Tisha B’Av 5769 — “Rav Moshe Dov Chait, ZTz”L – Yet Another Reason to Mourn”

 

 

R. Chait edit

 

 
 

 Tisha B’Av is a time of great sadness for our People.  It is a day when the entire Nation of Israel sits Shiva.  We sit on the floor like mourners and bemoan the destructions of both Temples and all of the tragedies that have befallen our People throughout the ages.

Tisha B’Av is a day that challenges our emotions.  It is not always easy for us to feel the acute pain of a mourner.  The Temple was destroyed almost 2000 years ago; it is not a simple matter to relate to such an abstract idea as the destruction of a Temple that I never knew.  It is hard to cry over a loss that I can’t personally feel.

No, it is not always easy to be sad on Tisha B’Av.  But today, as I write these words on the morning of Tisha B’Av, it is all too easy to be sad.  You see, I lost my Rebbe yesterday.

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35 years ago, a young kid left for a year-long visit to Israel.  Fresh out of high school, he decided to take a year off to study full time in a Yeshiva before going on to college.

The young man decided to attend the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.  At Choftez Chaim he was exposed to the intricate in-depth study of Talmud that the Yeshiva is famous for.  He also studied Mussar. (Loose translation — Ethical Development) And every Wednesday evening, he listened to “Shmuessen” (“Ethical Discourses”) delivered by the Rosh Yeshiva, the Dean, Rabbi Moshe Chait.

Those weekly Torah Talks changed my life.  (My one-year stay in the Yeshiva lasted seven years.  That transfer to college hasn’t happened yet!!)  Every week Rebbe used to speak to us, usually on the Weekly Torah Portion.  We would listen as he wove a tapestry of ethical lessons designed to encourage us to reach our potential.  He would point out the inherent G-dliness in every human being and how that G-dliness enables us – no, REQUIRES us – to reach for the stars.  He taught us that a Ben Torah – a Torah personality – must carry himself with self-confidence and self-respect, all the while taking care to avoid arrogance and other negative character traits.

I still remember the first Shmuess I heard.  Rebbe quoted someone named “Alter.”  I didn’t know who that was, but I quickly scribbled it down in my notes, and figured that it would probably be a good idea to find out.

Rebbe was a student of Rav Dovid Leibowitz, who was, in turn, a student of “The Alter,” or, “The Elder,” of Slabodka, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel.  One of the Alter’s many contributions to the Torah World was the concept of “Gadlus HaAdam,” the Greatness of Man.  The Alter inculcated into his students the idea that G-d created man in His Image and that requires us to recognize our own greatness and the greatness of those around us.

Rav Dovid Leibowitz learned these lessons from the Alter, and young Moshe Chait learned these lessons from Rav Dovid.  Rabbi Chait, as the next link in a chain going all the way back to Mount Sinai, taught the Alter’s lessons to us.

There are three expressions that reverberate in my mind.  He spoke about his teachers with reverence.  When he said the word “Rebbe” or “Rav Dovid” he said it with a feeling of awe.  He said “The Alter” the same way.  You see, although Rebbe never saw the Alter, he saw the Alter’s reflection in his own Rebbe, Rav Dovid.  And, as such, the Alter was his Rebbe as well.

In the same way, Rebbe endeavored to make Rav Dovid and the Alter our teachers.  Did he succeed?  Well, let me put it this way.  My oldest son, Nosson Tzvi Hirsch, is named after the Alter (Nosson Tzvi) and my father (Tzvi Hirsch).

Rebbe’s love for Torah and for G-d and His children permeated everything he did.  He greeted every person with his captivating smile.  He could look at you and offer an encouraging word that made you feel on top of the world.  I remember one time watching Rebbe sitting in the Yeshiva studying.  It was Mussar Seder, the time for studying ethics, and he was deeply engrossed in the book he was studying.  He didn’t look well; he looked tired and weak.  (He had had a heart condition for as long as I had known him.)  Someone came up to speak to him.  The moment Rebbe noticed him, his face lit up with that endearing smile, almost as if to say, “You’ve made my day!  Thank you so much for stopping by to chat!”

Rebbe made himself available to give advice.  If you had a problem, Rebbe always knew exactly how to cut away the fat and get directly to the meat of the issue.  With his keen insight and brilliant observation he analyzed the situation like a page of Talmud and managed to provide an answer.  You didn’t always get the answer you were looking for, but you always knew that you got the right answer.

