This writer is not a talmid of Lucerne and not a talmid of Rav Koppelman. In fact, until five years ago, although I had heard much about him, I had never even seen him.
Approximately five years ago, Rav Koppelman was in America, having come for a Shabbos hisvaadus with talmidim spanning some seven decades of harbotzas haTorah. I realized that such an opportunity must be acted upon and that I simply couldn’t forego seeing and hearing words of guidance from this last of the great roshei yeshiva who had learned under Rav Shimon Shkop in Grodno for eighteen years and who had seen, met and interacted with the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, Rav Elchonon Wasserman and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky.
I therefore traveled on Motzoei Shabbos to Stamford, Connecticut, to the hotel where the Shabbos hisvaadus had been held, in order to attend the melava malka and hear the rosh yeshiva speak.
TALMIDIM SPANNING GENERATIONS…AND A TIMELESS MESSAGE
It was a sight to see talmidim from his early years as a rosh yeshiva, themselves already well into the seventh decade of their lives – and some looking frailer than Rav Koppelman himself, alongside talmidim who were still teenagers.
Even more striking, and that which defies description yet made the most powerful impression, was the message – and its relevance to our times – which he imparted in his hour-long address, as he, at his advance age, stood, without notes, delivering divrei Elokim chaim.
I remember how Rav Koppelman focused on the theme of golus and geulah as it is represented in the first few parshiyos in Sefer Shemos. Hashem promised the Bnei Yisroel when he took them out of Mitzrayimthat it would be “lecheirus olam – for an everlasting freedom.” That being the case, Rav Koppelman asked, how is it possible that today we are still in golus? What is the nature of today’s golus? Is it the fact that we are not in Eretz Yisroel? That is not possible, because those living in Eretz Yisroel have similar difficulties as those of us living outside of Eretz Yisroel.
GOLUS OF THE MIND
“Golus,” he said, “is not dependent on geographic location, but on each individual.”
He continued with the Ramban’s explanation that our forefathers did not require a Mishkan for Hashem’s Presence to rest, because Hashem resided in their hearts.
Even after Moshe Rabbeinu built the Mishkan, it was considered an addition to Hashem resting in every person’s heart, not in place of it. The main place for Hashem’s Shechinah to rest was in the hearts and minds of every Jew – the very antithesis of golus.
“Golus,” Rav Koppelman thundered, “is when Hashem has been driven from our own hearts!”
He went on to explain that the golus of Mitzrayim enslaved the hearts of the Jews. They became so “closed” because of the constant focus on work and meeting quotas that their hearts simply could not focus on serving Hashem. They were simply consumed by their work.
Today’s golus is similar. We have become so obsessed with amassing wealth, with involving ourselves in the mundane aspects of life, that we have no room left in our hearts for Hashem.
SLAVES TO OVERLORDS…OR TO MONEY?
Rav Koppelman quipped that when he was enslaved in a slave labor camp in Siberia during World War II, he was freer than many people are living in America today.
“In Siberia,” said Rav Koppelman, “I had to work extremely hard, but by a certain time in the day, the work was over and we were returned to the barracks. Those few hours at night, I had to myself. My mind was free to focus on Hashem. Today, in America, the business ethic, the work ethic, the constant barrage of gadgetry distractions, is such that it takes up your entire mind during every waking minute of the day.”
Yes, of course we daven, of course we learn and have regular learning sedorim, but what “turns us on”? What is really important to us? What consumes us? Is it the fact that we cannot understand the Gemara? Is it the latest chiddush we heard? Is it the joy of dveikus through tefillah?Or is it a brilliant money-making scheme or some other aspect of olam hazeh?
We, ourselves, have banished Hashem from our hearts. The Shechinah is in golus because it has been driven away from our hearts and minds.
This is what Rashi means at the beginning of Parshas Vayechi when he states that with Yaakov Avinu’s petirah, “the eyes and hearts of the Bnei Yisrael were closed because of the enslavement.”
“We rule like Rav Yishmoel, who states in Maseches Brachos that a person must combine earning parnassah with learning Torah,” Rav Koppelman explained. “We are not saying not to be engaged in parnassah. That is an honorable thing. Parnassah, however, should not conquer our hearts and consume us. Our passion must be in matters of spirit, not in amassing wealth and pursuit of pleasures. Otherwise, we are in the deepest golus, the golus of banishing the Shechinah from our own hearts and minds.
The one thing that can never be taken from us is our spirit. We, however, must focus on not placing the Shechinah in golus by driving Him out of our hearts.
MOSHIACH WANTS TO COME… WHO IS READY?
During that powerful shmuess five years ago, Rav Koppleman went on to ask, “What is taking so long? Why has Moshiach not yet come? Do we not sing ‘achakeh lo bechol yom sheyavo’ and declare that we long for him to come, yet he has not arrived?”
If Moshiach would come today, who will he meet? He will meet people who are not consumed with true longing for Hashem’s Presence. The people he will meet show that their hearts are really moved by amassing wealth and indulging themselves in pleasure. They may say and sing “achakeh lo,” but their hearts belie what their mouths say. How can one walk down Thirteenth Avenue and see store after store trumpeting and hailing every possible indulgence as if it is the greatest, most profound pleasure?
Of course we must eat. We should eat, he said. But transforming eating or any other material matter into a means itself, rather than a means to an end, is a manifestation of the fact that our minds and hearts are deeply entrenched in the morass of golus.
Moshiach wants to come – to people who are truly consumed by matters of the spirit, whose true highlight of the day is the time spent learning Torah and the soaring of the spirit as they are engaged in tefillah. When Hashem sees Yidden not just going through the lip service of ruchniyus but truly possessing the Shechinah in their hearts, He will restore the complete manifestation of hashro’as haShechinah with the coming of Moshiach and the building of the Bais Hamikdosh.
Frightening and profound.
Spoken five years ago by Rav Koppelman, a person who lived for so long, who much like Noach witnessed the world before the deluge, during the deluge and after the deluge, and then the rebuilding of the world, his words spoken with such feeling and emotion are as valid today as they were then.
He is gone, he is in the Yeshiva Shel Maalah,but his words and his lessons remain just as relevant as when he said them. They are words that we dare not disregard.