Who can remember a week such as the one that just passed? Who can ponder the loss of so many good people and not recognize that they cannot go on living their lives as they have been?
On Wednesday, Moshe Reich was in Tzefas preparing for Lag Ba’omer, joyfully hosting many people in his home on a centuries-old narrow cobblestone street, when his soul returned to its Maker. A prominent Klausenberger chosid and close friend of Arye Deri, he was well known for his engaging personality, askanus, and acts of tzedakah v’chesed. Shock spread throughout Israel and around the world.
On Thursday, Mendy Klein was in Cleveland, outside of the Hebrew Academy, a major focus of his life and philanthropy. He collapsed and was gone, a giant cut down in his prime. The shock was overwhelming as word spread across the Torah world. The reaction was similar everywhere: “Mendy Klein? What? I can’t believe it.” The energetic, life-giving supporter of Torah, yeshivos, schools, needy people, victims of abuse, and so much else had died. The man who ran away from attention and honor during his lifetime was praised and mourned following his tragic petirah.
Rav Shaul Shatzkes, who suffered a stroke a few months ago, never recovered and passed away on Thursday. He was a tremendous talmid chochom, baal kishron and marbitz Torah. He was a sheim dovor in Lakewood, where he lived and dedicated his life to Torah.
Rav Nochum Eisenstein, who served as a rov in Detroit and Lakewood, and had also been rosh kollel in the Boston Kollel, succumbed to an illness he had suffered from for years. A unique marbitz Torah, mechaber seforim and posek, he taught, led and inspired many people. Before his illness, he authored a weekly Torah column in the Yated. A relatively young person, he was also niftar on Thursday.
Rabbi Bernard Weinberger was a phenomenal darshan, talmid chochom, and author of multiple seforim. Blessed with an engaging personality, he was also an intellectual and a leader in the field of rabbonus, serving as the longtime rov of Young Israel of Williamsburg. In his eighties, he passed away last week as well.
Accomplished, successful, and well-known leaders, each one in their own way, they paved a Torah way through the turmoil of golus, leaving behind legacies of greatness for future generations. Their passing sends us a message regarding the fragility of life and a warning to maximize the time we have.
Recognizing the value of life helps us overcome temptation, negate frivolity, and realize the important things in life. It reminds us to love our family and friends and let them know it. A person who knows the meter is running seeks to do good and spread goodness, making the world a better place. There is no time for pettiness; strife, hate and division have no place in the heart and mind of a person who knows that tomorrow he may be described in the past tense, r”l.
We currently find ourselves in the Sefirah period, when we seek to improve ourselves as we ascend daily towards the goal of receiving the Creator’s Torah. Each day, we seek another form of improvement, another way to improve our character and become a better person.
An older man had a story to tell: “I came to Eretz Yisroel during the Second World War and brought several gold bars with me. I was looking for a place to invest my gold.
“One day, I found myself on a street, known today as Rechov Chazon Ish, at the corner of Rechov Harav Dessler, and I saw the Chazon Ish taking a walk there. Since I had heard that he gave brachos and advice to people, I approached him and asked him how to invest my gold.
“He lifted his cane and pointed towards an empty hill. He said to me, ‘Reb Yaakov Halpern is going to be selling lots there. Take your gold and use it all to buy as many lots as you can afford.’
“I didn’t really know much about him and didn’t know that he was a gadol hador. I was angry at his suggestion. When he said that to me, I thought to myself, ‘What? He’s telling me to throw my gold into the sea? Into an empty desert hill?
“Out of respect, I was quiet. I said, ‘Thank you,’ and left.
“Halperin sold those lots for pennies. I took my gold and made various investments and never saw much of a return. If only I had listened to that old man, I would have become a multi-millionaire.
“Oy, if only I had grabbed those lots.”
The man told his story to Rav Nosson Einfeld, of Kollel Chazon Ish, who repeated the tale of woe to the well-known maggid, Rav Reuvein Karelenstein.
Shortly thereafter, the maggid addressed a crowd, and this is what he said:
The Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah (3:4), “Even though the obligation to blow a shofar on Rosh Hashanah is given in the Torah with no reason, there is a hint, namely the posuk which states, ‘Awake you who sleep from your slumber, and those who doze off from your sleep, search your ways, return with teshuvah and remember your Creator.’ This refers to people who forget the truth and get caught up with the frivolities of the time, stumbling through their lives with silliness and emptiness, which are of no help and bring no salvation.”
