Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shedding Tears over the Deaths of the Sons on Aharon Hakohein Comments of Baruch Cohen in Observance of the 13th Yahrtzeit of Hindy Cohen

Hindy's 13th yahrtzeit which will be observed on Monday Rosh Chodesh Adar 2-27-2017 - Adar 1, 5777.

1. Rav Akiva Eiger’s Pure Dove

HaGaon Rabbi Akiva Eger (1761 – 1837) was an outstanding Talmud Chochom, an extraordinary Torah scholar, an influential Posek HaDor and foremost leader of European Jewry during the early 19th century.

He married Glicky Margolis (who was then 16 years old) in 1778 and had 4 children together. After 18 years of marriage, Glicky got sick and tragically died. Rabbi Akiva Eger was 34 years old at the time and was absolutely devastated and distraught. 

Shortly thereafter, his deceased wife’s sister and brother-in-law, saw that Rabbi Akiva Eger was in need of a life’s partner and offered him their daughter’s hand in marriage (Breinda Feivelman who was then 16 years old). His four children were still unmarried at the time. 

In a most powerful and remarkable letter (Michtivei Rabbi Akiva Eiger, 109) Rabbi Akiva Eger wrote a response to the Rabbonim who were asked to make the marriage suggestion for Ms. Breindel Feivelman to him. He respectfully declined the offer for the time being, explaining that he was unable to move forward until he first came to grips with the tragedy of his loss [Rabbi Yosef Tropper translated large segments of this incredibly powerful letter in his book “The Aishes Chayil Song” which you can get on Amazon. Rabbi Akiva Eger wrote: 
How can I answer you (regarding the proposed match)? My senses are confused, I cannot concentrate on anything.... ‘I firstly must state that I find this proposal to be insulting to my in-laws who are mourning the loss of their daughter as well.’”

Still, he reacted with astonishment to the thought of a match being proposed so soon after the loss of:

the wife of my youth, my pure dove, with whom Hashem blessed me ... She walked a son and a daughter together with me down the aisle with joy and happiness ... Who will I share my worries with and receive comfort, who will look after me and care for me ... Who knew her righteousness more than I? Many times we were up in animated discussions about the topic of Yiras Shamayim until the middle of the night.”

Rav Akiva Eiger did not hesitate to bare the depth of his despair, which rendered him, as yet, unfit for marriage: 

As you can see, I am a broken man, in a dark world (See, Sanhedrin 22a), I lost all pleasure. I accept Hashem’s decree. I cannot answer any Sh’eilos now, the tears make me unable to read.... I am unable to eat or keep down any food.... I cannot daven without distraction or even learn a simple topic.”... I did all that was in my power to care for my wife and keep her alive, and now I am weak and in grave danger.  I was unable to eat or keep down any food, I could not sleep. Thank God some of the medications have helped a little. I could not daven without distraction and could not learn a simple topic of Gemarah.... Even if I were to accept to marry your proposed suggestion, it would not be worth anything as I am not considered mentally stable enough to agree .... please give me time to regain my composure and clear thinking...”

Six months later, he accepted the match with his 16-year-old niece, to whom he was wed for 39 years, in a marriage that produced 13 children who survived into adulthood. When she too passed away, he was again broken, and passed away little more than a year later at age 75 in Posen (September 23, 1837).  

Rav Akiva Eiger, the Godol HaDor, could not even learn a page of Gemarah because the crushing pain of his loss of his loved one was so intense. 

2. Why Parshas Acharei Mos on Yom Kippur, and not Parshas Shemini?

The Shulchan Aruch: Section 621 Hilchos Yom KaKippurim, Seder Krias HaTorah; concerning the order of the Torah Reading for Yom Kippur rules: [After the Morning Service,] two Sifrei Torah scrolls are taken out of the Aron Kodesh. From the first Torah scroll, six men read [passages] from [the beginning of the Torah portion of] Parshas Acharei Mos...”

The Mishneh Berurah explains that it is stated in the Zohar : 

“Kol Mi SheMitzTaer Al Misas Bnei Aharon - that whoever grieves over the deaths of the sons of Aharon; 

O Morid Dimaos Aleihem - or sheds tears over them; 

Mochlin Lo Avonosav - will have his offenses pardoned; 

Uvanav Ainam Meisim BeChayav - and his children will not die in his lifetime.”

The deaths of the sons of Aharon HaKohein (Nadav & Avihu) are described in the Torah in two places: (1) in Sefer VaYikra - Parshas Shemini; & (2) in Sefer VaYikra - Parshas Acharei Mos.

