Friday, October 9, 2020

PARSHAS V'ZOS HABRACHAH

 

"STAM TORAH - TANKE FRA KOBENHAVN"

PARSHAS V'ZOS HABRACHAH

"LIFE WITHOUT END"[1]

 

          The Chassidic Master, Rav Boruch of Mezhibozh would say: "I may appear to be ninety-six years old, but in truth I am merely three young men of thirty-two."

 

          For forty years Moshe had led Klal Yisroel.

          For forty years Moshe had dealt with every need of the Jewish people.

          For forty years he led his flock with incredible dedication and love.

          For forty years his unparalleled leadership never faltered, despite ceaseless complaints and challenges.

          And now at the foot of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe was informed that that he was going to die. "And Moshe the servant of Hashem died there, by the word of Hashem in the land of Moav...Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his vision did not dim and his freshness did not wither.”[2]

          It is axiomatic that every letter of the Torah is measured and timeless. Why does the Torah inform us that Moshe's physical capabilities did not diminish at the time of his death?

          Rav Shmuel Rozovsky zt’’l was a noted scholar and Torah leader. He delivered a popular daily shiur in the Ponovezher Yeshiva in B’nei B’rak. During his final Succos, just prior to his death, he sat weakly in his succah, knowing that his life was ebbing away. He requested that he be brought a talis so that he would be able to recite the bracha one last time.

          As it was being brought, he told those around him the famous words of the Vilna Gaon. As the Vilna Gaon he lay on his deathbed, there were tears streaming down his cheeks. His students sought to comfort him by reasoning that he surely had no reason to fear the imminent celestial judgement. He had lived his life with incredible righteousness. The Gaon replied that the reason he was crying was because he was leaving a world where, for just a few coins, he could purchase a pair of tzitzis and earn himsslf eternal reward just for donning them.

          Rav Shmuel Rozovsky continued that often, as one grows old and begins to weaken, he begins to lose his spark and vivaciousness for life. He is no longer able to act the way he did or accomplish things that were once second nature to him. That loss may cause him to feel morose and like he is a living burden on others.

          One who focuses on his soul, however, never feels he has nothing left to live for. does not have this difficulty. Even until one takes his last breath he can think about G-d and raise himself to even greater spiritual levels.

          “The Vilna Gaon was such a man”, explained Rav Shmuel. “His sole objective and motive in this world was to increase the honor of Hashem. Therefore, when he realized his end was near it pained him. He recognized that he would no longer be able to bring honor to Hashem, and therefore he wept.”

          Perhaps, this is the idea that the Torah is conveying to us about Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah eulogizes Moshe as the ‘servant of Hashem’[3]. His every move was only to increase the glory of G-d. Moshe accomplished this feat to such a degree that it actually became part of his very existence. Moshe actually became the master of his breath and had full control over his life. The evil inclination had no dominance over Moshe for as long as Moshe served Hashem, he gave himself new life and added strength. It was only because Hashem Himself removed Moshe’s soul that he physically died.  This is the message that the pasuk is trying to impress on us: If one lives a spiritual life, his old age will not seem like a curse but rather the greatest of blessings. He will come to a new understanding of life that is not bound to physical limits but rather can be an opening to spiritual infinity.

          Moshe Rabbeinu was a hundred and twenty years old. He had gone through a complete life full of difficulties and frustrations. Yet he still retained his vigor and strength. His goal and desire in life was not completed until he had breathed his last breath and therefore until then his vision did not dim, and his freshness did not whither.     

 

           Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l, the beloved Torah-leader of the previous generation, compeltely dedicated his life to serving Hashem and His people. Just a few hours before Purim 5746/1986, Rabbi Moshe lay in an ambulance speeding off to the hospital. He declared in Yiddish, “Ich hob mehr nisht kein koach- I have no more strength”. Those were to be his final words.

          As long as he had another ounce of strength, he continued his life’s work. It was only when his last remaining strength was depleted that he closed his eyes and left this world.

 

          Over the last week and a half that I have been here in Copenhagen, I have had some unforgettable experiences and have met some extraordinary individuals. However, I think the most touching story was that of ‘Gavriel’. Gavriel visits the Copenhagen Jewish Academy each day and helps clean the building. He walks around with a warm smile, singing an upbeat tune, and making warm comments to each student. On the second day of Succos, as we walked together through the beautiful streets of Copenhagen, he told me his story:

          Gavriel was born and raised on a kibbutz in Eretz Yisroel with no connection or knowledge of Torah. There on the kibbutz, he married a non-Jewish Danish woman. After a few years, they left Eretz Yisroel together to move back to her native country of Denmark. One day as he was walking with his wife holding her hand in the streets of Copenhagen, he saw an old, holy looking angelic Rabbi. Gavriel paused to look at me as he told me his story and said, “I am not crazy, but I promise you the Rabbi had a shine from his face which struck a chord within me.” He pushed away his wife and ran over to the Rabbi, begging for a blessing. The Rabbi acquiesced and then continued on his way.

          A few weeks later on Rosh Hashanah, Gavriel asked his wife where he could find a synagogue. On these few holy days, he had always gone to the synagogue and he wanted to continue his custom. His wife told him about the famous local shul in Copenhagen, a majestic building, and Gavriel davened there on the first day. After davening, one of the congregants approached him and told him that he had noticed Gavriel’s devotion and concentration during davening. However, his long hair and untraditional dress showed that Gavriel was not too familiar with the services and unusual prayers. The congregant suggested that Gavriel go to the other shul for the next day’s tefilos where others would help him with the davening.

          Gavriel followed the advice and the next day traveled to the second shul. When he walked in, he immediately noticed the shining face of that same Rabbi he had seen on the street weeks earlier. After davening, Gavriel followed the Rabbi home and knocked on his door. The Rabbi opened the door with a tremendous smile and welcomed Gavriel in. Gavriel, who told me that he is emotionally very strong and never cries, was overcome by inner feelings and burst into tears in front of the Rav. They sat and talked for some time and arranged to learn every day.

          Gavriel’s eyes lit up as he told me “For a few years I had the opportunity to learn one-on-one with one of the Gedolei Haodr.”

          The Rabbi was Rabbi Moshe Jacobson zt”l who led the Copenhagen community for many years. That learning seder was the key to Gavriel’s becoming a ba’al teshuvah and his inspiration to accept Torah and mitzvos despite the fact that it was very difficult for him.

 Unfortunately, Rav Jacobson passed away two months ago and I did not have the merit to meet him. It struck me that Rav Jacobson’s pure and holy countenance had such a profound effect on a wayward Jew.  [Gavriel is no longer married to the Danish woman and hopes to move back to Eretz Yisroel and enroll in a yeshiva soon.]

Rav Jacobson was already an older man when Gavriel first saw him walking on the streets of Copenhagen. Denmark does not boast a large Jewish community and aside for the fairly small Jewish congregation in Copenhagen, Rav Jacobson possessed no overwhelming position; yet his face shone with an appreciation for life and love of Torah.

Great people seem to always maintain their spirit of youth, even when they are physically advanced in years.

As we conclude the Torah, we proclaim that Moshe’s strength was unwavering for his every day bore new levels and growth. The moment we complete the Torah we restart it. This is the essence of spiritual life. There are always new opportunities and new ventures to deal with. Until the final heartbeat when one’s strength is completely gone, his responsibility to Torah and Klal Yisroel continues.

 

              CHAZAK CHAZAK V’NISCHAZEK!!!

 

 

               

 



[1] This d’var Torah was written on Chol Hamoed Succos, October 2010. That year I had the fascinating experience of spending Succos in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the time there was a yeshiva there for Russian students, led by Rav Mike Jacobs (now Mashgiach in Medrash Shmuel in Yerushalayim). Each year for Succos, the yeshiva would fly a few yeshiva bochurim to Copenhagen to help infuse some ruach in the yeshiva for the Yom Tov. I have left the text largely how I wrote it then.

[2] Devorim 34:5,7

[3] Devorim 34:5