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Sholom Shwadron, "Lev Sholom", pg. 410

And Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph; does my father still live? And his brothers could not answer him; for they were terrified from him. (45:3) Aba Cohen Bardela said, Oy to us from the day of judgment, oy to us from the day of admonition. Yosef was the youngest of the brothers. Yet they could not stand up to his rebuke. How much more so when Hakadosh Baruch Hu will come and reprimand each person according to what he is. (Midrash Rabba 93:10)

What's the point of the midrash: "according to what one is?" Isn't it simple? HaKadosh Baruch Hu will judge everyone according to who he is and not according to what someone else is.

We can answer with the following moshol. Bochurim walk the halls of their respective yeshivos, year after year. Really they are merely going in circles around themselves. They aren't exploiting the potential inside, what they really could do. Why? They have scores of excuses.

"I tried here, I tried there. It just doesn't go for me. What can I do? I just don't have a head. During the shiur everyone gathers around the rebbe. The rebbe opens with a machlokes between Abaye and Rava. He shoots out a question. The air is on fire. Yitzchak the genius shoots back at the rebbe. Yaakov the theorist succeeds in getting everyone's attention with a novel idea. On the other side of the classroom Moshe, with his encyclopedic memory, shoots out a chiddush from the Teshuvos HaRashba (recently reprinted, and he just finished it, cover to cover). And there I am, sitting in my corner, a hot tear rolling down my cheek as I feel I will never understand anything about what they are all discussing. I can't even understand the simple pshat of the gemora. Nu! Tell me what I should do? Therefore, I told myself I should try and get involved in chesed."

And so it was. Slowly he became one of the machers of the yeshiva. And as soon as he joined the ranks of the machers, his genius suddenly appeared. Wherever he put his hand, everything went like clockwork. He became very protective about his new found talents. Whenever anyone commented on what he was doing, he snapped back instantly with the heavy artillery. His sharp and vociferous retorts were notorious among his friends. He totally forgot his self doubts and his excuses that "I have no head." That era was over.

Imagine him, after 120, coming to the Beis Din Shel Maala, and they ask him, "Why didn't you learn?" He has his answer ready, "I didn't have a head for learning." The Beis Din will then proceed to rebuke him "according to what he was." "What you wanted to do, you suddenly found a head. Oy! Oy! And what a head! Where did all those sharp comments come from? You were a genius in answering people. It all depended upon what you wanted. Your heart's desire determined your genius. Because if a person really wants, then he suddenly has a head, and a very good one at that."

Why did he think he didn't have a head? Because he didn't judge himself "according to what he was," but according to what his friends were. He sat there looking at Moshe the encyclopedia, and Yaakov the theorist, and Yitzchak the genius and wanted to be like them. Seeing he couldn't copy them, much less compete with them, he made an about face and found new territory to put his efforts, where he could stand out.

Reb Sholom remembers another incident. When he was mashgiach in a yeshiva there was a boy who always remarked, "Baruch Hashem I have a very good head. But what can I do, I just can't sit. I'm not able to sit hour after hour learning with hasmoda. What can I do? I have to jump up and go outside and get some fresh air and relax, smoke a cigarette…." "I told him," relates Reb Sholom, "when you get to the next world they will take out their special screen and show you your whole life. You will see yourself at night glued to a novel, totally engrossed. You were so involved you didn't realize that you didn't move the entire night. You didn't need to go out for air, not one cigarette. You weren't the least bit tired. You were totally focused until at sunrise you found yourself on the last page. What will you answer then? Reb Leib Chasman (the mashgiach of Chevron) once gave a vivid illustration. People go around this world and keep the mitzvos and learn a little, and do some chesed…. They picture that moment when their time comes. They imagine the wonderful reputation they will have when they leave this world. In all the neighborhoods they announce, "Everyone should come to the levaya of the tzaddik, the chossid…. Slowly thousands of people surround his house until the until the street is black with people. The first one to give a hespid gets up. "Oy! We've lost the tzaddik!"

So it goes with the rest of the hespedim. He goes to his final resting place with great honor. He imagines as he arrives upstairs that 6 contingents of thousands of white angels will greet him announcing in all the Heavens, "Make way for the tzaddik. He should find his final resting place in peace." No evil angel will be allowed near him as he takes his place with the other tzaddikim.

Yes, yes, concluded Reb Leib. A person can enjoy the fantasies floating around his head as he lies in his comfortable bed at night as doses off into a pleasant slumber. But when the time comes he will be awakened to the stark reality. "Why did I fantasize so much? I spent my days in empty dreams. I should have gotten up to say viduy on my sins. I could have learned another blatt gemora. Maybe that would have saved me from tumbling into that terrible gehinom." So many people determine the content of their life in a certain way. They have decided that they just can't do more. It's enough that they daven and learn a bit, because that's all they can do. Inevitably they spend the rest of their life in business, or just plain killing time. That's why they have time to lie in bed dreaming these fantasies. They really could have accomplished much more in their leaning and their yiras shomayim. But they convinced themselves that they weren't capable of more. They are liable to arrive in the next world to find that their whole life was a terrible mistake.

When the Netziv of Volozhin, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, zt"l, finished his encyclopedic work Haemek Shaalah on the Sheiltos he made a seudah. During the festivities he turned to his guests and said, "You most certainly are wondering why I made a seudah when I finished writing a sefer? I'll tell you. When I was around 9 years old I sat in cheder and found that I was not the least bit motivated. I wandered around doing all sorts of things. The main thing was not to learn.

"Once, I heard my father talking to my mother in the kitchen. 'What are we going to do with our Naftaleke? I tried this rebbe, that rebbe, I gave him the best rebbes, and he still doesn't want to learn. What should we do? Maybe we should try to teach him a trade?'

"When I heard that my father was planning to send me out to work my heart broke. I ran into the kitchen and broke out in tears. I promised that from today I would learn properly. And so it was. I started concentrating and here I am printing my sefer.

"And now," concluded the Netziv, "imagine that I hadn't cried and I didn't learn. What would have happened? I would have learned a trade and gone out to work. Imagine me as a tailor. I probably would have been a kosher yid, an honest person. I wouldn't steal from anyone. Certainly I would have set aside time to learn in a mishnayos or halacha shiur like other simple yidden. I would have davened 3 times a day, put on tefillin and done all the mitzvos properly. That's how I would have spent my life in peace and comfort, honestly fulfilling the mitzvos and being a straight person. I would have imagined myself coming to the next world to receive my reward. Even though I would not expect to be sit among the great talmidei chachomim, but at least I would think that I would be take my place amongst the yorei shomayim.

"Then, when I finally arrived before the beis din shel maalah I would face a sharp criticism. They would tell me, 'Naftali, Naftali, why did you waste your time sewing suits. With your potential and your intellect you should have written a sefer called the Emek Shaalah on the Sheiltos!' What would I have answered to this accusation? My whole life I never ever imagined such a thing. I probably would not even know that the Sheiltos is. I would have no idea what they wanted from me.

"Now that Hashem gave me the sense to run to my father and cry, and I finally do know what is the Sheiltos, and not only know what it is, but wrote a sefer on it, I have merited using my potential to its fullest. So most certainly I must make a seudah on this. Now I will enter the next world with my Torah in my hand."

Now certainly, they aren't going to ask you why you weren't the Netziv. But they will demand of you why you weren't yourself, according to your potential. "Why weren't you you?" So many people go through life with hidden potential, whether it's hidden Torah potential, or a hidden yiras shomayim lying within. And they never imagined in their lifetimes the great demand awaiting them.

I once heard from Rav Isaac Sher, zt"l, that once he was standing with his rebbe the Alter from Slobodka in his house. The Alter turned to him and said, "R. Isaac, come with me to the window. Look outside and see a giant cemetery. Oh. You're perplexed by my statement. The cemetery is on the other side of the city. No. I'm right. Come, I'll show you.

"Look out in the street, so full of life and activity. People are passing by, running here and there. Let's take that fellow as an example. He has a very sharp mind and is a very deep thinker. He has a gift of elucidation. He could have been a great Rosh Yeshiva with many talmidim. He could have spread much Torah. It's not that he doesn't know his intellect. Just the opposite. His parents spotted his genius from a very young age. Just they had a bug in their head and sent him to university to become a professor.

"This person is a walking dead man. On his tombstone is engraved, 'Here lays the great Gaon and Rosh Yeshiva…'

"Take that other fellow over there. He is an extremely sensitive person with a very special heart. He could have been a great mashgiach in a yeshiva and influenced many talmidim to join the ranks of Torah educators. Instead, he took all that feeling swelling up inside and learned violin. He is a famous concert musician. But he's not using his mind and profound feelings.

"On his tombstone is engraved, 'Here lays the great mashgiach and the Torah educator who knew how to fire up the masses to turn to their Father in Heaven.' "And so," concluded the Alter, "this whole street is really one big cemetery. So now you'll ask me, what's the difference between this cemetery and the one on the other side of town?

"In the other cemetery there is silence… total quiet. The wind blows and the only sound heard is that of the branches rubbing against each other. "But here in this cemetery there is hustle and bustle and joy! Everyone is running quickly doing his errands. One is buying, the other is selling. One is crying, another is happy. But the reality is that it is one big cemetery. In the cemetery on the other side of town are buried dead people, while in this cemetery are buried live people.

"In the other cemetery there are dead bodies, and the Chevra Kadisha buries them, and the Chevra Kadisha makes the tombstone. "In this cemetery the person himself is the dead man, he is the chevra kadisha, he buries himself, and he is the tombstone."

So this is what Chazal are screaming out to us, "Oy to us from the day of Judgment. Oy to us from the day of admonition when Hakadosh Baruch Hu will come and reprimand each person according to what he is!"

Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Rosh Yeshiva

Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim

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