In the 1st version in Parshas Shemini, the two sons of Aharon are named: Nadav & Avihu. The Torah reports their deaths in real time - as it’s happening: they offered an “Aish Zarah” an unauthorized foreign fire to the Mishkan and were burned to death immediately. Aharon HaKohein was silent and Moshe Rabbeinu consoled his brother. 

In the 2nd version of the same story, in Parshas Acharei Mos, the two sons of Aharon are not named (their identities are merely the sons of Aharon), the Torah summarizes their deaths after-the-fact (hence the name of the Parsha“Acharei Mos Shnei Bnei Aharon” - After the deaths of the sons of Aharon). Here, there is no report of their sin, no report of the cause of their deaths, nor Aharon and Moshe’s reaction. 

So this begs the obvious question: if I am to reflect seriously on Yom Kippur, on the deaths of the sons of Aharon to the point of tears, that it cleanses me of my sins and protects my children from tragedy, wouldn’t it make more sense to read the 1st version in Parshas Shemini - in real time - to relive the tragedy? Why would the Halacha require us to read the 2nd version that is after-the-fact, from Parshas Acharei Mos?

It must be, that there is something unique in the  2nd version of Parshas Acharei Mos, that is not to be found in the 1st version of Parshas Shemini version. Something so powerful, that it can detonate the secret of God’s repentance of Yom Kippur, and can immunize our children from death? What is it?

I would like to suggest that the 2nd version of Parshas Acharei Mos contains an editorial that is not contained in the 1st version of Parshas Shemini:

Hashem spoke to Moshe after the deaths of Aharon’s two sons - BeKirvasam El Hashem - when they approached before Hashem and they died.”

The Ohr HaChayim commentary explains that Aharon HaKohein’s sons Nadav & Avihu died “BeKirvasam El Hashem” because they got too close to Hashem. Their lives expired because of their extreme devotion to Hashem: “Sheniskarvu BiDeveikus Gamur LaKodosh Baruch Hu” Their Dveikus and intimacy with God was so intense, that it was “Neimus, Areivos, Yedidos, Chavivos, Neshikos & Metikus” words of great affinity, attachment and closeness. 

The Ohr HaChayim explains that when Nadav & Avihu served Hashem and performed Mitzvos, their souls were so on fire with love for God, that their Neshamos would reach like flames leaping to the sky, bursting out of their bodies, in an attempt to connect with their Heavenly Father. They didn’t go all the way and allow their souls to actually leave their bodies, and it took them great restraint to contain their souls within.

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HaRav Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhyn (the Rizhiner Rebbe) compared Nadav & Avihu’s holiness to Rebbi Akiva - one of the 10 Martyrs the “Eser Harugei Malchus “ who was tragically murdered by the Romans when they tortured him for teaching Torah and combed his skin off his body. According to the Gemarah in Berachos (61b), at the time the Romans were tearing off Reb Akiva’s skin he was Mekabel Ol Malchus Shomayim - he accepted upon himself the yoke of Heaven and was prepared to give up his life to sanctify Hashem - and his students asked him “Ad Kahn” Rebbi, isn’t this too much to handle?” Reb Akiva answered: “all my life I was troubled by my inability to fulfil the Mitzvah of being prepared to give one’s life for Hashem. Until now. He then recited Krias Shema while being tortured and his soul departed from his body when he got to the word Echad. The Rizhiner Rebbe explained that Reb Akiva was able to be MeDabek and cling his soul “BeDeveikus Niflaah” to the point of almost death (just like Nadav & Avihu). But because of the Mitzvah of VeChai Bahem - that one must live, Reb Akiva performed his Mitzvos with such a holy fire and intensity from within, that his soul would leap out of his body to cling to Hashem (but not all the way) Ad Klus Hanefesh. A hairbreadth short of death. 

But now that the evil Romans were actually killing him, and there was not going to be a tomorrow, Reb Akiva no longer had the Mitzvah of VeChai Bahem and therefore Reb Akiva was able to say Krias Shema with total perfection (unlike in the past where he held back) and he was able to “go all the way” with total and complete and unimpeded devotion and Deveikus to Hashem until his soul actually departed from his body. 

Yes, the Romans killed Reb Akivah - but he controlled the narrative and he relinquished his soul on his terms, saying the word Echad completing the Shema - in an ultimate act of  “BeDeveikus Niflaah.” 