The man’s story portrays the words of the Rambam. All around us here in this world are properties being sold for pennies, and each one can earn us worlds of payoffs. With a simple nice word, we can earn “shai olamos,” 310 worlds. We can grab worlds at such low prices. Every mitzvah, every word of Torah, every charitable act, yields fortunes.
That is the call of the shofar. As the Rambam says, “People forget the truth and get caught up with the frivolities of the time.”
At a time like this, when we lost people who didn’t get sidetracked but made eternal investments in this world, we need to follow their example. Think of how many people they influenced, how many they helped, and how they changed this world and made it a much better place. And now think about yourself and what you are doing.
Their deaths should wake us from our slumber and shake us from our fantasies of immortality.
In this week’s parsha, the Torah commands (Vayikra 25:8-9), “Vesofarta lecha sheva shabbsos shonim… Teisha v’arbo’im shana… veha’avarta shofar teruah… And you shall count for yourself seven shmittos, which are forty-nine years, and the fiftieth year shall be Yovel and you shall blow the shofar in the seventh month.”
The Shela explains the connection of various pesukim in the previous and current parshiyos. He says that the seven-year cycle of Shmittah is akin to the seven days of creation. Then comes the fiftieth year and the shofar is blown to awaken and remind a person that his existence in this world is temporary.
He cites the posuk of “Ki bayom hazeh yechaper” (Vayikra 16:30) and explains that in years past, the custom was that when there was a death in the community, the shofar was blown, as it is on Yom Kippur. Just as Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness, so does death cause forgiveness for those who repent. “Veshavtem ish el achuzaso,” and the spirit shall return to Hashem.
He concludes that a person must therefore always view himself as a temporary resident of this world, as the posuk (ibid. 25:23) states, “Ki geirim vesoshavim atem imodi.” We should live here as transitory residents so that we shall reside with Hashem in perpetuity. And this is the reason land is not sold in perpetuity, as the posuk says, “Veha’aretz lo simocher l’tzmisus” (ibid.).
“We shall not be like the puerile people who are enthralled with their wealth, property and homes. Rather, we should use what Hashem has given us for ruchniyus, and then “viyishavtem al ha’aretz lavetach.” As the Torah discusses in Parshas Bechukosai, “Im bechukosai teileichu, if you follow the commands of Hashem, you will be richly rewarded.”
The shock that followed the passing of Mendy Klein z”l should remain with us and not wear off. We should remember our thoughts when we heard the shocking news and perpetuate them through understanding the words of the Shela. Doing so will be a zechus for him and bring us brachos and nitzchiyus. For a giant in charity as he was, comes along infrequently. It takes not only great wealth, but also the understanding that we are but geirim here, with the task of doing what we can to enhance the lives of others and supporting causes of Torah. Mr. Klein excelled in that, and he did it all quietly and behind the scenes. Nobody knew but him, the recipient and Hashem. Now he is in the “olam shekulo tov,” with Hashem, lonetzach.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the Beis Haleivi was married to a woman who hailed from a family of Slonimer chasssidim. Once, when he was living in the home of his in-laws as was common in the time, the rebbe, Rav Moshe of Kobrin came into the room in which Rav Yoseph Dov learned. He was studying the later chapters of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim.
The rebbe asked the young Litvishe gaon, “And what is with the first siman of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, do you observe that?” The man who would grow up to be the world-famed Beis Haleivi and forebear of the famed Brisker family, responded that he worked on that halacha, namely of “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi somid,” fifteen times a day.
This week I visited the Sadigerrer Rebbe together with Rav Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, he turned to us and said every generation has its nisyonos which weren’t prevalent in previous generations. In our day, he said, there is a plague in emunah and bitachon, frum people don’t know the basics of belief. “This is what leads to the terrible problem of “noshrim,” people going off the derech. We cannot ignore what is going on.
“It is your obligation to appeal to people and educate them what emunah means, what bitachon means, what the mitzvos are all about and why we observe them,” he told us.
At a time like this when people seek zechuyos and sources of merit, let us resolve to follow in the ways of the niftorim. We should also find time to study and review Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim and seforim such as Chovos Halevavos and the many others which give meaning and value to our lives so that we can become better Jews and better people.
Emunah and bitachon makes our lives more wholesome and increases our happiness, self-worth, and ability to get with others, but more importantly, it brings us closer to Hashem and the geulah we all await.