by Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman, Shlita
This article originally appeared in Yated Neeman, Monsey NY. and is reprinted here with their permission
We have become orphans, our father is gone. We have been virtual orphans for the past few years. The Rosh Yeshiva did not want to speak or to lead; he remained closed up within himself. But our father was still at home. Now we have reached the stage where our father is gone. Our father has been taken away.
Rav Yaakov Emden comments, regarding the Rambam’s statement that the king hid the aron hakodesh in the hidden recesses of Har Habayis prepared by Shlomo Hamelech during the building of the Beis Hamikdash, that the Rambam did not write a work of stories and events, but rather a work of halochos. Why then did he see it fit to include this statement?
Rav Yaakov Emden answers that the question of whether the initial sanctification of the Beis Hamikdosh remains in force even after its destruction, depends upon whether the aron hakodesh was exiled to Bavel at the time of the churban, or whether it was hidden in its place, because the holiness of the Beis Hamikdash is dependant upon [the presence of] the aron. As long as the aron is in the Beis Hamikdash, even if it is hidden away, the holiness [of the bayis] remains. This is why the Rambam mentions that the aron was placed in hiding-in order to support his ruling that the original kedusha remains, because it was instated for the future as well.
Rabbosai, although the aron was hidden during the last few years, it was with us, where we are, and from there, the kedusha spread outwards to everyone. Now it has been taken away from us. Woe to us! The aron has been taken away!
On Moshe Rabbeinu’s words to Klal Yisroel (Devarim 31:29), “For I know that you will become corrupt following my death,” Rashi cites Chazal’s question, that the pasuk (Yehoshua 24:31) says: “And they served Hashem throughout Yehoshua’s lifetime.”
Chazal explain that as long as a person’s talmid remains alive, as long as Yehoshua, who was Moshe’s talmid, remained alive, it was as though Moshe himself was still alive, because Yehoshua was his succesor. We ought to be aware that today, we are accompanying the holy elder, the Chofetz Chaim, the gaon Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the Chazon Ish and the gaon of Brisk, whose talmid our master was. These four leaders of their generations, transmitters of our heritage-they are the ones who built strong foundations for the Torah.
I do not presume, chalila, to to be able to appraise, or to convey, our master’s greatness. He was a unique phenomenon in his application to Torah study and in his yegiah. The extent to which he struggled to learn Torah during his youth was literally beyond human comprehension. And for this reason he merited the opening of the gates of wisdom, of the depth of Torah.
“Torah, Torah, gird yourself in sackcloth and wallow in the dust, mourn as though for an only son, and utter a bitter eulogy; for those who wielded your oars and who spread nets; who navigated and captained you upon the mighty seas; who arranged your systems, who straightened out difficulties, who deciphered your hidden secrets and revealed mysteries; who will [now] smooth out hills and hew away mountains? Who will take difficulties apart and resolve crises? Who will clarify [questions about] neziros and arrange nedorim? Who will cultivate your depths and [reform the sinners]?; those who tend [i.e., the chachamim] have been cut down. And who will do your battle and return home? The weapons are lost and the mighty have fallen.”
He merited raising generations of outstanding talmidei chachomim, amongst them the greatest sages of the generation. The volumes of his profound work, Avi Ezri, have taken their place among the classic seforim and are used by every rosh yeshiva. He was the teacher and the luminary of Yisroel.
I want to note his integrity and his purity of mind and character. Everything that he did was free of any personal, self serving, bias. When Degel Hatorah was founded, and every vote was precious, being potentially crucial to a candidate’s losing, I was present when someone came and asked him who to vote for. His answer was, “Who is your rav?” The man replied with the name of a certain rav. Our teacher told him, “You should vote according to the opinions of your rav.”
I will tell you another incident, in which I was personally involved. Everybody knows how difficult it is to obtain funds for supporting Torah scholars. A very wealthy man once met me and said that if I brought him a letter from his rav, who lived in Eretz Yisroel, he would give me one hundred thousand dollars, on the condition that our teacher and master, the rosh yeshiva, would ask his rav for the letter.
I agreed and when I came to our master, my father-in-lawand told him the story, he promised me to ask for the letter but asked me when I needed it. I told him that I would need it in a few months time, when I would be meeting that person again. When the time came and I needed the letter, I came to him and reminded him of his promise. His response was, “I should be meeting him this evening and then, bli neder, I will ask him for it.”
That evening, I was waiting for the letter and when he returned he told me that he had forgotten to ask for it, but that they would meet again the next day, and he would see to it then. When he came back on the second evening and I came to get the letter he told me, “Sit down a moment and listen. It is true that I promised you, but I am going to ask you to forgive me, because I usually speak to that rav about communal matters concerning Klal Yisroel. If I ask him for a letter, he will certainly give me it to me, but then I will owe him a favor and I will not be able to carry out my duties as required.
What responsibility and purity of character when working for Klal Yisroel is reflected in this incident!
I would like to read out a piece from our teacher’s final instructions:
“Since no man knows when his time will come, I have resolved to take stock of all that has been, particularly regarding those hidden things where one can be mistaken and can mislead others, [in failing to distinguish] between good and bad, and thinking that something is a mitzva, when in truth, it is an aveira, and is springing from an evil trait. All should feel sick and faint about this. Woe to us from the day of judgement! Woe to us from the day of rebuke! Who will emerge righteous before You in judgement?”
What demands he made on himself and [how many] reckonings, [from the fear] that even a good deed that is a mitzva, might really be an aveira, emanating from an evil trait! How awe inspiring!
