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Vayelech"He [Moshe] said to them, 'I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I can no longer go out and come in, for Hashem has said to me, "You shall not cross this Jordan"'" (Devarim 31:2).
Rashi doesn't not want us to misunderstand Moshe's words "I can no longer go out and come in" to mean that he had not the strength, since it specifically says (ibid. 34:7), "Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye had not dimmed, and his vigor had not diminished." Rather, Rashi explains, it means that "I have no permission, for Hashem has decreed that it is time for me to die."
This week, on the 21st of the month of Elul, 5767, Hashem decreed that the time had come for my beloved Rebbi, Harav Hatzaddik Reb Zeidel Epstein zt"l to die. Although he was almost 100 years old, it seems much too soon. I knew him since I was 13, and I was privileged to serve him and learn from him for over 40 years; yet it was far too little.
It is appropriate that I should write something about his marvelous ways of serving Hashem and treating his fellow man; but I cannot yet. The pain is too great and much too deep to allow my hands to record such memories. Hopefully, at a later time, beli neder.
But there is one thought I would like to share with you at this moment.
King Dovid beings his book of Psalms with the following declaration: "Happy is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scorners. But whose delight is in the Torah of Hashem; and in his Torah he meditates day and night" (Tehillim 1:1-2).
The Gemara (Avodah Zara 19a) interprets the expression "whose delight is in the Torah of Hashem" to indicate that one should learn the parts of Torah which his heart desires. Since this basic tenet is repeated again in the Gemara, a few lines later, the Maharsha explains the second time to mean that one should also learn by the Rabbi whom his heart desires. And, indeed, in the Midrash where this statement is recorded, it specifically states that one should learn from the one his heart desires.
At first thought, these instructions seem very strange. We know that the Torah admonishes us from following our heart's desires as it is written, "and [do] not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray" (Bemidbar 15:39). How can we suddenly trust our hearts to choose properly and not be dissuaded by the many improper desires they entertain?
Apparently, though, Torah is an exception to the general rule. Since everyone has his specific share in the Torah, it appears that Hashem created man in a way that his heart is naturally drawn to the parts of the Torah and to the teachers of Torah to whom he is supposed to connect.
When I was a child of 13, the Hashgachah (Divine Providence) led me to study at R.J.J. (Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva) in Manhattan, New York. One day, I was standing at the top of the stairs at the entrance to the yeshiva, talking to my friends, when one of the Rabbis passed by. Instantly, I felt a strange feeling inside and my eyes followed him. I turned to the boys around me and asked what that Rabbi's name was. They told me, "Rabbi Epstein." I asked what grade he taught and they answered, "7th year mesivta." I quickly began to calculate when I would be in that class and I said, "I can't wait to learn by him. He must be a great Rebby."
Actually, later in the year, Rabbi Epstein was asked to substitute for the Rabbi in whose class I learned then, who was out sick that day. That experience confirmed my heart's feelings that this was a very special person to whom I must connect as soon as possible.
A few years later, he became my Rebby for life.
May his holy, precious soul rest in the Garden of Eden, basking from the Rays of Hashem, and may his memory be a blessing for all of us.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network