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Opinion & Comment
Their Aura is Beautiful
by HaRav Zeidel Epstein

The following is a eulogy for HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt'l, the mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva, given in Yeshivos Torah Or, Yeshivas Yagdil Torah, and various botei midrash in Yerushalayim.

"And Yaakov went out from Beer Sheva and went toward Choron" (Bereishis 28:10). Rashi comments that the posuk "tells us that a tzaddik's leaving a city makes an impression. When the tzaddik is inside the city he is its glory, its ziv (aura), and its splendor. When he leaves, the glory, ziv, and splendor have departed." A city's glory, ziv, and splendor fade away from a city when a tzaddik departs.

To our utmost sorrow, this parsha has lately been fulfilled not only beremez but actually. We are under the painful impact of "a tzaddik's leaving a city" -- the petirah of HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel zt'l, the mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva.

Why did Chazal use the word ziv? Would not another expression, such as "its light," be more appropriate?

There is a difference between light and ziv. Light is something that illuminates the environs: with a small candle the area becomes a bit lit up, and with a large candle it becomes much more lit up. In comparison, ziv is a light that illuminates only the immediate place, without radiating light to the environs.

For example, a shining diamond does not illuminate its surroundings; nonetheless, if we place it in darkness and shine a light onto it, everyone will see that it sparkles. Chazal revealed to us that a tzaddik influences others in different ways. First he radiates to the individuals near him, who seek to benefit from the light and the spiritual abundance emitting from the tzaddik.

But out of the general public, such as in a yeshiva of a thousand talmidim, how many are there who are really close to the tzaddik? Perhaps a few dozen. The other talmidim, although they too benefit from the tzaddik, receive only a more general and less individual benefit. When they hear and see how a tzaddik behaves, how he davens, how he acts towards other people, how he is devoted to people, this naturally has a positive effect on them. Even someone not closely associated with the tzaddik sees or hears something from him and gains spiritually. This benefit is called ziv, an aura that shines of its own light, and someone who pays attention to it will gain immensely.

Chazal reveal to us that when the tzaddik is alive all the people feel that they have the tzaddik among them. When the tzaddik is niftar, however, we see that some were zoche to his brilliance and were warmed by his light. They were those who, during the tzaddik's life, valued their privilege to benefit from the tzaddik. Unfortunately many did not act as wisely as they. There were those who did not understand, who did not utilize the golden opportunity to draw the water of his wisdom and learn from his virtuous behavior.

Chazal teach us that when a tzaddik leaves, not only those who were near him, who previously benefited from his radiant light, are now missing something. That is obvious. When there is no candle, there is no light. The lesson of Chazal is that even the many for whom the tzaddik was only a ziv have lost something when the tzaddik dies. To replace this loss they must make a special effort to absorb the brilliance from the departed tzaddik, as the Sages tell us, "Tzaddikim are greater in their death than during their lives."

The piyut Keil Odon that we sing on Shabbos Shacharis mentions, "Good are the luminaries that our Elokim has created; He has fashioned them with wisdom, with insight and discernment. Strength and power has He granted them, to be dominant within the world. Filled with ziv and radiating brightness, their ziv is beautiful throughout the world" (ArtScroll siddur). Besides radiating brightness, the luminaries are "filled with ziv" that benefits even those far away -- "their ziv is beautiful throughout the world." Similarly, besides the direct influence and illumination that a tzaddik bestows upon his close talmidim he makes an impression on the whole world through his ziv, each person according to his level. Thus we learn the great value of a tzaddik's acts and his impact on others.

This was the Mashgiach. Until his very last day he disseminated Torah and mussar. Everyone around him could learn from the exceptional way he behaved. When the Mashgiach was niftar his ziv, too, departed. His hashpo'oh on the world in general stopped and that hashpo'oh only remained for the individuals who are mevakshim, those who make efforts to seek out his spiritual guidance.

He was unique and famous for "anticipating every day that [the Moshiach] will come." It is true that we all believe that the Moshiach will come -- the Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Faith read, "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Moshiach," and often we even remark, "It is a pity that the Moshiach has not yet come."

The Mashgiach not only believed in the Moshiach's coming, he anticipated it. With every movement of his body he waited for him. Even forty years ago he would conclude his shmuessen by saying, "This is the last shmuess here in golus. The next shmuess, with Hashem's help, will be in the rebuilt Yerushalayim together with the Moshiach."

His love for Torah was astonishing. His whole life was saturated with Torah and avoda. He founded many kollels, and even a half a year ago, when he visited the Holy Land, he founded new kollels in places that until then such a thing was not known.

The tzaddik's avodas hatefillah and the ziv of his behavior cast its impression on the yeshiva's talmidim. Even those who were not zoche to his light, his direct guidance, were zoche to the glow of his ziv.

It is important to know that every person can effect a positive change in others, each person according to his particular level. Every person both is influenced by others and influences others. Of the generation of the mabul we learn that "all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth" (Bereishis 5:12) -- even animals had relations with other species of animals. Although it seems that animals do not have any free choice and therefore should not be punished, Hashem decreed their annihilation, since they too were influenced by the Creation's rampant corruption.

Chazal tell us that "even three tefochim down into the earth was destroyed." Why should even the earth be destroyed? Rabbenu Bechaye explains that Hashem needed to be metaheir the earth from the tumah's influence on the Creation. If the earth had not been destroyed it would have later caused a new generation to sin.

This is man's power. He can be a good or evil influence. Only the fish living in the ocean remained alive, since they lived in a different climate and were not infected by man's corruption.

I heard from Maran HaRav Shimon Shkop zt'l an explanation of the concept that a keli "is saturated with tumah" (Menochos 24a). He said that it is a fact that after a certain point keilim cannot absorb any more tumah since they are already full of it. He added that we see from this that tumah is a real entity. It is a force generated by evil.

"And the children (Yaakov and Esav) struggled together within her" (Bereishis 25:22). Rashi writes, "When she went past the doors of botei midrash Yaakov would struggle to leave and when she passed by the doors of botei avoda zorah Esav would struggle to leave."

The commentaries point out that it is quite understandable why Esav wanted to leave his mother's womb, since there was no avoda zorah there. The question is why Yaakov struggled to leave. The gemora (Niddah) writes that when an infant is in his mother's womb "a lamp burns over his head and [mal'ochim] teach him the entire Torah." With such a rav and with a lamp lit over his head, when he was in such a miraculously sublime situation, why should Yaakov even want to leave?

The ba'alei drush explain that Yaakov was prepared to give up such a rav as long as he would no longer be together with Esav the rosho, so that he would not be in danger of being influenced by him.

We see yet another point: Yaakov not only ran away from a harmful influence, he understood that he should try to influence his brother positively. When Esav left Rivka's womb, Yaakov's "hand was holding Esav's heel" (Bereishis 25:26, see Rashi). We can explain, although not according to the strict pshat, that Yaakov already saw in his mother's womb the fermenting of Esav's evil power when Rivka passed by botei avoda zorah. He saw that Esav wanted to run away from kedusha. The Torah tells us, "And the boys grew and Esav was a cunning hunter, a man of the field, and Yaakov was a plain man, dwelling in tents" (v. 27).

Actually Yaakov and Esav were two opposites: Yaakov was the epitome of kedusha while Esav was the essence of evil itself. The Torah, however, differentiates between them by writing that Yaakov dwelt in tents and Esav was a hunter, a man of the fields. Yaakov would invest all his efforts to advance himself in ruchniyus. Esav, too, studied Torah, since, as the Midrash Tanchuma writes, when he came before Yitzchok he would tell him all that he had studied. Nonetheless, the Torah reveals to us that even when Esav was sitting in a beis midrash he was "a cunning hunter" -- he was thinking about the birds outside. Even in the beis midrash he was Esav.

When Yaakov realized that Esav was this way, he was not content that he himself was going in the proper way but grabbed on to Esav's heel, trying to prevent him from going in his warped, improper way, attempting to guide his feet. We see here a remez that a person must think about others, about both the other's gashmiyus and his ruchniyus.

In this trait the Mashgiach excelled. We do not have any concept how much time he spent thinking of how to help others. I will cite just one short anecdote: One evening I walked into the Lakewood Yeshiva. He came over to me and said, "Let us make a vaad (a mussar talk for a small group)." He called me and another boy over and told us some reflections that would strengthen us in ruchniyus.

When a guest came, his outlook was that you must do something for him and try and fulfill the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim through him. How could he possibly help a guest? He would make a vaad for him. An act of pure chesed!

It is well known that in his last year on earth, although extremely weak, he braced himself and traveled to Europe to save an old Jewish graveyard. He said to others that he was going there since he hoped it would help. Those who traveled with him later related that his presence was truly what helped. Initially the government authorities refused to issue a permit, but when the mayor saw that an eighty-seven-year-old man had troubled himself to come so far he said that it seemed it was an important matter and granted the permit.

HaRav Wachtfogel always went out of his way to help individuals when he could. A few years ago a talmid in the Lakewood Yeshiva became a chosson. After the teno'im someone wrote a letter to the kallah's father in which he accused the chosson of certain unacceptable things, some of which were true and some not.

The mechuton was greatly disturbed and asked R' Nosson what to do. The Mashgiach answered that part of what was written in the letter was false and the other part was not personally known to him, making it loshon hora, which a person is forbidden to accept.

But the mechuton asked again what he should do. R' Nosson said that he should not break the shidduch and that he would take full responsibility. The time of the chasuna arrived, and R' Nosson, although he was in his last years and extremely weak, decided that he would attend. (It should be noted that the chasuna was held far away from Lakewood.) He had a doctor accompany him on the eight- hour flight to the wedding. He said that he felt that if he went to the wedding he would somewhat calm down the kallah's father and the chosson. If he did not go, he felt that the kallah's father would be inwardly sad and full of worry, and that would interfere with the simcha. In the end it was necessary for him to rent an ambulance to arrive at the chuppah, but he went anyway!

This was an example of the Mashgiach's bein odom lachaveiro. No power could stop him from doing a chesed. He himself fulfilled what he had said in a shmuess in the yeshiva (parshas Vayeitzei), that the ma'alah of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs was their strength of spirit. A Jew must make a tremendous effort, he said, to be zoche to fulfill a mitzvah and do some good deed, even when there are great difficulties involved that might prevent him. How great is his portion in Gan Eden if he does the mitzvah anyway!

What he said to others in his shmuessen he himself fulfilled. His whole thought was to benefit others even when it involved mesiras nefesh.

This is the ziv that we have lost. A person rich in good deeds has departed from this world. Chazal (Shabbos 105b) write that "everyone is a relative of a chochom who has died. Can this possibly mean that everyone is [literally] his relative? No; they are like his relatives."

What does the gemora mean? If everyone is only like a relative then Chazal should have initially said that everyone is like a relative and not that everyone is a relative.

The ba'alei mussar write that Chazal are implying that everyone is really the tzaddik's relative, as Chazal say, "The reward for a eulogy is [given for] raising one's voice to break the people's heart and make them cry more" (Brochos 6b). When a rich person is niftar and has left behind many possessions and wealth, even the most remote relatives will perhaps receive a little of the inheritance.

The same applies when Chazal say that everyone is a relative of the chochom who died. Each one of us can inherit one of his ma'alos: either awaiting the Moshiach, ahavas Torah, middos tovos, or his avoda in tefilla. How beneficial it will be if we adopt some of his ma'alos for his illui neshomoh.

HaRav Zeidel Epstein shlita is the menahel ruchani of Yeshivas Torah Or in Yerushalayim.

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