Putting aside whatever else I had in mind to write about, the petirah of Harav Hagaon Harav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Mir in Eretz Yisroel, is something which cannot be ignored, in any forum. No, I never learned in Mir (except for a one-month stint, in the mornings, about 32 years ago, before Harav Nosson Tzvi, zt”l, became the rosh yeshivah. To give you an idea of how different things were then, I walked into the beis medrash with a chavrusah, basically off the street, and found a seat!). I had no personal kesher with him — in fact, no kesher at all. Over the years I exchanged perhaps a few pleasantries with him. Yet he was someone I knew of, about, (and we’re talking real stories, not “Gedolim Bio 101”), and looked up to with the deepest of awe, respect, and reverence. Why? Well, there were indeed so many aspects to his gadlus. Yet it was not his legendary hasmada, not his legendary leadership in so many ways of the largest yeshivah in Eretz Yisroel, not his famous warmth to all his talmidim (and he felt that every single student in the yeshivah was indeed his talmid) and to all Jews which made me feel the way I did towards him. Of course, that all existed — in spades, as the expression goes.
Yet above and beyond all this — to me, at least — what was most inspiring beyond description, was the fact that the rosh yeshivah, zt”l, was able to do everything he did as he was overcoming an extreme medical obstacle, for he suffered from the debilitating illness known as Parkinson’s Disease. He had difficulty walking, talking and moving about. He suffered from tremors. Yet notwithstanding all of this, he gave shiurim. He gave shmuessen. He gave chizuk to groups, to individuals. He set policies for thousands upon thousands of talmidim. He expended every effort to raise funds for his yeshivah. He traveled to and from America, indeed all over the world, tirelessly talking, fund-raising for Torah, smiling, blessing, learning, being mechazek.
In one much overused word — unbelievable.
The Gemara states (Yoma 35b), “Hillel obligates the poor, and Rabbi Elazar Ben Charsum obligates the wealthy, as far as their obligation to Torah study.” They both grappled with not-simple circumstances yet rose to heights of righteous behavior, overcoming obstacles. And by doing so, they set a new standard for behavior for the destitute and the prosperous.
In a few weeks we will learn the Rashi which teaches that no less a person than Yaakov Avinu wanted a life of tranquility in this world — this after already going through events which seemingly took every resource Yaakov was able to muster. Hakadosh Baruch Hu responded, “Tranquility is something for olam haba to bring… this world is made for handicaps and difficulties.” But why, as Rav Yerucham Levovitz asks, why?! Yaakov’s tranquility would certainly have been used in the service of Hashem!? Answers Rav Yerucham: That is the whole point of olam hazeh! It is a world with difficulties, obstacles, hurdles, and hardships.
And there is a very specific reason and purpose for these bumps in the road! The beauty — yes, beauty! — of all the vicissitudes of life — parnasah issues, health issues, relationships, anxieties, child-rearing — is that they are all tailor-made by Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Maker of your body and your soul, the One who placed you in the moment in history that He did; the One who gave you the parents He did, the One who maneuvered your life so that you live in the country, city, neighborhood you are living in, and yes! with the neighbors you have, for — YOU! For your soul; for your growth; for your improvement and development. For you to fulfill the goals Hashem has set out for you, which is the reason for your having been created! When we see people struggling, straining, and yes, suffering and hurting, we all wonder and question Hashem’s ways — some of us more loudly than others, but we all do. There are many approaches to this theological question, yet the answer that works for me, the answer that I received every time I observed, or thought of, Rav Finkel, zt”l, the answer that tells me that “the question is not a question,” is that the point of it all is overcoming and triumphing over what we view at as a stumbling block, but in reality is the purpose and the intention of He who creates and controls all.
My tzaros are not your tzaros; my nisyonos are not your nisyonos; my issues are not your issues. We believe that Hashem is only Good and created the world in order to be a meitiv; that therefore whatever is happening to me is of necessity the best possible scenario for me, for my neshama, and is the ultimate good.
This of course has ramifications. It raises the level of my bitachon, which is predicated upon the belief that Hakadosh Baruch Hu does what is best for me; it gives me tremendous simchas hachaim, as I view the issues (that is to say — resolving them, or attempting to resolve them) as the fulfillment of my destiny. It makes for a cheerful person, an optimistic person, a creative person, a broad-minded, expansive personality, a dynamic person! It makes for a fulfilling life, come what may in terms of the sheer hassle and pain and heartbreak of it all.
And that is why in every picture of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, he is smiling broadly, optimistically and with bitachon, pulling off the impossible, fulfilling his tafkid in life with nothing more than the koach of sheer bechirah and willpower.
Yehi zichro baruch.
BTYA has started a weekly series teaching davening and topics in davening. It is basically free, and takes place for both men and women (with a mechitza), at BTYA, every Motzei Shabbos at 8:30 p.m. for an hour. The classes are taught by world-renowned speaker and lecturer, Rabbi Yehonsan Alpren, shlita. Come refresh and renew your tefillos, on an ongoing basis!