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The last few years have been very difficult for Rebbe.  This dynamic speaker found his ability to communicate drastically curtailed.  His voice was weak and he said very little.  It wasn’t always clear that he recognized people.

Last winter I decided to visit Rebbe in Israel.  I didn’t know if he would know who I was.  He wife, may she live and be well, told him I was there.  He smiled.  That million dollar smile!  He shook my hand.  Then he smiled and shook my hand again!  He remembered!

I visited Rebbe several times during my brief visit to Israel.  We walked together as I told him about my family and my career.  I repeated to him some of the lessons he had taught us, and how much they meant to me.  One time we sat in his living room and sang together, an emotional reminder of the old days.  I will always treasure that memory.  On my last visit, I told him how much I love him and appreciate him.  I blessed him and he whispered “Omain.”  I asked him for a blessing.  “Can you wish me Hatzlocha (success), Rebbe?”  He whispered, “Hatzlocha.”

As I hugged Rebbe and turned to leave, I suspected that it was quite possible that that was to be our final good-by.  But, the fact is, that as recently as yesterday morning I was thinking about my next visit.

The day before yesterday Rebbe had hip surgery.  The surgery went well, but I received a text message asking that we continue to pray for Rebbe’s well being.

Yesterday morning I did a Bris.  It is said that when a baby cries during his Bris, it is a special time of Divine compassion; the Gates of Heaven are open and G-d is especially receptive of our prayers.  I said a prayer for Rebbe.  I asked G-d to send him a Refuah Sheleima, a complete recovery.  A few hours later, G-d answered my prayer.  The answer was “No.”

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The days leading up to Tisha B’Av are a time of mourning.  During the nine days up to and including Tisha B’Av, you are not supposed to wear your nicest clothes.  Some people don’t even wear their Shabbos clothes on Shabbos.  There is a special dispensation at a Bris.  Even during the Nine Days, the Mohel, the Sandak, and the parents are permitted to wear Shabbos clothes to the Bris.  The festive nature of the Bris mitigates, somewhat, the mourning for the Temple.

Yesterday morning, after the Bris, I headed home.  I was wearing a Shabbos shirt with a nice pair of cufflinks and a nice suit.  I decided that once I got home, I would change.  After all, the Bris was over, and it was Erev Tisha B’Av.

By the time I reached home, I was no longer in a hurry to change my clothes.  The text message had come in — Rebbe was gone!  Instead of removing my Shabbos shirt and suit, I tore them.  I cut kriah for my Rebbe, and sat down and cried.  This year, mourning on Tisha B’Av would be easy.

There was a telephone hook-up to the funeral in Israel.  I sat at my kitchen table and cried as I listened to Rebbe’s sons and son-in-law and Rav Avraham Kanarek eulogize Rebbe.  (Three of those speakers had, at various times, been my teachers as well.)

When I went to Israel last year, I walked into the Bais Medrash, the study hall, with my son.  I was overwhelmed with feelings of nostalgia.  This is where I grew up!   This is where Rebbe taught us!  This is where I became who I am.  Now, in that same room, on Tisha B’Av night, the students sat on the floor and cried over the loss of our beloved Rebbe.

Last night, once again, the streets of our holy city of Jerusalem resounded with Tisha B’Av sorrow as a great Torah Sage and Tzaddik was laid to rest.

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This pain and anguish that I feel is being experienced all over the world.  Thousands of lives were influenced by this giant of a man.  It is not only his direct students that were inspired and uplifted by Rebbe’s teaching.  It is the families of those students; it is the students of those students.  I told my son-in-law that his wife is who she is in part because of what Rebbe taught me.  If I have made an imprint of any kind as a rabbi and a teacher, then those who have learned from me are Rebbe’s students as well.

Rebbe was not a young man when he died; he was 87.  But the tragedy of his death was that there was so much more he could have given.  When he lost his ability to communicate easily, Israel lost a great teacher.  No one I knew could speak the way he could.  (Although I think I’ve heard a few imitators!)   How many more lives could have been uplifted?  How many more students could have benefitted from his wisdom, from his sharp Talmudic analysis, from his ability to take a statement of the Sages and make it into a life-altering lesson?

