Divrei hesped written by the Mashgiach, Harav Shlomo Wolbe, z"l, following the petirah of the Bais Yisrael of Ger, zy"a, on 2 Adar, 5737/1977.
Tuesday Parashas Ki Sisa, 5737
The Rishonim explain the cheit ha'eigel, that Klal Yisrael felt that they could no longer be without Moshe Rabbeinu, and therefore decided to make for themselves an image that would remind them of their leader. Although this was forbidden, their motivations were positive: because they so deeply felt the need for a leader and guide they could not wait even another day.
Aharon Hakohein, who helped them make the eigel, shared this sentiment:
"He [Aharon Hakohein] saw that Chur had been killed [for not going along with the initiative for chet ha'eigel], and said, if I don't go along with them, they will do to me as they did to Chur, and fulfill with me 'Im yeihareg bemikdash Hashem Kohein venavi-if a kohein [Aharon] and navi [Chur] are killed," there will be no takanah for this forever. It is better that they serve the eigel-perhaps they will be able to attain a takanah through teshuvah. (Sanhedrin 7a)
The Maharsha there says, "This aveirah has no atonement because the Torah was given to us to listen to chachmei Torah, the Kohein and Navi, and punishes those who don't listen to them with death."
As such, the ties that Klal Yisrael have with its chachamim are so fundamental that there is no atonement and forgiveness for severing those ties. Even the eigel, despite being a serious sin, was atonable comparatively.
If this matter is so crucial for Klal Yisrael, and everything is contingent on whether there are chachamim and morei derech for the nation, how awesome are the words in Yeshayahu Hanavi, (29, 13-14):
"And Hashem says, '... with its mouth and lips it [the nation] has honored Me and its soul it has distanced from Me, and their fear of Me has become automatic and routine, therefore, 'Hinneni yosif lehafli es ha'am hazeh hafle vafele' and the wisdom of its wise men will be lost and the insight of its sages will be concealed."
Rashi explains, "Hafleh vapeleh means a cover upon a cover, a seal over a seal. What does it mean? The demise of chachmei Yisrael is double as hard as the churban Bais Hamikdash and all the curses in Sefer Devarim, because all those are one hafla'ah, as it says, 'Vehafleh Hashem es makosecha', and here it says the word hafle vapele, twice."
The sin of Am Yisrael was "their hearts have been distanced from Me." They do the mitzvos, learn Torah, daven, make brachos, but without the soul. Not only are their souls distant from what the mouth says, but they distance their souls to all sorts of other matters. Their yiras Hashem is habitual, as a mother gets a child used to doing in his youth, what the melamed has taught him in cheder. It is all just taught and performed; there is no soul and real feeling.
We know that punishments from Above come in the form of making our nisyonos more challenging for us. If until now, things were automatic, without soul- now it will be much harder for us to reach true feeling in our Torah and mitzvos: The demise of chachamim makes it more difficult. Up to this point, Chachamim taught and rebuked, but things still remained habitual, without any feeling. And now, there won't even be rebuke; there won't be anyone to awaken us, which will make it doubly difficult to reach any true feeling.
This punishment is much more serious than the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Even the Bais Hamikdash cannot bring to an awakening if there is no prophet or chacham. Neither will the curses in the tochachah effect the desired results if there are no chachmei Yisrael who understand why Klal Yisrael was given the rebuke and the curses. The loss of chachamim, the concealment of the sages, is a "double blow, a cover upon a cover, a seal upon a seal" (Rashi above)-on the soul! The soul that was so distant from yirah has now been double sealed off and covered; how much more difficult the avodah shebalev will become with all these coverings!
However, as with all punishments in the Torah, this one too, has a remedy for the nation: If they did not listen to Gedolei Yisrael in their lifetimes, then their deaths have a staggering impact. "And when are divrei Torah fulfilled? When their masters are taken from them" (Yalkut Koheles 12), and in this way tzaddikim are greater in their deaths than in their lifetimes (Chulin, 7b). What they were unable to effect with their rebuke during their lifetimes, the horror of their passing will accomplish, because then everyone awakens and recognizes their situation and their hearts suddenly desire to strengthen in avodas Hashem.
This is the feeling after the passing of the Gerrer Rebbe, ztvk"l. He has led his flock for nearly thirty years b'chessed elyon, with deep concern for every aspect of the lives of every one of his thousands of chassidim. There is no area of life that he was not involved in. Gerrer shtieblach are full every morning to the capacity from four until seven in the morning, because the Rebbe instructed his chassidim to learn during these hours. How he worried for chinuch, and for Chinuch Atzmai!
He was strongly involved in the holiness of bachurim and avreichim. What an organized community! Those who came to him for advice and to consult him on whether to perform dangerous operations and the like were not exclusively his chassidim. This is a loss for his chassidim and for Klal Yisrael in general!
It is impossible to imagine this generation without the chassidic world, and we must concede that besides for the yeshivah world, only chassidus enables Klal Yisrael to exist.
