' Baruch Ber Lebowitz. It is
said that before R' Nosson left Kamenetz, R' Lebowitz asked to
see the semichah/rabbinic ordination that R' Nosson had received
from R' Shkop. Upon reviewing the diploma, R' Lebowitz
determined that it was not effusive enough in its praise of R'
Nosson, and he (R' Lebowitz) replaced it with a new diploma. As
for R' Nosson, his humility caused him never to look at the
diploma from R' Lebowitz.
As a Canadian citizen, R' Nosson was able to escape Europe when
World War II broke out. Soon after, he married and settled in
New York. It is said that one night thereafter, R' Nosson
dreamed that the students of the Kelm yeshiva were running down a
road as he struggled to keep up with them. Suddenly, the
students entered a building and slammed the door shut, only to
open it again and hand R' Nosson the remains of the "Alter of
Kelm" (the yeshiva's founder, who had died in 1898). Later, R'
Nosson learned that on that very day the Nazis had destroyed
Kelm, and he took this as an omen that it was his task to
preserve the legacy of that yeshiva.
Beginning in 1941, R' Nosson joined with R' Aharon Kotler to
develop the Lakewood Yeshiva into one of the largest and most
influential yeshivot in the world. As mashgiach, R' Nosson's
role was to care for the spirit of the yeshiva,including
delivering lessons in mussar (character development). R' Nosson
also was the force behind the establishment of branches of the
Lakewood Yeshiva in many cities, and the founding of community
kollelim where young married men learned and are available to
teach the local baalei batim/laymen.
R' Nosson was known for his yearning for mashiach. Like the
Chafetz Chaim, R' Nosson kept a suit ready to wear when greeting
After R' Aharon Kotler's passing in 1962, R' Nosson continued
to lead the yeshiva with the former's son, R' Shneur (died 1981),
and grandson, R' Malkiel. In his last years, R' Nosson brought R'
Mattisyahu Solomon from Gateshead, England as his own successor.
R' Nosson passed away on 2 Kislev, the yahrzeit of R' Aharon
Kotler. He left several children, including R' Elya Ber
Wachtfogel, rosh yeshiva of the Yeshiva Zichron Moshe in South
Fallsburg, New York. (Sources:Yated Ne'eman 8 Kislev 5759; R'
Julius Hyatt shlita, a high school chavruta/study partner of R'
Nosson; R' Pinchos Idstein shlita, a graduate of Lakewood)