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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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And Aharon the kohen went up onto Mount Hor by the order of the L-rd, and died there, in the fortieth year after the Exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, in the fifth month, on the first of the month.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro decided to build a yeshivah that would provide its students with all the conditions necessary to enable them to become great rabbis. The task was not an easy one.
Reb Shemuel Eichenbaum, a well known philanthropist, donated a gigantic plot of land in Lublin on which to construct the yeshivah. It covered an area of thirty-five thousand acres and was located on Lubertovska Street.
The cornerstone was laid on Lag B'Omer, 5684 (1924), with fifty-thousand people in attendance, headed by the Rebbes of Chortekov and Gur. It was a grand celebration for the Jewry of Poland.
On that day, all the roads led to Lublin. From the capital of Austria many followed the Rebbe of Chortekov. Even from Bokobina, Romania, many Jews came to attend the festivities. From Gur the Rebbe left with a radiant smile and announced that he was going to Lublin, and soon afterwards the whole train was filled with people accompanying him from Warsaw to Lublin.
Everyone came: Rebbes, rabbis, the poor, workers, shopkeepers, and even porters wearing their thick ropes around their waists all were on their way to Lublin.
An interesting legal case occurred before the ceremonies began. It was adjudicated by the Rebbes of Gur and Chortekov, together with Rabbi Meir Shapiro. The case involved Reb Shmuel Eichenbaum's wife, who claimed that she should get half the mitzvah of donating the plot, since it was half hers. Her husband protested, and Rabbi Shapiro agreed with him, saying that the idea was her husband's, and it was not fair for his wife to receive an equal share.
In the end a compromise was agreed upon. The wife obligated herself to supply the yeshivah students with milk, butter and cheese from one of her farms in the Lublin area for as long as the yeshivah existed. In exchange for this obligation, the great rabbis ruled that she would receive half the mitzvah of founding the yeshivah.
The actual work of building the yeshivah began with enthusiasm as the foundations were laid. Alas, in order to complete the building, enormous sums of money were needed. Rabbi Shapiro left his work in other areas and devoted himself entirely to the task of raising funds for the building of this yeshivah that would raise future Torah giants.
When Rabbi Shapiro was asked by the leaders of Agudath Yisroel why he was leaving all his other projects in the Agudah movement, and investing all his energy into this one specific project of erecting the yeshivah, he answered, "Give me the opportunity and I will raise two hundred people similar to myself, and they will turn over the entire world."
Rabbi Shapiro went out to complete his project. First he donated all the property he had inherited from his wealthy father-in-law. He pleaded with the Jews of Poland to help build this important yeshivah, and the poor Polish Jews gave. An appeal was established, called Grush Ladaf," which was based on the principle that everyone who learned the Daf Hayomi (the daily learning of a page of the Talmud, which was founded by Rabbi Shapiro) would give a grush (one cent) for each daily page that he had learned. Even the Rebbe of Gur participated in this appeal.
In spite of the multitudes who took part in this campaign, the amount raised did not suffice for the monumental project that Rabbi Shapiro had undertaken. Rabbi Shapiro then traveled to raise funds in the United States, England, France, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Switzerland. In the United States he gave 242 sermons, and it was said that he gave a new lease on life to Yiddishkeit in America, and that he gave much more than he received. He raised fifty-three thousand dollars on this trip, which covered the major part of the funding of the building.
At first, he was not successful in his fund raising. People would not listen to him and would not donate. Seeing that he had no other choice, he agreed to be a chazzan on the high holidays and thus raised his first thousand dollars for his campaign. After hearing his wonderful melodies, the shul paid him handsomely.
Rabbi Shapiro did not know what it meant to be tired. He began preparing the first group of students who would learn in the yeshivah. He had decided to combine various different methods of learning, therefore he traveled to the Lithuanian yeshivah centers, such as Radin, Slobodka, Klotzk, Mir and Baranowitz. Everywhere he went he was well-received. He gave lectures at various yeshivos, capturing the hearts of all who heard him.
Rabbi Shapiro stood on the podium in the yeshivah of Radin, and told the students of his travels in the United States and of the great difficulties he had encountered there. He related that one morning he was sitting in his hotel room full of disappointment and exasperation. He sang to himself the famous melody, "Im amarti matah ragli, chasdecha Hashem yisadeini." At that point, Rabbi Shapiro demonstrated to his listeners how he had sung, and there was not a dry eye in the house.
Afterwards, Rabbi Shapiro related how his situation improved after he was hired to be a chazzan, and how he became gradually more successful in raising funds, until one morning he found himself in his hotel room content, and then he sang to himself the second part of the same melody, which ends with a happy tune. At this point in his speech, he demonstrated once more by singing the tune. The happiness and inspiration in his voice caught the enthusiasm of the students in Radin, and everyone began singing and dancing the famous melody "Im amarti matah ragli, chasdecha Hashem yisadeini."
Everyone appreciated the greatness of Rabbi Meir Shapiro and wished their own children to be as great as he was. But in order to acheive such a goal we must put great effort into educating our children, for greatness is not attained without those efforts.
Moshe, Aharon and Elazar ascended the mountain of Hor. Moshe was embarrassed to say that the time had come for Aharon to leave this world, so he tried to hint it to him. Moshe said, "My brother, Aharon, do you wish to know what the verse says about Avraham?" "Yes," answered Aharon.
Why was Moshe embarrassed to tell Aharon outright that he was going to die? Why did Moshe think that Aharon would understand the hint about death when he cited the verse about Avraham's death, yet in reality Aharon did not understand it? Why did Moshe first speak about death in another hundred years? What is meant by the words "Aharon followed Moshe just as a lamb being brought to the slaughter?" What was so magnificent about Aharon's actions, that G-d chose to show it to the holy angels? Why was it so important for Aharon to see that his son would inherit his greatness? What did Aharon mean when he said that he wished he had come there long before? Why did Moshe desire the same death as Aharon? Why did Moshe say the verse "May G-d, the L-rd of [human] spirits [be blessed],"after he heard the verdict that he would die in the same way his brother died?
Moshe was embarrassed to say that the time had come for Aharon to leave this world, so he tried to hint it to him.
Moshe was embarrassed to tell Aharon outright that he was going to die because Aharon was the older brother to whom Moshe owed respect. How could he have informed his brother that he was about to die, when he felt inferior to him, and when he felt that because of his own sins he himself deserved death more than his brother did? This can be understood in light of the fact that Moshe excelled in his humility, as the verse says, "And the man Moshe was more humble than any person on earth."4 Being so humble, it was a terrible task for him to have to inform his brother of his impending death, since it would show a trace of haughtiness, implying that Moshe deserved to live, and his brother deserved to die.
It was especially painful to tell Aharon that he was about to die, as Aharon was famous for spreading peace and good feelings among people. Now Moshe had to deliver such sad news to a person who did only good to others.
Moshe thought that Aharon would understand the hint about death through the verse about Avraham's death, because in speaking about the peace Avraham would find in death, Moshe was using a similar tool to that which Aharon himself had used to help others. When Aharon heard of a couple quarreling, he would tell the wife that her husband was sorry and wanted to make peace, and he would tell the same to the husband about his wife. Aharon was stretching the truth for the sake of peace, and to avoid hurting the feelings of others. Therefore Moshe thought that when he spoke about ultimate peace in death, Aharon would understand the hint, although it was not explicit.
But Aharon did not understand it, since he was far above being hurt by being told that he would die before Moshe. He harbored no bad feelings whatsoever, since he loved G-d completely, and happily accepted whatever G-d decreed for him. Therefore he could not possibly understand such a hint, since he would have assumed that if Moshe wanted to tell him something about his death, he would have told him directly, since Aharon would have been able to accept it.
Moshe first spoke about death in another hundred years because it is always easier for a person to accept something painful when it is not imminent, since a person tends to think he has time to deal with the pain and that he will learn to accept it. Moshe cleverly mentioned something in the distant future which he knew Aharon could easily accept. Once Aharon had accepted the general idea of death, it would be easier for him to come to terms with the reality, even though it would occur earlier than anticipated.
G-d said to the holy angels, "You wondered at the courage of Yitzchak when he ascended the altar to be sacrificed and did not protest. Come and see the elder brother going after his younger brother to accept death."