Let us look into the words of my Rebbe and teacher, Harav Yeruchem Levovitz, zy"a, (Daas Chachmah Umussar, Part 2, Maamar 78):
"Whoever is familiar with chassidus, knows that it only took hold with tremendous mesirus nefesh, and its leaders risked their lives to imbue chassidus within Klal Yisrael. This is proof of the intent of l'sheim Shamayim that its founders had. Chassidus is not a new Torah; it is a new emphasis ("a naye kneitsch") that they found in the Torah. If so, why were they so energized to the extent that they were ready to be moser nefesh to spread this new "knietsch" in the world? Would Torah not have been the same Torah without it? It must be that this l'sheim Shamayim was the biggest mofess (wonder) of the shitah of chassidus. Because it was l'sheim Shamayim, it was Torah Hakedoshah to them, for which one is required to be moser nefesh, because every single word, every dagesh, every emphasis in Torah, requires a commitment to the point of mesirus nefesh."
There are two chiddushim here, in addition to the appreciation of the shitah of chassidus: The first is that the mesirus nefesh displayed for an emphasis in Torah proves the l'sheim Shamayim involved; the second is that something that is totally l'sheim Shamayim is Torah.
The source of the first chiddush is from Shimon Hatzaddik, who did not eat the [korban] asham nazir of any nazir who became impure except a specific one who came from the south (Nazir 4b). Tosafos there explains that he did not eat from the asham nazir because he was afraid that once the nazir became impure he may have regretted his promise to become a nazir. This would make the korban chullin, an invalid korban.
He did eat from that specific nazir because "It is regarding you that the passuk says 'lehazir l'Hashem,' meaning that the beginning of his neder was completely l'sheim Shamayim so Shimon Hatzaddik was not worried that the nazir would regret his promise even if he became impure. But the others who made promises when in a state of distress or because of an aveirah that they had done and did it as atonement, as the days pass from their decision, they regret their undertaking."
From this Tosafos we see that only when an action is completely l'sheim Shamayim can we be sure that the person will carry through until the end, even if it will take longer than he thought, because that is the power of "lishmah." So when we see how they were ready to give up their lives for one emphasis in Torah and withstood the most difficult challenges, this is proof that their intentions were completely l'sheim Shamayim. If not, they would not have withstood the tests.
The source of the second chiddush - that something that is l'sheim Shamayim is "Torah Hakedoshah": The Gemara in Brachos 63a says, "Bar Kaparah taught, on what small parashah are all bodies of Torah contingent? Bechal deracheca da'eihu vehu yeyasher orchosecha." Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Mishlei on this passuk that one meaning of this is that the intentions of everything one does should be l'sheim Shamayim. According to this, all the bodies of Torah are contingent on the "lishmah," and the purpose of the whole Torah and all the mitzvos is to bring a person to do them lishmah. The Rambam also explains this in his Peirush Hamishnayos at the end of Makkos.
We learn from this that if an action or emphasis is completely l'sheim Shamayim, this is Torah Hakedoshah-because "lishmah" is Torah itself!
Rav Yeruchem continues:
"We see the same regarding the study of mussar. Reb Yisrael [Salanter] z"l introduced the "kneitsch" of mussar and fought the whole world for it with mesirus nefesh. What was all the fuss about for the study of mussar a few minutes a day? These few minutes would seem to be so trivial, but Reb Yisrael devoted his entire life solely to this purpose of spreading mussar in the world. This shows that his intention was entirely l'sheim Shamayim."
Mussar and Chassidus are both a new "kneitsch" in the holy Torah. Fundamentally, both of them may not be that distant one from the other.The Arizal said before his passing that he had not managed to reveal the entire Toras Hakabbalah, and promised that he would return again to complete the task. A recently published sefer says that he did just that: In the subsequent generations came the Baal Shem Tov, the Ramchal and the Vilna Gaon, who completed the revelation of his Torah. What was this revelation if the Arizal said that all of his words were from Chazal?
He did not reveal the nimshal, and only his close confidant, Harav Chaim Vital, zt"l, with his great depth and wisdom, understood it but he, too, concealed it. And so, these three tzaddikim were the ones who revealed the nimshal in Kabbalah. When these three are compared we can see the similarities between them. The nimshal in Kabbalah is the very foundation of the path of the Baal Shem Tov as well as the Torah of the Gra in Toras Hanistar, and this is the basis of the teachings of his talmidim after him until Rav Yisrael Salanter.
The common denominator between mussar and chassidus is the battle against melumadah, rote in Torah and mitzvos; they both vigorously oppose an approach to avodas Hashem that is just "with the lips and the mouth they have honored Me but their souls are distant from Me!"
The passing of the Gerrer Rebbe should awaken us all: If we have lost the wisdom of our wise men, then we are guilty that our yiras Hashem is melumadah, without soul, without substance!
The consolation for the grieving kehillah is that baruch Hashem, it has a continuation. The chassidus is a flourishing tree, and it has not waned to this day. Those who say that only the early founders of Chassidus were great, but today it has declined and is no longer the same chassidus, are lying. That is the way of historians: they only look back in retrospect; they do not see and do not want to see life in the present. Of course, our generation cannot compare itself to past generations, but based on this generation, Chassidus is alive and thriving, and it bears fruit and will continue.
And Halevai we should merit to see a continuation of the study of mussar and the avodas hamussar and to see great baalei mussar as well, because we know today that, if chas veshalom the mussar derech will not continue, it means that Torah is being forgotten, Rachmana litzlan. It is imperative that mussar should also have a hemshech, both in learning and in practical implementation and by having baalei mussar, b'ezras Hashem!