And he was honest, taking nothing for himself. I would like to mention the gemarra in Kesuvos (104): “At the time of Rebbi’s death, he extended his ten fingers heavenward and said, `Ribbono Shel Olam, it is clear and is it known to You, that I have labored in Torah with my ten fingers and have not derived pleasure from even my small finger. May it be Your wish that my rest be peaceful.’ A heavenly voice went out and said, `He shall come [in] peace. ’
Oh, rabbosaiRibbono Shel Olamit is clear and it is known to You, that he labored in Torah with his ten fingers and did not benefit with even his little finger-I have already spoken about our teacher’s efforts in Torah study.
In last week’s parshoh, Lech Lecha, the posuk (Bereishis 15:17) says, “The sun had set and it had grown dark.” The gaon, the author of Meshech Chachmah, writes that until the time of Avraham, we do not find the sun being called shemesh, rather, it is referred to as the “me’or hagodol.” Avrohom revealed that the sun is the shamosh, the servant of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. It is His great servant, that illuminates the world and which gives song and praise to His Name.
Today, we are accompanying Hakodosh Boruch Hu’s great servant, who illuminated the world, with song and praise to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
In the parsha of the arei miklat, the cities of refuge, [where unintentional muderers had to live until released by the death of the Kohen Gadol], the Meshech Chachmah notes that the Torah refers to bloodshed as “tumah.” In this vein, he comments that these cities were like mikvo’os, where unintentional murderers could become purified. His meaning seems to be that these cities were full of yeshivos, because they had been allotted to the levi’im and also, because if a talmid was exiled to one of them, his teacher was exiled there as well, or if the rav was exiled there, his talmidim also had to go there. Thus, being in the ir miklat was like immersing oneself in “the waters of comprehension,” as the Rambam writes at the end of Hilchos Mikvo’os, [in reference to Torah study]. The Meshech Chochmah writes that just as someone who is purifying himself in order to eat terumah must immerse himself in a mikvah and also wait until nightfall before he becomes pure, the death of the Kohen Gadol, who is like the sun for the whole world, who serves Hakodosh Boruch Hu through his avodah, is also a type of nightfall.
It seems that the puifying effect of the day’s end lies in the fact that with nightfall, a new day has begun; a new reality has come into being. When the sun of the Kohen Gadol sets, a new era begins, a new world.
In this light, I understand the gemarra in Mo’ed Katan, which says that Rabbi Yochonon died, they said that the sun had set at midday, while in reality, it sets in the evening. Ordinarily, though, when the sun sets at day’s end, it continues shining elsewhere, and the moon gives illumination. When the sun sets at midday however, it grows totally dark.
Now, the sun has set and it has grown dark. It has become pitch black. Gevald! The sun has set at midday and everthing has grown dark. It is a new world.
The foundation of emuna is that the world has a Creator Who guides it. This was a belief which we saw [implemented] in such a concrete manner by our teacher, who would constantly speak about this concept. And now he has been taken from us.
“Men of faith have gone lost; they approached in the merit of their deeds; they filled the breaches with might; they would repel the decrees. They were a protective wall for us, and a shelter on the day of fury, banishing anger with their prayer; stopping wrath with their beseeching. You answered them before they called You; they knew how to entreaty and how to please You. You were merciful like a father for their sake; you did not turn them away empty handed. In our many offences we have lost them; they have been gathered in from among us because of our sins. They have travelled to their resting place; and have left us behind sighing. The erectors of fences are no more; those who could calm anger are finished. There are none who rise to stand in the breaches; who are fit to appease You with prayer. We have traversed all corners; and have found no remedy. We have returned to You shamefacedly; to beseech You, Hashem, in the time of our troubles.”
Through his position in protection of our beliefs and regarding the character of the yeshivos and of Klal Yisroel, [which he maintained] with such self sacrifice, he merited that the foundations of religion in Klal Yisroel were laid according to his instructions. He raised the honor of Torah and the honor of those who learn Torah. We are dutybound to ensure that everything that he established and achieved in his lifetime, should continue according to his wishes.
He sacrificed himself for Klal Yisroel and he was a genuine friend to every individual, doing favors and offering guidance, as his talmidim and those who came to see him can testify. I would like to read a further excerpt from his testament:
“I would also like to ask all those talmidim who know that they received some benefit from me, whether in Torah, whether in yiras Hashem or whether in good character traits, to act kindly towards me and to learn for the elevation of my neshama, even a single mishnah, or a single mussar thought, and this shall be my reward. For I too, sacrificed myself for the sake of your success in learning. And if it will be in my power to do anything or to advocate good for you, I will do so beli neder”
At the end of the testament he concludes, “And my prayer is that I should merit to stand before Hakodosh Boruch Hu after having done complete teshuva. From me, who parts from you lovingly, signed.”
I would like to thank all the talmidim who took part in serving our teacher in the past days and years, especially Rabbi Yechezkel Eschayak, who served the tzaddik faithfully. It is impossible to mention everyone who deserves mention, but I would like to mention my son, Chaim, who served his grandfather for years. May our teacher champion their cause. I request forgiveness for myself and in the name of our entire family, in the name of all the talmidim and of all Klal Yisroel.
May he be a good advocate for Yeshivas Ponovezh, where he disseminated Torah for so many years. May it prosper and spread Torah among Klal Yisroel, until moshiach’s arrival.
I would like to mention Klal Yisroel’s present situation, especially of those dwelling in Eretz Yisroel. The situation is fearsome and terrible. We ask our teacher to stand before the Kisei Hakovod, just as he used to protect Klal Yisroel in his lifetimeand ask Hakodosh Boruch Hu to tell the destroyer to stop. We have offered up such a great sacrifice but we must remember that a korban requires teshuva.
Let us repent and we will merit the complete redemption, “and death will be swallowed up forever”