Klal Yisroel Loses Three Leaders: What Should We Do?

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rabbi-shimshon-shererFollowing 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:

Dearest __________

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!



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  1. thank you for this wonderful letter of suggestions. after all we were probably all saying to ourselves “someone please help me, what do i do now?” thanks to you we have answers! may all our kabolos be a zecus for all of klal yisroel.

  2. Great letter!

    There was an amazing piece today as well on http://www.halachafortoday.com which I feel is worthwhile to read, so I cut and paste it:

    ???? ???? ???? ??

    HaRav Yitzchok Dov Koppelman Zatzal…Z’Kan Roshei Hayeshiva from Europe.

    HaRav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz…Z’Kan Roshei Hayeshiva from Eretz Yisroel.

    HaRav Chaim Yaakov Stein…Z’Kan Roshei Hayeshiva from America.

    All summoned back to Olam Ha’Emes within days of each other.

    Can we really fool ourselves into thinking that there is no message here?

    Can we really continue being the same people we were yesterday?

    Can we really continue ignoring the warning signs?

    Can we really assume that the world will go on as usual?

    Losing a giant is painful.

    Losing two giants is devastating.

    Losing three giants, from three parts of the world in a matter of days, is unbearable.

    The Torah world must gear up for the final battle.

    The battle to save this world from the throes of immorality.

    The battle to save this world from the desensitization of sin.

    The battle to stand up tall and proud in defense of the holy Torah and its values.

    We may not know all the details of the final battle.

    But one thing we do know, is who will be victorious.

    ???? ?’ ???? ?? ?? ????

    The sides will be clearly defined.

    Good will win over evil.

    Truth will win over lies.

    Yaakov will win over Eisav

    Yitzchok will win over Yishmael

    Am Yisroel will win over Amalek

    Purity will win over promiscuity

    Tzniyus will win over Pritzus

    Torah will win over Tumah

    There will be no more gray; only black and white.

    ???? ????? ?? ????? ??? ???? ??? ???? ??? ???

    We will be surprised, even shocked, what side of the fence people end up on.

    Let’s do our part now, before it’s too late, to make sure we end up on the right side of history, as the final chapter is written.

    ????? ?????

    Choose wisely my dear brothers and sisters, choose wisely.

  3. with 3 tzaddikim niftar in two weeks time-from three DIFFERENT parts of the world- R”L. will we start to appreciate every word of the tzaddikim that we still have & keep the world going by listening to them? or will klal yisroel need more sad wake-up calls C”V


  4. To those who think the end of the world is near:

    Dangerous way of thinking, if the “final battle” doesnt come to pass within the next year, or 10 years, or 100 years, then we’re left with alot of empty words.
    Also, we should look at the bright side. Until very recently, it was improbable that any 3 Gedolim would live to be approximately 100 years of age, and functioning well. Arichas Yomimm is more of a norm these days BH.

  5. Dor holeich v’dor bo. G-d willing, a new generation of gedolim will rise up to lead Klal Yisroel. We are saddened by our loss but we can be comforted by the sure knowledge that the niftarim hakodoshim have ascended to the great reward that they so richly desrve.

  6. At the initial article about the Petira of the Zakein HaRoshei Yeshivos at http://matzav.com/%d7%a2%d7%95%d7%9c%d7%9d-%d7%94%d7%aa%d7%95%d7%a8%d7%94-%d7%91%d7%90%d7%91%d7%9c-%e2%80%a2-%d7%a0%d7%a4%d7%9c%d7%94-%d7%a2%d7%98%d7%a8%d7%aa-%d7%a8%d7%90%d7%a9%d7%a0%d7%95-rav-chaim-stein, Comment # 44 from Alteh-Bucher sadly states:

    “Our communal silence as an Jewish orthodox community during the passing of the same gender marriage bill here in New York, makes us unworthy of having gedolim both here and in Eretz Yisroel.

    We don’t deserve them anymore.”

    Of course, Mr. Alteh-Bucher will certainly agree that the real villians in this severely tragic Toeiva picture are the severely wicked Toeiva people and their severely wicked supporters. However, to put the main blame on the Bnei Torah communities is quite incorrect. First of all, the Torah velt is one of the few places left in the world where, Boruch HaShem, Toeiva is strongly condemned. Second, throughout the years of the Toeiva thingy, representatives of the Bnei Torah communities always appeared before the relevant government legislative bodies to declare our strong opposition to the various pro-Toeiva proposals.

    At the same time though, it is very proper and commendable for us to have self criticism to realize and say that with all of the opposition-to-Toeiva that we did show, WE STILL DID NOT DO ENOUGH AS THERE WAS ALWAYS MORE THAT WE COULD HAVE AND SHOULD HAVE DONE!

  7. When soccer was first played on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld remarked ‘the players are Tinok Shenisbu; we are at fault for our failure to properly appreciate Shabbos’. Perhaps we are at fault in some manner for our failure to appreciate kedusha & tzius, both men & women. If we would be less desensitivized, we would have made a better emotional impact on the world at large.

  8. Yes, they are going to be missed very much, but I think we should thank the Ribono Shel Olem that they were Zoche to be Maarich Yomim Veshonim oif a Gezunte Oifen: so yes they are as I said going to be missed, but look at with what they go straight to Kissay Shomayim, the thousands of talmidei chachomim, the harbozas hatorah, that they spread. All these comments of we have to do Teshuvah, we have to be change in our middos, bein odom lechavero, is all very nice and we should be doing that anyways.
    But not on the account that Gedolim of such magnatude, that were Zoiche of Arichus Yomim Veshonim, 96, 97, 106

  9. Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas
    Time: 8:05 PM Pacific Standard Time

    (continuation of my previous comment #9)

    The general idea of Mr. Alteh-Bucher’s remark though, is, very sadly, 100% correct. There definately is a correlation between the terrible promotion of Toeiva in the world and the Histalkus of the greatest Gedolay HaDor.

    This is what literally happened in the earlier stages of the Toeiva thing.  For many years, the City Council of New York City had a proposed bill to give equal so-called “rights” to the Toeiva people.  Beginning in the late 1970’s, the spearhead of it was the severely wicked mayor of New York City, Edward Moore Koch. At each consideration of the proposal, there was fierce opposition from the frum communities, with several Bnei Torah actually coming to the Council Chamber and expressing their revulsion of Toeiva. Lehavdil, there was also fierce

    opposition from the Catholic communities, with the regional Catholic leader, Cardinal O’Conner, actually coming to the Council Chamber and declaring his condemnation of it.

    So at each attempt at passage, the bill was always voted down. At almost all of the times, it was voted down in its committee, which means it never made it out of its committee.  One time, it was passed by its committee, but it was then voted down by the general council.

    By 1985 though, there was a different situation. When I was at the Agudas Yisroel Convention, I saw Rav Dovid Zweibel (who I knew a bit as I sometimes davened in the Noveminsker Beis Medrosh, which he attends).  He told me that one of the council members who had been a leading opponent of the Toeiva effort, had just recently resigned; unfortunately, the new council member who replaced him was strongly pro-Toeiva. So they were now sadly expecting that in the next consideration, the Toeiva bill would pass.

    Furthermore, the wicked Mayor Koch had by then acheived a lot more political manipulations giving him a lot more support – despite the fact that the Bnei Torah and, Lehavdil, Catholic groups would put up as fierce of an opposition as ever.

  10. Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas
    Time: 8:08 PM Pacific Standard Time

    (continuation of my previous comment #11)

    In the Torah velt, the two Gedolay HaDor, Rav Moshe Feinstein, ZT’L, and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, ZT’L, had now, for a couple of years, been severely deathly sick. Thus, the thoughts of Bnei Torah were on being Mispallel for Moshe Ben Faya Gittel and Yaakov Ben Etka.

    On the day of Monday, 29 Adar I, 5746 (1986), there was scheduled the COMMITTEE vote on the Toeiva rights bill. I had davened Shacharis in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn; as I was speaking with one of the Chavrei HaKollel whom I knew, he quietly told me: “There’s a ‘Besura Ra’a’ – a ‘terrible rumor going around.'” In frightened shock — I didn’t want to say anything directly — I inquired “Zaiyin Adar???” He indicated the answer was “No.” So I “knew,” but was still not completely sure.

    About two and a half minutes later, the Mashgiach Koton of Mir, Rav Yisroel Fishman, Sh’lita, came over to the main entrance of the Beis HaMedrosh. He did not say a word; instead, in front of a number of Talmidim who were standing there, he taped onto the open door a small rectangular slip of paper. On it was hand written with ball point pen in script form Lashon HaKodesh the words that the Levaiya of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, ZT’L, would be held that afternoon in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas.

    It was further announced that, as it was Erev Rosh Chodesh, at Mincha (in Mirrer Yeshiva) would be the special Seder of Yom Kippur Koton to especially pray for Rav Moshe.

    When I was at the Levaiya, I did not truly feel the tremendous historical significance of the event until afterwards — when I exited the Torah Vodaas Beis Medrosh and building and was heavily stunned as I beheld the massive sea of people wall to wall packed on East 9th Street. I was soon jolted again when after — maybe it was a good ten minutes or so of walking — I reached Ocean Parkway; the right (northbound) lane was filled with, as far as the eye could see, a virtual endless line of parked chartered buses.

    In the political realm, that afternoon at the City Hall of New York City, yes, the Toeiva rights bill had passed its committee.

    As related above, by then, Mayor Koch, Sheim Reshaim Yirkav, had bought off several more council members, and a week and a half later on Wednesday — even the secular WCBS radio news termed it “The CONTROVERSIAL (Toeiva) Rights Bill” — was passed by the New York City Council.

    Several times the Mirrer Beis Medrosh was saying long periods of Tehillim for Rav Moshe.

    The following Sunday evening, again, Tehillim was said for a while. A bit later, I went back to the dormitory and in the room next to mine, which was empty, I sat down at a table and continued with some Divrei Torah I was writing my parents. A few minutes later, one of the roommates with whom we shared a telephone, came in and asked me: “Can I use the phone?” Of course, I replied in the affirmative. Evidently, he was calling his parents; almost immediately, I heard him —
    (This was later reported in a number of biographies, and clarified to me by one of the people who was present.) That Sunday night, an emergency bulletin had been sent out to shuls and yeshivos to urgently say Tehillim, for Rav Moshe had suddenly needed to be rushed to the ER. (The rumors were that it had been caused by AN OVERDOSE OF CHEMOTHERAPY.)

    In the Beis Medrosh of his yeshiva, the Yeshiva of Staten Island, the Talmidim were, of course, intensively saying Tehillim. In the middle, the large block of fluorescent lights that reached up to the front of the room (over where was the seat of the Rosh Yeshiva), began flickering and went out. NO ONE THOUGHT ANYTHING ABOUT THIS, because for quite a while, there had been trouble with that block of lights, as there was apparently something wrong with the circuit breaker. So someone went and turned the circuit breaker switch back on. The lights went back on but soon again flickered and went out; again, the circuit breaker switch was put on. In the middle of this, they noticed that the telephone was ringing; one of the Feinstein grandsons went to answer it. When he came back —
    — the words: “RAV MOSHE WAS NIFTAR!!!!” and burst into heavy sobbing.
    I stood up, and with the full Sheim U’Malchus, stated the B’racha: “Boruch Ata A—– E——– Melech HaOlam, Daiyan HaEmes!”
    — The students in the Beis Medrosh just collapsed down in their seats and wept.

    It was later noted that the year was 5746; the 5746th verse in the Torah states:

    “And it was after Moshe had completed writing the words of this Torah . . . ” (Devarim -Deuteronomy, chapter 31, verse 24).

  11. “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”

    Will the esteemed Rabbi Sherer please give us a list who these gedolim are?


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