On the other hand, there is much that we can learn from his infirmity.   He was weak, yet that never stopped him from giving his all.  Even when he was so incapacitated by his illness, he was a lesson in human greatness and dignity.  He carried himself like a student of Slabodka.  He dressed impeccably.  You knew you were in the presence of a great man.  Even his Filipino aid called him “Rebbe.”  He was everybody’s Rebbe.

That, perhaps is the most important lesson we can learn from Rabbi Chait.  Every one of us, 24/7/365, is a teacher.  People look at us and learn from us.  We can show people how to be petty and small and arrogant.  Or we can learn from Rebbe, and show the world around us what a person can accomplish when he remembers that he is created in the Image of G-d.

The Medrash states that every person is supposed to ask himself when his actions will reach the level of the actions of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Of course, that can never happen, but that doesn’t exempt us from setting for ourselves that lofty goal.  Rebbe once mentioned on Rav Dovid Leibowitz’s Yahrtzeit, I believe it was the 40th Yahrtzeit, that a day never went by that he didn’t think about Rav Dovid’s profound influence on his life.  That is an important lesson for me and all who knew him.  We his students, and his students’ students, will do well if we gauge our actions by asking ourselves, “What would Rabbi Chait do?”

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That Bracha, that last blessing I gave to Rebbe before we parted.  I blessed him that he should merit to greet the Messiah in the near future.  Let us all pray that we will soon see the end of all sorrow.  May we see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: He will eliminate death forever.  And G-d will erase tears from all faces; he will remove the shame of His nation from upon the entire earth, for G-d has spoken. (Isaiah, 25:8)

May G-d console Rebbe’s widow and his children, and all of us, his students, among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

(An additional apprecaition of Rabbi Chait, written the following week, can be found at “Heels and Smiles.”)

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.net. Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on July 30, 2009 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  

DEVORIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22)/TISHA B’AV — “Back to Normal?”

TISHA B’AV

This Wednesday night through Thursday will be Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the disastrous month of Av.  This full-day fast is similar to Shiva.   We sit on low chairs, refrain from socializing, and wear only non-leather footwear.  This time is spent in contemplation of all the calamities that have befallen our People on Tisha B’Av, including the burning of both Temples, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Pogroms and the beginning of World War I.  The fast begins Wednesday  at sundown, and ends on Thursday at dusk, (25-72 minutes after sunset, depending upon local custom. To find sunrise and sunset times for your community click here.)

For a brief listing of infamous events that took place on Tisha B’Av throughout history, click here.

For more information on the observance of Tisha B’av and the days leading up to it, click here and here.

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“Back to Normal?”

It was almost time for Moses to die. He gathered the nation together for his final words of encouragement and reprimand.  Soon he would no longer be around to give them guidance.  He had many things to tell them.

One of the things Moses chose to discuss was the sin of the Spies.  (See “What Was Moses’ Last Name?” and “Fringe Benefits”.) Twelve spies had been sent to scout out the Land of Canaan (Israel) and report back to Moses.  Ten men brought back a negative report.  Two men, Joshua and Caleb, brought back a positive report.  The Nation of Israel believed the majority, and rejected the Land.  As a result, because they believed the slander about the Land, the Israelites had to wander through the desert for forty years, until all the adults of that first generation had died.  (That event, which occurred on Tisha B’Av, set the stage for multiple tragedies that have befallen our people on Tisha B’Av.  To this day, we continue to suffer and mourn over the results of that terrible event.)

Moses reviewed the events of that fateful mission:

“All of you then approached me and said, ‘Send men ahead of us to explore the Land.  Let them bring back a report about the way ahead of us and the cities that we shall encounter”’ (Deuteronomy, 1:22)

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Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin wonders how the Israelites could have made this request.  After all, they were living a miraculous existence.  Manna fell daily from Heaven, and they drank water from a well that followed them wherever they went.  A pillar of fire led them by day and a pillar of fire by night.  G-d’s Divine Presence hovered over the Tabernacle.

What were these people thinking?  Did they really think that they needed to check out the land that G-d had promised them?  They saw the Ten Plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army.  They knew how G-d deals with the enemies of Israel.  What were they worried about?

