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  • Writer's pictureRachel Shifra Tal

When a Tzaddik passes away

Despair is not a Jewish concept. Our national anthem is called Hatikva (hope) as a nation of tremendous loss, here for thousands of years as a witness to history. We have endured tremendous suffering and persecution, yet we remain, vigilant, stubborn, and amazingly, optimistic. A Jew is always yearning for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. In all our homes, we leave a portion unfinished not in memory of the destruction, but in hope for the rebuilding of the Temple.

This past week four tremendous souls passed away. Four Tzadikim, righteous leaders and tremendous Torah scholars. When a Tzadik (a righteous person) dies, there is a space/void left in their wake.

It is easy to feel a feeling of despair, how will we continue without these holy souls? People describe the feeling that the world is that much darker. Yes, it is true and yet there is this space left.

What is the space for? We understand that when a soul comes into this world, the entire universe makes space, so what happens when they die?

‘The greatness of a righteous tzaddik is not fully evident while he is still alive and his students can behold his physical presence. It is only after the passing of such a leader that we can know what effect he had on those who follow his ways.’ Rabbi Schneerson

This paragraph above holds the answer. The Tzaddik’s effect is felt by the influence they leave. Even more importantly, what we do in their wake.

I always love how people stand up for their elders in religious circles. I went an exceptionally large wedding, the largest I have ever been to in my life. It was a dynasty wedding, where two great Torah families were marrying into each other. During the chuppah, they called up some of the most prominent gedolim (great Rabbi’s) to give a bracha. When each was called, the entire room rose as one in respect. Respect for what? Why do we stand up in the presence of these great scholars? A beautiful and deep reason, we stand for the Torah contained within them.

Make for yourself a Rav is one of the first perekim in Perkei Avot.

R Yehoshua ben Perachya said, make for yourself a Rav, acquire a friend and judge every person favourably

When I am supporting a person, who is looking for a dating partner, I am always asked the same question. What qualities should I look for in a partner? My first answer always is, look for a man who answers to a higher power, greater than himself. We should always answer to a power greater than ourselves.

This weeks parsha is Yitro. Amazingly, Yitro himself gives Moshe one of the greatest pieces of advice about proper leadership and democracy. He says it is lo tov, not good for Moshe to be leading alone. The only other time the words lo tov, not good are ever used is in Bereshit when Hashem said it is not good for man to be alone.

We stand up and pay careful attention to this wisdom. Make for yourself a Rav, a person as Rabbi Nivin says, ahead of you in the lifecycle. We are a nation of leaders, asked to carry the task of being an example of morality.

I remember the first time I met a man who was Mr…so and so. I remember wondering why he was not a Rabbi! I always just assumed it was Rabbi and Mrs…never Mr and Mrs! When a little girl, I used to think every man I met was a Rabbi! Where I lived, that was actually mostly accurate! In a way, that is true, we are all leaders.

The people of Israel are all called upon to rise to the unique mission, to be ambassadors of GD in this world. We are called upon to be a nation of leaders. It is why when a religious person stumbles, the spotlight is shown on them so harshly. We don’t get let off for dropping the ball.

A Rav is a leader, a mentor, and an example for us. We turn to them in times of trial, in the good times and for guidance. In turn, they are shouldered with the responsibility to portray the Torah and GD’s word, accurately.

Yet, Judaism is one of the only religions that doesn’t require one to go through a medium to connect to Gd. We pray directly to Gd every single day! So why the Rav?

As a little girl, I spent a lot of time around Rabbi Twerski’s nephew, also a Rabbi Twerski! His uncle Rabbi Avraham Twerski ztl would come to visit and I remember sitting and just listening to his stories. One of my favourites was about a worker who came to the house to repair it. He fed the man breakfast and then he got to work. The man fixed several things that day, however when you turned on a light switch downstairs, the upstairs bathroom would flush! I kept trying to figure out the story and what it meant.

This is a great part of who Rabbi Twerski was, he spoke about the mundane and picked up the sparks and taught profound Torah lessons from them. He showed how Ein Od Milvado, there is nothing except for GD. Mundane is Kadosh (Holy). Each moment of the story taught me something that I hopefully keep to this day.

Beginning with feeding the worker breakfast. He went into great detail about all the foods he got out of the fridge for this guy! It was so hilarious the breakfast foods he served him! His story proved that his wife for sure was the chef, based on the insane assortment of food he took out of the fridge. Even as a small girl, I knew that!

A handful of lessons just from the breakfast he managed to teach…

Caring for those who work for you.

Humility, serving the hired help, how we are above nobody, how we are all equal souls and worthy of honour, here this ancient Rabbi who for sure had tons of things to do, made a choice to focus on taking care of this man, so his stomach would be full and when he was serving him breakfast, he showed this worker his true worth. We all carry the spark of the Divine within us, no one is better or more important. We never know the reason of a soul’s journey in this world. Great people treat all they meet with tremendous respect as a nod to the Divine within.

He ended his story saying that he never fixed that light switch, it was there to remind him that we never know what effect we have on a person in life and that life needs a sense of humour, flexibility, and adaptability.

A Tzadik is in the details of the everyday. How one behaves when the situation is not ideal, really reveals their true nature. Even so, if a person responds poorly, they can continue to work on themselves and grow if we let them.

Another incredible lesson we can learn. To label a person as the holy soul that they are, to look for that spark of the Divine within. We need to give the people around us, and very importantly ourselves the opportunity to bring out this inner spark.

A Rav provides, inspiration, example, direction and focus.

When a Tzadik dies, there is a space left in the world, we must fill it.

May we take the teachings of these and other holy souls and integrate their Torah into this world.

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