After watching the Chofetz Chaim film many times, I realized the great and profound impact it has made on me and on others. Make no mistake, the world has changed since the release of this film; just watching the Chofetz Chaim walking into the Kenissah Gedolah, which took place in Vienna in 1923, has the power to transform each and every one of us into a better person.
The Chofetz Chaim (1838 – 1933) was very active in all Jewish causes, traveling extensively – even in his old age, to encourage Yidden from all walks of life in the learning of Torah and the keeping of Mitzvahs, and that is why he made the long hard trip from Radin, Poland, to Vienna, the capital city of Austria, to speak at the Kenissah A major reason for his enormous influence and acceptance by all was not for his great knowledge of Torah, and for his famous Seforim – Misnah Berura, Shmirat Haloshon etc…, but rather for his great humility and The Chofetz Chaim was a talmid of Rav Nachum Kaplan of Grodno (1811 – 1879) known as Rav Nachumka. He was so inspired by him, that even though he was generally against the taking of pictures, he kept a picture of his rebbi with him. When asked about this, he explained that he wants his talmidim to know “what an Erlicha Yid from the previous generation looked like”.
Those words of the Chofetz Chaim would definitely apply to himself – just watching the Chofetz Chaim walk with such simplicity and humility has a great impact on each and every one of us, and will constantly remind us what it means to be an Erlicha Yid.
The finding of this film after all these years is nothing less than a miracle; it was part of 75,000,000 feet of news footage of clips from 1919-1944, kept in old boxes and held together with rusty paper clips. It is therefore no coincidence that this film was found in the month of Adar – a time of Simcha, because there is no greater Simcha than learning Torah and following the Mitzvahs of Hashem.
It is interesting to note that even though the cameraman at that time, Hans Von Pebal was having camera trouble that day, and only had a limited amount of film, he chose to devote part of the footage to a young boy (2:09 till 2:14 of the film), who seemingly was of no interest or importance, probably because of his smile and the happiness radiating from his face. It is a reflection of true happiness. At a time when most had little, happiness was not measured by materialistic possessions, but rather by what really matters – inner peace and contentment.
The message to all of us is clear- if you are looking for a life of joy and happiness, it will not be achieved through the pursuit of Gashmiyus, but rather through the pursuit of Ruchniyus, the way the Chofetz Chaim lived and encouraged others to live. The Chofetz Chaim not only inspired the Yidden of Vienna at the Kenissah Gedolah so many years ago, but he continues to inspire us even today. There is no question, if we follow his advice, we will live a good life, and be zoicha very soon to the coming of Mashiach.
Rabbi Ari Spiegel