Following the loss within two weeks of three gedolei Torah, Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman, Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz and Rav Chaim Stein, zichronam livracha, many Yidden have wondered what the proper reaction of a Torah Yid should be. In the following letter, Rav Shimshon Sherer, venerable rov of Khal Zichron Mordechai in Flatbush, shares his feelings:
To answer your most painful question, I’ll share with you what my initial thoughts were when I heard the terrible news this afternoon.
The Magen Avraham in Orach Chaim (סימן תק”פ) brings a minhag of some to fast this Friday, the Erev Shabbos prior to the Shabbos when we lain Parshas Chukas to commemorate the burning of 20 wagon loads of Shas and other sefarim that took place in France. This event occured on the ninth of Tammuz , but many rabbanim of that time learned (through dreams) that the “cause” of this tragic incident was not related to the calendar date (9 Tammuz), but rather to the Friday, the day before the Shabbos and the upcoming laining of Parshas Chukas.
Therefore , writes the Magen Avraham, no matter what the date of the erev Shabbos prior to Shabbos Parshas Chukas is (even if it is not 9 days in Tamuz), the Tannis is held on that day.
The Magen Avrohom explains that the Targum on the words in the beginning of Parshas Chukas – “זאת חקת התורה” is “דא גזירת אוריתא”, this Targum, explains the Magen Avrohom, means that it was a decree, a גזירה מן השמים , that this tragic event, the burning of these holy seforim, would occur on the Erev Shabbos adjacent to the laining of Parshas Chukas.
Seforim tell us that in the exact place where the seforim were burned, years earlier the Jews in that town who were detractors of the Rambam and very critical of his Moreh Nevuchim had publicly burnt the Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim in that very spot.
As a punishment for having shown such disrespect for the Rambam, years later 20 wagon loads of seforim were publicly burnt in this spot. When the jews in that community recognized what brought about this tragedy they did teshuva for not having had kavod years earlier for the Rambam, and they therefore established that day, Erev Shabbos Parshas Chukas as a Yom Taanis.
Although we do not have this custom to fast on Erev Shabbos Parshas Chukas, it is incumbent upon us (and would be most worthwhile) to spend time evaluating and reassessing our kavod and appreciation for our Gedolei Yisroel shlita and for us to be mekabel upon ourselves to adhere to their every word.
This introspection, of course, is most appropriate this year in light of the loss of 3 ziknei gedolei hador , these ארזי הלבנון אדירי התורה : Rav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman zt”l in Europe, Rav Michal Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l in Eretz Yisroel and Rav Chaim Stein zt”l in America, all in the last two week period.
Rav Moshe Feinstien zt”l once when delivering a hesped for 3 Gedolei Yisroel that were taken away around the same time said, we know “מיתת צדיקים מכפר” , Reb Moshe wondered what did we, Klal Yisroel, do that required three Yom Kippurs, three kaparos in such a short time span!
We must all be asking ourselves this very same question.
Rashi in Parshas Chukas brings a Chazal to explain the juxtaposition in Parshas Chukas of the petirah of Miriam to the parsha of Parah Adumah that explains the reason for this being that it is coming to underscore just as Parah Adumah is a “מכפר”, so too מיתת צדיקים is מכפר.
The question is why does the Torah teach us this lesson juxtaposing the parsha of Parah Adumah to the petirah of Miriam and not the Parsha of Karbanos (which serve solely as a כפרה)?
Reb Itzele Poneviezer explained that just as the Parah Adamah only brings “כפרה” and “טהרה” for the person who is “טמא” only after he does a “מעשה” with the ashes – with the “אפר” of the Parah Adumah, (in distinction to the כפרה by karbanos where no “מעשה” is “מעכב” in bringing about a “כפרה” , so too, מיתת צדיקים is only מכפר when it is accompanied by a “מעשה” , namely our emulating the ways of the holy tzadikim taken away from us.
Therefore certainly the least we can do at this time is:
1. We should all do Teshuva and make kabalos (or at least one kabalah)
2. We should all be mekabel to emulate the ways of these heiliger Gedolim in their Torah, Avodah and Gemilas Chasodim, in all areas of life “bein adam L’Makom” and “bein adam l’chaveiro”
3. We should all have a new appreciation and respect for the ziknei hador shlita that we are still privileged to have, bez”H, “ad meah v’esrim” and we should be mekabel to listen to their guidance and their piskei halachah and
4. we should be mispalell for the arichas yamim and gezunt of these Gedolei Yisroel Shlita that we are privileged to still have , that we be zoicheh to have them lead us”ad meah v’esrim shanah”
5. L’maaseh, we should thank the Ribono shel Olam that our “dor” had the great zechus to have had these gedolim who were zoicheh to such arichas yamim who used all their years to be “mashpia” on klal yisroel.
6. We should be mispallel for the restoration of K’vod Shamayim and that we be zoicheh to the geulah sheleimah with the coming of Mashiach speedily in our time.
May the הסתלקות of these great צדיקים bring a כפרה for klal yisroel so that bez”H all those in need of refuos and yeshuos receive their yeshuah b ‘karov. Amen!