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Chayei Sarah

“And Sarah died in Kiriat Arba which is Chevron in the land of Cana’an; and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her” (Bereishis 23:2).

I have already expressed my humble opinion that Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk”l was an example of the “perfect individual” which the Torah wants us all to be. In all situations, he greeted every Jew with his wide, never ending smile, which was part of his face which always beamed with a strong light which seemed to be supernatural.

Reb Shlomo Zalman’s wife passed away on a Shabbos. He was told the terrible news as he left the synagogue, Saturday night, and he fainted. He immediately went to the morgue of the hospital and sat for a while with the wonderful woman who had shared his life for so many decades. When he emerged from that depressing room, he was broken and deeply grieved.

Suddenly, a young man, who had no idea that the Rebbetzin had passed away, noticed Reb Shlomo Zalman in the corridor of the hospital and had no idea why. He ran over to tell him the good news that his wife had just given birth to a healthy boy. As if one had just switched on a lamp, Reb Shlomo Zalman’s face instantly lit up and he wished the happy father mazel tov and that he be privileged to perform his son’s bris (circumcision) on time and that he and his wife raise him properly with lots of true, Jewish nachas. Reb Shlomo Zalman’s face beamed the entire time, until the young man left him to his agony.

Later that day, everyone heard the tragic news, including that young man. The fellow was beside himself. How could he have bothered the Rosh Yeshiva with his personal simcha when he had been suffering so, he kept thinking. Finally, he decided that he would go to be menachem avel (a visit of consolation) the Rabbi and beg his forgiveness at the same time. When the young man apologized, Reb Shlomo Zalman could not understand for what. “What does your happiness have to do with my sadness,” he asked. “I was very happy to share in your simcha, and to bless you and your wife; even at a time that I was mourning the loss of mine!”

At the funeral, Reb Shlomo Zalman took exception to the custom of asking the deceased for mechila (forgiveness). He explained that although they had lived a long life together, they had never once quarreled and he had never done anything which he should beg her to forgive him for.

Many people were amazed to hear these words and wondered how it is possible, even for such a great man, to have such perfect shalom bayis (family harmony). My wife, Rivky, may she be well, says that we can understand this story in light of another one.

It is told that someone once walked Reb Shlomo Zalman home from somewhere, and just before the Rosh Yeshiva took leave of his accompanier, to climb the stairs to his home, Reb Shlomo Zalman adjusted his tie and his long coat, as one does when he prepares to recite the Shemoneh Esrei (the Eighteen Bendictions). The fellow was surprised and asked the Rosh Yeshiva for an explanation of his actions. Reb Shlomo Zalman explained that he is preparing to greet the Shechinah (the Heavenly spirit), since the Talmud teaches that when there is harmony between a man and his wife, the Shechinah resides between them!

Rivky says that a husband who has that attitude about his wife will not have to ask her forgiveness after one hundred twenty years!

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel