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Balancing Our Emotions II

Balancing emotions works both ways. When one is overly sad, he must balance his feelings with joy. But at the same time, when one is overly frivolous, he must balance his emotions with seriousness. As I quoted in the first part from Chazal (Yerushalmi, Berachos 67a): "Do (service of Hashem) from love and do from fear." One who serves Hashem with only one of these emotions will not be successful. He has to incorporate both of them into his service and balance them properly.

I was once privileged to drive Hagaon, Harav Ya'akov Kaminetsky ztvk"l from Philadelphia to Monsey. During the three hour ride, Reb Ya'akov told me a very long story about how he emigrated from Europe to Toronto. Unfortunately, I don't remember the details, and Reb Ya'akov, the Man of Truth, was very insistent that stories should be retold with precise detail, but I will relate one of the incidents as best as I can, indicating with a question mark the points I am not sure about.

Before the Holocaust, Reb Ya'akov had left his family and traveled to the USA to try to find a rabbinical position and bring them to the States. He stayed by his friend Rabbi Wohlgelerenter (?) in the state of Washington (?). By a stroke of Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence), Rabbi Wohlgelerenter had to take his wife to Boston for medical treatments (?) and told Reb Ya'akov that now they would both benefit. Reb Ya'akov would be a good substitute while the Rabbi was away and at the same time he would have the opportunity to learn from experience what it means to be a rabbi in America. Rabbi Wohlgelerenter left, knowing that his Kehilla (Community) was in good hands.

A few days later, a member of the community approached the "substitute Rabbi" and informed him that someone had passed away and the funeral would be the next day. He came to tell the rabbi about the deceased so that he could prepare a good eulogy. Reb Ya'akov was very surprised at the request. "I guess you didn't realize," he said, "that tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh, a minor Jewish holiday when eulogies are forbidden." The fellow was startled. "Rabbi," he replied, "With all due respect, I have attended many funerals, in our community and in others, and I can assure you that the Rabbis always eulogized on Rosh Chodesh. Perhaps you are referring to some European custom which does not apply in America."

Reb Ya'akov was quite shocked at what he heard and felt that he was facing a real dilemma. In Europe they had warned him that in the USA it was difficult, if not impossible, to be a proper, practicing rabbi, according to the strict letter of the Shulchan Aruch (the Jewish Code of Laws). "In the modern world of America," he had been told, "you will have to make lots of compromises." But Reb Ya'akov had believed that with his love of the absolute truth, he would be able to serve honestly both his Creator and his community. Now, too, he was ready to insist on complying with the rules in spite of any and all pressures from the people, but it was not that simple. Today he was not a rabbi; merely a stand-in rabbi. If he would not eulogize the deceased, the family would be angry at Rabbi Wohlgelerenter for choosing an "old-fashioned, European Rabbi," from the "Old World," to replace him. How could he repay his friend's kindness with evil?

On the other hand, he thought to himself, Gevald! You haven't even moved to America, you're just visiting for a while, and already you will have become corrupt by violating an explicit law in Shulchan Aruch!

As the hours passed by, Reb Ya'akov felt more and more uneasy, not being able to decide what is the right thing to do. The time for the funeral arrived and the officiating Rabbi still did not know how he would behave when everyone would look at him, expecting him to deliver a warm eulogy. Suddenly, the family of the deceased, and all of their guests, began to arrive. The guest from Europe was flabbergasted to see that they were all dressed in their Shabbos finery and were greeting each other with big smiles, seemingly enjoying this family "get-together." Everyone exchanged news and packages with each other, probably giving updates since the last family funeral. It was a far cry from the funerals he was used to.

At that moment, Reb Ya'akov's predicament was solved. He realized that it was actually not a problem at all. For what was the reason that it was forbidden to eulogize on Jewish holidays? Because people are supposed to be happy then and it is forbidden to cry and be sad. But it was obvious that nothing would upset the people in this crowd. On the other hand, it was important to bring to their attention that they were attending a funeral, not a wedding! A good eulogy might accomplish just that.

With that in mind, Reb Ya'akov began to speak, content with the fact that his friend's position would not be jeopardized while he was not violating any Jewish precept. He would not make anyone sad nor cause them to cry. He was simply balancing their emotions from too much levity, to a normal degree in the center.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel