The terrible blow that Klal Yisrael suffered last Erev Shabbos, with the passing of Maran Hagaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, zt’l has ramifications that reach to the ends of the world. We have all reacted in our own personal way, because as unbelievable as it may seem, we all had a personal connection to Rav Chaim through his Torah, his Seforim, his Berachos, his Halachic rulings or simply through his pure love for every member of Klal Yisroel.
In addition to feelings of sadness and concern about the future, the passing of the Gadol HaDor also provides an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of what Gedolim and Talmidei Chachamim do for Klal Yisroel and how they are central to our living successfully as Jews.
…the passing of the Gadol HaDor … provides an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what Gedolim … do for Klal Yisroel… The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 11:8, Yalkut Shimoni 520) on the very first Pasuk in our Parsha, is bothered by the seemingly superfluous words at the end of the Pasuk – ולזקני ישראל “And to the Elders of Israel.” The pasuk tells us that – And it was on the eighth day, Moshe called to (summoned) Aharon and to his sons and to the Ziknei Yisrael (elders). The question is – why was it necessary to call the elders – they were not being installed as Kohanim?
The Medrash says the following in the name of Rabbi Akiva: The Bnei Yisrael are compared to a bird. Just as a bird cannot fly without wings, so too Klal Yisrael cannot do anything without (the guidance of) their elders- their Gedolim and Talmidei Chachamim. HaRav Moshe Chait zt’l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Yerushalayim asked: A bird that cannot fly can still live a long time. It may not have a part of its functionality but it can still move and be otherwise healthy. So how does that teach us that Zekeinim are integral to Klal Yisroel? They are certainly a welcome and important feature, and nice to have around for ceremonies and the like, but couldn’t real life could go on fairly easily without them?
Rabbi Chait pointed out: When a bird is on the ground, it is always anxious, bobbing its head this way and that, furtively looking around, in constant motion and living in fear. It is extremely vulnerable when on the ground. Without its wings its very life is in danger.
Just as a bird cannot fly without wings, so too Klal Yisrael cannot do anything without their Gedolim. This is the Moshol, parable, that Rabbi Akiva is referencing. Klal Yisrael may be able to survive, it may look from afar that everything is OK, but just like thinking that the bird can exist without its wings is a delusion, so too the Jewish People without its Gedolim cannot accomplish a thing. Success and achievement are impossible without our Gedolim at the helm of our nation’s ship. The Zekeinim were necessary at the installation of the Kohanim, to teach us that the Gedolim and Talmidei Chachomim of every generation are integral to everything involving the Klal Yisroel.
What does this look like practically? Halachic disputes are decided and settled by the greatest of the Gedolim. Communal and national policy and practice are guided by the Gedolim. Individuals, families and communities that need help, support or direction, turn to Gedolim. Those in need of Parnassah, health, shidduchim, children, Shalom Bayis all turn to Rabbonim, Chachamim and Gedolim for Brachos, guidance and chizuk. The Gedolim are not only capable of helping, it’s because they care so deeply about every member of Klal Yisrael that they sacrifice their own personal time and efforts to work on behalf of everyone else. This, in turn, earns them additional Siyata D’Shmaya (Heavenly help) with which to guide and bestow blessing on others.
The children need to witness and experience the parents’ seeking and adhering to Psak and Hadracha from a Rav. How do we train our children to revere our Gedolim? It starts with their Rebbi/Morah in Yeshiva. Parents need to speak with respect and even reverence about the teacher of Torah who currently plays such a central role in their child’s life. Every family must have a personal Rav, preferably a local shul Rav, to whom they turn with Halachic questions and guidance and support for the family. The Rav also must be respected and admired by the parents. The children need to witness and experience the parents’ seeking and adhering to Psak and Hadracha from a Rav. Let them know when you have a Shaila and take them along, if appropriate, to participate in or at least experience the give and take that is part and parcel of a Rabbinic ruling. The children should be encouraged from a young age to ask questions when any doubt arises.
In addition to the unparalleled example Rav Chaim set, the Seforim he leaves to Klal Yisrael and the memories of true Torah greatness, we can add another facet to his great legacy. If we play our part in ensuring that our children’s generation learns to relate to our Gedolim in the manner that has prevailed among the Jewish nation ever since Moshe Rabbeinu, we will be bringing the greatest zechus possible to the holy Neshama of Maran HaGaon HaRav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim ben HaGaon HaRav Yaakov Yisroel zt’l Kanievsky.
יהי זכרו ברוך
Rabbi Kalman Baumann