Thus bringing beautiful meaning to our daily prayer: “VeHoEr Einenu BeSorasecha; VeDabek Libeinu BeMitzvosecha.” We ask Hashem to connect our hearts to his Mitzvos. 

According to HaRav Gedalyah Schorr, this too, explains the deaths of Nadav & Avihu. As it says in the 2nd version of Parshas Acharei Mos, they died  “BeKirvasam El Hashem” because of their extreme and intense Deveikus to Hashem. Their physical bodies could not contain their powerful souls. They served Hashem with their souls literally (almost) leaving their bodies to cling to God.

This is why the Torah in the Parshas Acharei Mos version uses a double-Loshon: Acharei Mos and then “VaYamusu.” They (almost) died whenever they served Hashem in the past, but by this time, they came so close to Hashem, closer than ever before, this time they remained dead, instead of them returning their souls to their bodies. Now, they relinquished their souls and ultimately died. Hence, Acharei Mos and then “VaYamusu.” 

Says HaRav Gedalyah Schorr, this explains the point in the Torah that Nadav & Avihu sinned “Asher Lo Tzivuy” they did something that they were not commanded to do. Whenever they did a Mitzvah that they were commanded to do in the Torah, their souls temporarily left to cling to Hashem; but the merit of the Mitzvah that Hashem commanded them to do, served as a spiritual safeguard that caused them to fall short of actually dying, and cause their souls to return to their bodies. The Mitzvah, having been commanded, was their lifeline that brought them back to life. But here, since they were not commanded to bring the foreign fire sacrifice, they were Ainu Mitzuveh - they did not have the protections of a Mitzvah, they didn’t have the protections of VeChai Bahem, and therefore without the protection of the Mitzvah, nor the protections of VeChai Bahem, so that their souls were free to leave their bodies out of pure Deveikus, with no safeguards, that they were able to relinquish their souls.

3. "V"

This concept of being close to Hashem, having Deveikus to God, is of profound significance to me on Hindy’s Yahrtzeit. 

On March 15, 1998, Hindy celebrated her becoming a Bas Mitzvah. She gave a wonderful speech about what the letters of the words: “Bas Mitzva” meant to her, that it represented some of the Midos that would one day define her personality once she would become an adult [Her speech is reprinted in full at the end of this article]. 

She broke down the letters of the word B-A-S:

B stood for Beauty; 
A stood for Ambition; 
S stood for Sensitivity. 

She further broke down the letters of the word M-I-T-Z-V-A: 

M stood for Meaning; 
I stood for Independence; 
T stood for Truth; 
Z stood for Zealousness; 

... and when she got to the letter “V” Hindy wrote:

V = Velcro: “I want to be attached to Hashem’s Torah & Mitzvos like pieces of velcro to one another. I want to stick to Hashem and be the best that I can be, and let no one pull me away from Torah & Mitzvos.”

A = Achievement

I believe that Hindy was “connected” in so many ways, and as a 12-year old girl, she already possessed the emotional maturity and intelligence and wisdom of an adult, to yearn to cling to God, even in the most trying of times. 

4. Are you Looking in, or Looking Out?

Going back to the question, if I am to reflect seriously on the deaths of the sons of Aharon to the point of tears, wouldn’t it make more sense to read the version in Parshas Shemini - in real time? Why does the Halacha require us to read the version that is after-the-fact, from Parshas Acharei Mos? Morai VeRabbosai, I would like to suggest the following:

I believe that the Halacha is sending us an incredibly powerful message: and that is, that hard times hit us all. No one is spared from tough times or pain. No one. But the real barometer of gaging how we’re doing after a setback, how we’re surviving, how we’re coping, how we’re transcending the test, is what is contained in Parshas Acharei Mos and that is “BeKirvasam El Hashem.” How close are we to Hashem? 

When we stand at Neilah before the end of Yom Kippur during the last final moments, watching as the Gates of Repentance close, do we perceive ourselves as standing outside of the city gates, looking in as the gates close, leaving us, on the outside? Or do we view ourselves standing within the city gates, from within, feeling God’s heavenly embrace and love as the gates close as a divine hug keeping us in his Kingdom for just another minute, for just another second of closeness to Him? Where are we? How close are we? 

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Our focus is not on our tragedies, and not on the past. We don’t dwell on our pain. We read the Torah portion on Yom Kippur from Parshas Acharei Mos about our intimacy with God now. It’s about “BeKirvasam El Hashem.” How close are we to Hashem - now? 

That’s the genius behind the Halacha. That’s why we read Parshas Acharei Mos on Yom Kippur. 

5. A Carrot, an Egg, and a Cup of Coffee

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed, that as one problem was solved, a new one arose. 

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second pot she placed eggs, and in the last pot she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. 

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. 

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. 

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. 

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?" 

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the exact same adversity and trauma ... boiling water. But each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?" 

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, or pain, have I become hardened and stiff and unapproachable? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart? 

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? 

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy. 

Bilah HaMoves Lanetzach, Umacha Hashem Elokim Dimah Meyal Kol Ponim - May He swallow up death forever; may Hashem wipe away tears from every face (Isaiah 25:8) T'hei Nishmasa Tzrurah B'tzror Ha'chaim.


Hindy’s Speech on the meaning of the letters in the words: Bas Mitzvah

“On March 15, 1998, I will celebrate my becoming a Bas Mitzva with my family and friends. The letters of the words: “Bas Mitzva” represent some of the Midos that will hopefully define my personality once I become an adult. I have chosen to work hard at improving the following:

B = Beauty: I believe that beauty goes beneath the skin. To me, a truly beautiful person isn’t defined by her physical appearance, but is to be appreciated by her sterling character. For example, when the Torah introduced us to our mother, Rachel Imeinu, the Posuk said that she was: “Yefas Toar Viphas Mareh” - fair in appearance. The great Yalkut Shemoni explains that she was beautiful because she was Gomel Chesed to her sister Leah, when she gave her the signals under the Chupa to avoid embarrassment. Like Rachel, I want to be known as having beautiful Midos.

A = Ambition: I have strong desire to achieve something important with my life. For example I have set a very high standard of scholarship for myself, in that I hope to complete the hole Tanach (Torah, Neviim & Kesuvim) by the time I’m 20. I am determined to do what Hashem tells me, even if it gets difficult and makes no sense. I believe that Hashem will show me the right way and make it easier to follow Him. Just like in Parshas Teruma, we see that Moshe Rabbeinu tried and tried and tried to build the Menorah until Hashem finally showed him how to make it. Up until this point in my life, it’s been pretty easy to follow in Hashem’s ways. Mitzvos were spoon-fed to me, my whole life, and all of my Aveiros went to my parents. Now that I am Bas Mitzva, and I am responsible for my actions, I am going to make sure that my personal record is complete with Mitzvos and accomplishments. 

S = Sensitivity: Sensitivity is very important to me. Not only should I be sensitive to my own feelings, but I should be extra sensitive to the feelings of others. Just like our Imahos & our Avos were. 

M = Meaning: I  want my life to be meaningful, and that means, that I want a life full of Hashem’s Mitzvos. I don’t want my birthdays to simply come and go without there being an important accomplishment in my life to make it special. I want the years, the months, the weeks, the days, the minutes, and even the seconds of my life to be important. Especially now that I am a Bas Mitzva, and all my Mitzvos count, I cannot afford to throw away a single Mitzvah. We can see that from all our Chachomim and Rabanim, who try to make every moment meaningful, doing everything that comes their way B’simcha.

I = Independence: In the past, if I messed up, my parents assured me that it was OK to goof, and that there’s always a next time. While it’s still OK for an adult to mess up every once in a while (after all, they are human too), nevertheless, now that I am turning Bas Mitzva, I must take complete responsibility for my actions and make sure I am doing the right thing. I am starting over pure and new, with a clean Neshama.

T = Truth: Truth is very important to me because my friendships and relationships must be built on Emes (truth). I cannot exist with Sheker (lies). As the Torah says in Parshas Mishpatim, “Midbar Sheker Tirchak” - distance yourself from a lie. I believe this means that I must be truthful even when it is difficult. Only truth is the path to being a true Bas Yisroel. 

Z = Zealousness: It’s not just the quantity of Mitzvos that is important to me, but it is  also the quality of them that interests me. I want my Yiddishkeit to be alive with electricity. I do not want to be bored with Davening, and learning Chumash. I want my Davening to be “on fire,” and I want my learning to be exciting. I think it is very good to do everything in life B’Zrizus. Just like Moshe Rabbeinu, whenever Hashem told him to do something, he did with zealousness.

V = Velcro: I want to be attached to Hashem’s Torah & Mitzvos like pieces of velcro to one another. I want to stick to Hashem and be the best that I can be, and let no one pull me away from Torah & Mitzvos.

A = Achievement: I want to achieve in whatever Hashem tells me to do. Whatever I do in life, I want to be the best at it. I want to reach the greatest, most powerful goals. Learning Torah & keeping Mitzvos.”