Moses, too, was surprised:

“Yet, in this matter, you do not have faith in … your G-d, Who goes before you in fire by night and in cloud by day to show you the path to follow, just like a scout finding you a place to camp.  (verses 32-33)

What led the people to doubt that G-d would continue to protect them from all harm?  Actually, answers Rabbi Sorotzkin, it was all because of a prophecy.

Eldad and Meidad uttered a disquieting prophecy. (Numbers, 11:26-29)  They predicted that Moses was going to die, and that Joshua was going to lead them into the Land.  Moses never contradicted that prophecy; in fact, at one point, he appeared to be confirming it:

“Then I said to you… ‘G-d has placed the Land before you; go up and take possession…‘ “(Deuteronomy, 1:20-21)

Moses was telling THEM that THEY should enter the Land; he implied that he was not going.

The people were concerned.  Sure, they had seen plenty of miracles.  But that was when Moses was around.  What would happen “post-Moses?”  Would the miracles still flow like the waters of the traveling well? Would Heavenly Bread still fall in front of their tents?  Would those pillars of fire and cloud still lead them?

Joshua was a fine student.  He was Moses’ best protégé.  However, to paraphrase Senator Bentson:  “We served under Moses.  We know Moses.  He is a prophet of G-d.  Joshua, you’re no Moses!”

The people reasoned that without Moses at the helm, life would return to its non-miraculous, natural state.  Moses wouldn’t be there to split the sea.  He wouldn’t be around to hit rocks to produce water or to hold up his staff, allowing Israel to overpower the Amalekites.

After Moses’ death, the “honeymoon would be over.”  People would have to plant and harvest.  They’d have to actually work for a living!

And they would have to fight real wars against powerful enemies.  They would have to sharpen their swords, spears, and their battle strategies.  As such, they needed to know more about the Land.

Without Moses to lead a supernatural war against their enemies, it was essential that the people know exactly what they were up against.

This, explains Rabbi Sorotzkin, is why the people wanted to spend spies into the Land.

So what was the problem?  If the people assumed that life would be different after Moses, THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!!

The Manna, in fact, stopped falling when the nation entered the Land.  Life did revert to more of a natural state.  So what did they do wrong?????

It appears to me that the problem was not so much with their desire for a scouting expedition; that may have been a legitimate request.  The problem was what they did with the information that the scouts brought back.  Once they heard that the Canaanites were a force to be reckoned with, they gave up on the whole plan.  They decided not to go.

It was in reference to this refusal that Moses stated, “Yet, in this matter, you do not have faith in … your G-d.”

It might have been ok to set up an expedition if it was for the right reason.  But, as Rabbi Sorotzkin points out, this expedition was also a rejection of Joshua’s leadership.  HE would be the new general.  Let HIM decide how to check out the enemy.

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Life is not always easy.  In fact, it’s usually quite challenging.  No, Manna doesn’t fall from Heaven anymore; we have to go earn our keep.  But we dare not give up.  We must go about our daily lives with trust in G-d.  Yes, we should check out our enemies.  Yes, we should investigate the references of that new job applicant.  We should have health insurance.  We don’t rely on miracles.

On the other hand, we are supposed to keep in mind that G-d is very much involved in our lives.  Moses told Aaron to place jar of Manna in the Tabernacle for all to see.  It was to serve as a reminder that G-d is just as much a part of our livelihood today as He was when he deposited it on our doorsteps.

Nature is G-d’s way of doing His miracles anonymously.  It is G-d Who keeps us healthy when we eat right.  It is G-d Who gets us that job interview when we send out resumes and helps us do well on our well-prepared-for interview and land the job.  Who do you think won the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War for the Israelis?!!

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Next Thursday is Tisha B’Av. We’ve lost two Temples.  They were built by men and destroyed by men.  For the Third Temple, G-d is going back into Miracle Mode; He’s going to build it Himself, so that no man can destroy it.

Miracles can happen very quickly; the building could easily be up by Thursday.  Let’s not make the same mistake as the Generation of the Desert did.

Ya gotta believe!

Have a Good Shabbos, and a meaningful fast.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“Dropping Hints and Lifting Spirits” (2011)

… I have a question.  Why is Moses beating around the bush?!  What’s with the hinting?  Why doesn’t the Torah describe Moses coming out with a shotguns-blazing, Fire-and-Brimstone reprimand?   Why doesn’t he say, “Listen Israel, your behavior has been horrendous!   You complained about the lack of food.  You worshipped Baal Pe’or.  You displayed a lack of faith at the Red Sea.  You listened to the lies of the spies.  You complained about the Manna and supported Korach’s rebellion.  You turned all that gold into a Golden Calf.  YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!!!!!” …

Read more.

