On the Shloshim, the Shteinman family (center) visited the gravesite, along with many others
When Rabi Akiva Eiger stood to eulogize the Baal Ketzos HaChoshen, he began apologetically, excusing himself for the temerity of attempting to encompass the greatness of the deceased by saying that it says that the niftar is present at the hespedim. Therefore the Ketzos was present. It also says that in someone's presence one should say only part of his praises. Therefore, Rabi Akiva Eiger felt qualified to say the hesped since in any case he needed only to say part of the praises.
He added that it appears in the writings of a devotee of Rabbenu, HaRav Yitzchok Levinstein, that when the Rebbetzin lay on her deathbed, Maran told him about his will, which he had amended several times. He suggested that perhaps he should request that no hespedim be said at all but since such speeches cause public arousal, especially with regards to Torah personalities, perhaps there is reason to allow them after all.
"And the days of David approached his death and he commanded Shlomo his son, saying, `I am going the way of all flesh. Be strengthened and be a man.'" The Chasam Sofer asked: The fact that David was approaching death was a fact and not a command. Why, then, does it say, that "he commanded Shlomo his son"?
Chazal say that a man is a "walker", that is, he is continually in motion, while an angel is "one who stands," stationary. After a person dies, he, too, is at a standstill, and in order for him to continue to "stride forward", we must provide him with merits through good deeds performed in his name. David said to Shlomo, "I will [continue to] walk even though I die, and that is my request, the will I bequeath to you, that if you fulfill it, I will also continue to progress forward."
Rabbenu merited being a holech up until the very last period. He continued to deliver shiurim in his home to groups of talmidim, an amazing feat for one of his age and physical condition. Groups of students continued to hear his shiurim on a regular basis, and he continued to delve in Torah. Disciples are called sons, and `sons' can also cause the master who taught them directly or indirectly to be a "walker" through their good deeds.
Throughout his life, Rabbenu nursed an imperative desire to acquire more and more Torah knowledge. Hashem duly provided him with the spiritual stamina to persevere until very close to his death, continuing to grow. We, too, must try to be "progressers" and to absorb from his teachings all that can apply to us.
It is very difficult to hear the facts of his life and say, "I, too, shall practice what the Rosh Yeshiva took on for himself." The distance is so vast in so many aspects. His austerity, abstention from food. He never drank anything sweet or ate more than was absolutely necessary for his survival. There do not exist such concepts today and we cannot say, "Let us emulate his sublime practices."
But we are obligated to draw from the principles underlying his practices and extrapolate them for ourselves. What brought him to assume them upon himself? Each one can do this according to his level and progress forward to a degree in reaching the true objective of every Jew, the very same goal which guided the Rosh Yeshiva in the practice of his great deeds and accomplishments.
The purpose of his life, throughout, was Torah study. He discharged what he preached. Indeed, every single moment was utilized for this. Some wealthy Jews from America involved in outreach work who once visited him, suggested that he help them establish a major fund for furthering kiruv work. He led them to his porch and said, "When HaRav Aharon Kotler arrived in America, it was a spiritual wasteland. Ostensibly, he should have established places of Torah studies to work on outreach. But `all' he did was take eight students and found a yeshiva which developed and eventually became the underpinning of all of Torah in America. The most important thing is yeshivos and avreichim studying in them."
He later said to his devotee, "They won't listen to me, but at least let them not say that I agreed with them since Torah and Torah dissemination is above all."
It is astounding how he fled from honor. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky said that whoever witnessed how the Chazon Ish showed his respect towards him would be amazed. He told that the Chazon Ish used to accompany Rabbenu to the door and asked R' Chaim to accompany him further.
Rabbenu also asked in his will that he buried in a plot of simple people. He was offered a plot in the section of rabbonim but rejected it and chose one on the other side of the cemetery, across the dividing path. "Do you know what it means to pay for kovod one receives in this world?" he said.
This is not a plane we can identify with. We are so far removed from such levels. He was a man who personified "I shall resemble the One on High," and I do not fault anyone who does not attain this, but one who does, truly becomes one who "resembles the One on High."
At one time, a shiur in "Nefesh HaChaim" used to take place in his home on Shabbos. Notices of this somehow made their way in a newspaper. On the following Shabbos, a newcomer made his appearance, and Maran guessed that he was the source of the news story, and told someone else to read from the source while he remained silent. The same thing happened the following week until it was announced that the shiur had been dissolved. No one knew why, and when he was asked for the reason. He said, "You are not to blame but I cannot embarrass someone and tell him not to attend." And thus was a shiur of many years' standing discontinued all because an uninvited person had entered his home.
His supreme caution in interpersonal relations was remarkable. A man once came to him and unburdened all of his problems. Maran asked him if he had ever hurt anyone. He replied in the negative. "Sit down and try to recollect," he said to him. The man suddenly remembered an instance, "But I was justified," he said. Rabbenu said to him, "Why did you insult him? Had you murdered him, would you also have found excuses?"
This fine line regarding interpersonal relations and his caution in carrying out the will of Hashem was the very guiding principle throughout the life of Rabbenu.
The way to be strengthened is to know that man was created to uphold his spirituality and lessen his attachment to this world. To achieve this requires slow and steady progress of denial of this world and a striving in spiritual self-improvement. This we saw clearly by Rabbenu in a most exalted and unique manner. One must invest thought on how to avoid causing pain to a friend or anyone else, and to increasing study time. Only thus can we steer ourselves towards the end purpose for which we were created, and profit the soul of our great master in whose merit we have been aroused to progress in some manner.
HaRav Weisbecker is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Matisyahu.