Rabbi Wagner’s Last Requests Before He Passed Away

On the occasion of the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Akiva Wagner, his brother Rabbi Dov Wagner pays tribute to him and recalls his incredible emunah even as all seemed bleak.

By Rabbi Dov Wagner

We gathered yesterday at my brother’s grave.

My brother, Rabbi Akiva Wagner, turned 56 on Friday. On Shabbos was his first yahrtzeit. And on Sunday, LagBa’Omer, the family gathered – a couple hundred feet away from the Ohel.

Like many moments in the past year, I cannot describe one particular emotion. Standing with his children there. Seeing his grandson – the first named after him – who somehow furrows his brow exactly like Akiva did. Watching his 9 sons, bla”h, say Kadish.

There are the little ones, who were rushing back to Crown Heights to march in the parade.

One who just celebrated his hanochas tefillin, and is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah.

And the older ones. Boruch Hashem, a couple more kapotes than when we were here last. Simchas celebrated with Akiva’s presence very palpably felt, but not in the kind of way anyone would like.

A year has passed. A year since that moment of shock. Akiva’s last trip out of the house was here, as Crown Heights Hatzalah was kind enough to bring him on a stretcher in the ambulance to visit the Ohel on his birthday, on his last full day in this world. How well that encapsulated who he was, a Chossid of complete dedication to the very last.

A year since that moment that he refused to believe would ever come. As one of his sons mentioned yesterday, by the last little bit the doctors were very clear about what they saw coming. And yet, on one of the last days, Akiva asked them to order new Tefillin bags. They had added the name Michoel some time before, and he wanted the new name included – maintaining his unshakeable bitachon and emunah to the very last day.

A year has passed. A year of missing his smile, the twinkle in his eyes. A year of missing his wise advice and leadership. His constant leading by example, living up to the utmost of what Chassidishkeit and Hiskashrus truly mean. A year of missing his brilliance, His dedication to avodas hatefilah, in such an unassuming yet real way. A year of missing his patience. Walking anywhere with Akiva, especially in Crown Heights, was a never-ending exercise in people coming up to him – to say hello, to ask a question, to follow up on a favor. And no matter how rushed he was, he couldn’t help but try to make each and every one who stopped him feel heard and appreciated.

It’s been a year of hearing about him. Everywhere I go, it happens. “Wagner? Related to Rabbi Wagner from Toronto? I learned by your brother. (Or, my brother… My son… etc.) What a difference he made in my life!” Whether it’s a personal story, the impact of his emails, of his farbrengens, of his shiurim, everywhere I go someone has something to share.

And that is the other part. His family gathered yesterday. But Akiva had a whole other family besides. Avodaso asher ovad bo kol yemei chayov – his life’s work was clearly the Yeshiva in Toronto. His impact went way beyond it, and continues to grow through his sefarim that continue to be published, the good works being undertaken in his memory, etc. But he put his heart and soul into the Yeshiva, and into every single bochur who walked through it’s doors.

Somehow, that yeshiva has continued to thrive. With the incredible dedication of the wonderful hanhala and the leadership of Akiva’s family, the Yeshiva in Toronto grew even more this year. It continued to reach more bochurim, and continued to strive for the excellence in hadracha, dedication, and caring that Akiva embodied and implanted within it.

In connection with the yahrtzeit, the Yeshiva is currently running its annual campaign, ensuring that they will be able to continue living up to Akiva’s legacy.

Please do what you can to be a part of this holy endeavor at www.raisethon.com/ylt.

And may we speedily merit to see the fulfillment of the promise of Vehikitzu veranenu shochnei ofor vehu besoichom, so that the next gathering will be at a farbrengen enjoying Akiva’s radiant smile, by the geulah ha’amitis vehashleima al yedei moshiach tzidkenu teikef umiyad mamosh.

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  1. No doubt R’ Akiva is learning & Farbrenging now & is begging G-d to bring Moshiach Now!

    Yirmi Cohen

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