We are told that Aharon followed Moshe as a lamb being brought to slaughter. A lamb does not show any sign of protest when it is taken to slaughter because it is a very tame animal, and even if it knows what is happening, it is not in its nature to protest. That is exactly the way Aharon accepted the verdict of his death. He did not protest at all, but rather accepted it with all his heart. To him it was as if he was being told to teach a halachah or to speak with a family. His love of G-d was so great that he did not feel any reason to protest, since it was clear to him that whatever G-d decided for him was the best thing that could possibly happen.
The manner in which Aharon accepted G-d's decree was so great that G-d showed it to the holy angels. G-d pointed out to them that Aharon's act was even greater than the self-sacrifice of Yitzchak, since Yitzchak received the command to be slaughtered from his father, and it is the nature of a son to accept his father's commands. But Aharon was told that he was going to die by his younger brother, and a person has no obligation to obey a younger brother.
Since the midrash relates that G-d pointed this out to the holy angels, it teaches us that there is a great lesson hidden in Aharon's actions. Aharon accepted death, just as he would have accepted anything else G-d had demanded of him. This shows us how we must love G-d and accept all His decrees. Even if something which G-d decrees may seem to us to be a tragedy, the truth is that whatever comes from G-d is always good and merciful, and therefore we must accept it willingly, although we may not understand it.
The kohen's clothes that Moshe removed from Aharon were used by him to dress Elazar, his son, in front of Aharon...
It was important for Aharon to see that his son would inherit his greatness, because it is the natural wish of every parent to see his child take his place when he must leave this world. This is the idea behind the inheritance that the Torah says should go to the child. Since the child inherits the possessions of his father, it is natural for him to take over his father's position as well. Likewise a child "inherits" facial features similar to those of his parents, and this should encourage him to wish to emulate his parents.
G-d wanted to give Aharon the satisfaction of knowing that his son was worthy of filling his father's place as kohen gadol. Moshe, on the other hand, did not merit to have that same satisfaction, since his own children were not worthy of filling his place and he had to appoint someone outside his family, Yehoshua, to lead the people after him.
People are generally afraid of death, because it is an unknown event, and also because of the judgment that we must endure after our deaths, for we cannot be certain what will be the outcome of that judgment. When Aharon saw at the time of his death the beauty of the World to Come that he had been granted due to his righteous deeds, he said that it was a pity he had not died earlier. This is what our Sages mean when they say, "One hour of satisfaction in the World to Come is better than all the satisfaction of this world."6 Once Aharon saw that he had indeed gained a high place in the World to Come, he regretted that he had not arrived there earlier, since life in this world is far inferior.
When Moshe saw how Aharon died, he desired the same type of death for himself...
Aharon's death came through direct contact with G-d, rather than through any messenger, such as death by a heart attack or an accident. G-d took Aharon's soul with love. Moshe envied this death, and wished that he too would have the merit to experience such a death when the time came for him to depart from this world.
A beautiful story illustrates this idea of death through a messenger. G-d appointed a particular angel to be the angel of death. The angel protested and said, "Everyone will hate me, since no one wishes to die. Why must I accept such a detestable task?" G-d answered, "Have no fear. When you will visit someone and bring him death, people will say, 'He died of a heart attack,' or 'He was killed in an accident.' People will not blame you for death."
This means that all death comes from G-d, although it takes many forms and can be attributed to various causes. But it is always the will of G-d, working through the Angel of Death. People generally forget this obvious truth, and focus only on the illness or the other apparent causes of death, and they neglect the truth, that it was G-d's will that was the real cause of the person's death.
That is an element of what Moshe envied in Aharon's death. It was clear that it came directly from G-d's hands and left no room for anyone to say that it had some other cause.
The reason Moshe recited the verse, "May G-d, the L-rd of [human] spirits,"7 after he heard that he would die in the same way his brother did, was because it was with these same words that Moshe requested that someone take his place as leader of the Jewish people. The explanation in the midrash may be that once Moshe heard that he merited to die a death similar to that of his brother, he was completely content, since he felt this was the perfect way to die. The only thing left for him to do was to ask G-d that someone worthy take his place, since he knew that his own children would not assume that task.