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“Back to Normal?” (2009) 

…The people were concerned.  Sure, they had seen plenty of miracles.  But that was when Moses was around.  What would happen “post-Moses?”  Would the miracles still flow like the waters of the traveling well? Would Heavenly Bread still fall in front of their tents?  Would those pillars of fire and cloud still lead them?

Joshua was a fine student.  He was Moses’ best protégé.  However, to paraphrase  Senator Bentson:  “We served under Moses.  We know Moses.  He is a prophet of G-d.  Joshua, you’re no Moses!”…

Read more.

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“Wearable Clothes for Terrible Times” (2007)

… It must seem strange to envision people celebrating the Sabbath in a less-than-“Sabbatical” mode of dress.  Can you imagine sitting in Shul Friday night next to a carpenter in his overalls and the Roto-Rooter guy in his galoshes?

Actually, most people don’t follow that custom.  The Chofetz Chaim writes that the prevalent custom is that of the city ofVilnawhere they permitted the donning of Shabbos clothes on the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av …

One may be tempted to ask – Isn’t this rather superficial?  What difference does it make?  Why so much emphasis on what you’re wearing?  If you want to dress for Shabbos, dress for Shabbos!  If you want to wear weekday clothes, wear weekday clothes!  What’s the big deal?  And, as long as we’re on the topic, why don’t you rejoin the human race and take a bath?!!…

Read more.

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 “Torah Talk” (2006)

“Hey, how’d he do that?”

“How’d WHO do WHAT?”

“Didn’t you hear that speech?”

“Yes, of course, it was very inspiring.  But he is, after all, a great man.  So why are you surprised?”

Because he doesn’t know how to do that!!!”

It all started almost 120 years before.  The Talmud (Shemos Rabbah,1:26) describes how Baby Moses upset his adopted grandfather…

Read more.

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“Cry, O Zion …” (2005)

… “Cry, O Zion, and her cities, like a woman in the pains of childbirth, and like a young woman dressed in sackcloth, mourning for her young husband.”  (From the Tisha B’Av prayers.)

Imagine the agonizing physical pain of childbirth; what could be more painful?  Envision the emotional pain of a young widow; what could be more heartrending?…

Read more.

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“Selective Memory” (2004)

… Did Moses give a fair description of the events as they actually occurred?  Based on Moses’ version, it seems like the people heard a positive report and rejected it.  In reality, as we see from actually reading about it, there was a spirited debate.  Ten spies said it was bad; two spies said it was good… why did Moses change the story?  Why did he imply that there had been no negative report at all? …

Read more.

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 “How Did This Happen??!! (And How Do We Fix It?)”  (2002)

… In the book by that name, the prophet Jeremiah cries, “Eichah — how can it be that the city once filled with people has become like a widow…?”  (Lamentations, 1:1) Jeremiah stares with disbelief as he sees the once-great city ofJerusalem lying in ruins.  It is almost beyond comprehension that he sees that theTemple has been destroyed and the royal house of  Israel has been led, in disgrace, into captivity.

Jeremiah’s wail continues to this day.  Throughout the world, Jews will sit and read Jeremiah’s words and cry over the pains of our exile…  “Eichah,” how could it be that the Jews of  Warsaw were deported to Treblinka beginning on Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how can it be that a world tolerates the wanton murder of innocent people by a nation that sacrifices its own children for the “Mitzvah” of killing Jews?  “Eichah,” HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE?!! …

Read more.

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“Tears of ‘OY’ and Tears of Joy” (2001)

… I had a very interesting experience this week … the prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine … doesn’t apply at a Bris… It was a strange inconsistency. On the one hand, we are in mourning for theTemple. On the other hand, we are having a party! Where is our concern for our people? Aren’t we supposed to remember our brethren who were burned at the stake inSpain?! Aren’t we supposed to lament the victims of the Holocaust and the Intifada?! How can we cry to G-d to rescue us from our anguish when we’re eating prime rib and parve ice cream?! …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment