Two Stories!

When our leader Moshe realized that under no circumstances would G-d allow him to enter the Land of Israel, he immediately sought a replacement for himself. G-d then instructed him to appoint his faithful student Yehoshua – Joshua as leader.

For the induction – Semicha – ceremony, G-d instructed Moshe to place one hand upon Yehoshua’s head. The Torah relates that Moshe actually laid both his hands upon Yehoshua. Rashi tells us that by using two hands Moshe displayed his love and interest that Yehoshua receive a full dose of his spiritual energy and be most successful.

One may wonder why this was such a big deal; why shouldn’t Moshe feel this way? Moshe, in fact, had sons whom he thought worthy to replace him. However, when G-d told him to appoint Yehoshua, Moshe harbored absolutely no ill feelings that his son was not appointed and gave it over to Yehoshua with great joy and promise, as he demonstrated by using his two hands.

As a true leader, Moshe’s main concern was to do what G-d wanted, and which was in the nation’s best interest.

The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers details the names of all the subsequent leaders of the Jewish people. They channeled the pristine Mesorah – tradition – from generation to generation. This pure Mesorah has been preserved until this day with the Jewish people intuitively identifying the righteous Sages of their generation.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan – famously known as the Chofetz Chaim (d.1933) – was and is recognized as a saintly leader of the Jewish people. His works impact Jews every single day.

I would like to share two stories; one, concerning the Chofetz Chaim’s teacher, Rav Nochemka of Hordna, and one about the Chofetz Chaim himself.

The Chofetz Chaim related the following incident.

When he was 15 years old, he studied in the Yeshiva of Rav Nochemka. Aside from being a Tzaddik – righteous – and a Torah giant, Rav Nochemka did many acts of kindness, and would also disappear from time to time. The Chofetz Chaim was curious about where his Rebbe went. He decided to follow Rav Nochemka and saw that he would go to the local Shul when no one was there. One night the Chofetz Chaim hid under a bench in the ladies gallery after Maariv – night services – and waited. Finally, at twelve o’clock sharp he heard the door to the Shul open and Rav Nochemka arrived. The Chofetz Chaim peeked out of the curtain and saw Rav Nochemka go to the Bima and take out a sacred book from the box where they kept the ruined books, and start studying. It appeared to be a book on Kabalah.

All of a sudden a fire surrounded Rav Nochemka! At first he wanted to call out for help, but he quickly realized that it wasn’t a regular fire, rather a spiritual one; it was an awesome sight! The Chofetz Chaim’s body began to shake and tremble and he literally thought he was going to expire. The fire kept burning the whole hour that Reb Nochemka studied.

When Rav Nochemka finished he went down from the Bima and the fire went out. He then left the Shul. The Chofetz Chaim remained transfixed from the awesome sight and stayed in the Shul until morning.

The Chofetz Chaim kept a picture of Rav Nochemka hanging in his house so that his family should see the image of this holy man.

The Chofetz Chaim once remarked to his son-in-law that he had left the rabbinate due to the following story.

While he was the Rabbi of the City of Radin, the local Kosher butcher was caught selling treif. His store was immediately closed down. A while later the proprietor came to the Chofetz Chaim and told him that had repented and would never again sell treif. When the Chofetz Chaim felt that he was truly repentant, he permitted him to go back into business after he imposed a large penalty for him to give to charity.

The butcher passed away a short time later. “One day I was studying Torah in Shul and I dozed off. In my dream, three upstanding men came to me and asked if I recalled the incident of the butcher.” I said, ‘Yes.’ They asked, “When you imposed the penalty upon him, what was your intent? Was it to prevent him from doing it again or was it as atonement for his sin?”

“I began trembling not wanting to respond.” The head of the group insisted that I respond. I told them, “As far as I recall, it was as a penalty to prevent him from sinning rather than an atonement.” They thanked me and left.

“When I awoke I was extremely uneasy with what went on in my dream. I returned to my studies and fell asleep again. This time I was visited by the butcher himself who looked terrible. He began crying to me, ‘Rebbe, don’t you see what your answer did to me? When I was placed on trial in Heaven and they brought up that I tricked people and sold them treif, I claimed that I already have been cleansed from the sin through the penalty that I paid. The prosecutor said that the penalty was only to prevent me from doing it again and not as atonement. The tribunal decided to visit you to find out what your intent was. When you said it was a penalty rather than atonement, it was decided that I have to suffer in hell to cleanse my soul from the sin.”

The Chofetz Chaim concluded that because of this I realized that the responsibility of remaining the rabbi of the community was too awesome and I stepped down.

The Chofetz Chaim eventually headed the famous Yeshiva of Radin and authored books detailing the laws of Loshon Harah – ill speech – and wrote and sold his Magnus Opus, the Mishna Brura, a detailed commentary on the laws of everyday life which today is studied and relied upon throughout the world.