It is a natural tendency for a parent to want his children to continue his tasks after he dies. That is why Aharon had such great satisfaction when he saw that his son Elazar was wearing the clothes of the kohen gadol which Moshe had removed. If a father is a doctor, he often wants his son to be a doctor. If the father has a business, he usually wants his son to take over that business when he retires.
In order for such a wish to be fulfilled, it requires an investment of time and interest on the part of the parent, to train his child to assume his role. The father must find time to show his son both the joys and the intricacies of his profession. He must explain everything to him, and convince him of why it is such a wonderful profession.
If the son simply watches his father leaving for work and then returning home late in the evening, this will not encourage him to want to emulate his father. The parent must get his child involved in the work in order for the child to be excited about it. Otherwise the child will turn his interests elsewhere.
The same is true concerning Torah learning. A father who does not take time to learn Torah with his son cannot expect his son to feel excited about learning Torah. When the father learns with his son, he is able to transfer to him his love for and devotion to the Torah. This is a living example which the child can absorb. But merely hearing his father speak about Torah is not enough to instill the love of Torah in the child. The Talmud says that the Torah is not an inheritance for our children.9 The reason for this is that there is "equal opportunity" in Torah, that it does not depend on whether or not your father was a talmid chacham in order for you to be able to be a talmid chacham yourself, since Torah is not an automatic inheritance.
Unfortunately, we find many famous rabbis who did not merit that their children become talmidei chachamim. Our Sages are telling us that children do not gain their father's Torah as someone gains an inheritance. To gain Torah one must strive and work hard oneself. No matter how rich your parents were in Torah, they cannot give you an inheritance in that area.
But what parents can do is to learn with their children. By learning Torah with their children, the child learns firsthand how much his father loves Torah. In this way the child receives not just a sermon, but a living example from his father. This will instill in the child the will to strive and succeed in Torah on his own.
It is also important for parents to keep in constant contact with their children's teachers. Call them and ask them how your children are doing. This gives a teacher an incentive to give more attention to your child. It also warns you in time if anything is amiss with your child, and you will be able to take measures to correct the situation before it is too late.
Tell your children stories about great Torah luminaries. A story is something that is very close to a child's heart, and it accomplishes much more than any sermon you can give him. Nowadays there are also excellent biographies of great rabbis. Be sure to have many of these books available so that your child can absorb all the lessons that are to be learned from them.
Never worry about money when it comes to educating your children in Torah. Our Sages say that a person's income for the year is determined in advance, on Rosh Hashanah, but this does not include that which he spends for his children's Torah learning. In this area, the more a parent spends, the more income he will receive from G-d.10 You can send your child to the best school or hire the most expensive private tutor for him, and G-d guarantees you that you will be reimbursed in full. With such a guarantee you can spend lavishly on improving your child's education.
A child's Torah education and the money one spends for Shabbos belong in the same category. To meet these expenses, even the poorest person can borrow and depend on G-d that he will be able to repay what he has borrowed.
Many parents pay more attention to their child's secular education than to his Torah education, claiming that they must be sure that their child will be able to earn a living. This attitude can be disastrous to their child's life. Although we do have to help our children to gain a parnasah, whenever this endangers their Yiddishkeit, there can be no compromises. We must have confidence in G-d that He will sustain our children in spite of their lack of advanced secular education, if this education would contradict Torah.
The verse at the end of birkas hamazon says, "I have not seen a tzaddik forsaken, or his children begging for bread."When a person performs G-d's will, G-d will certainly help him and save him from hunger. The verse says that this blessing also applies to a person's children. Since the parents are going in the right path and ensuring that their children are raised in the tradition of true Yiddishkeit, there will be no lack of parnasah for their children.
We cannot rely on our child's righteousness and send him to an educational institution where there are drug problems and where the moral standards are low. These trends are so common nowadays that they become tremendous temptations for the Jewish child. We simply cannot afford to expose our children to such devastating influences.
If we send our children to institutions of Torah and are devoted to helping them grow, and if we pray constantly for their success, we will see our children following in the footsteps of their righteous ancestors.
1. Bamidbar 27:13
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network