I KNEW SUCH A PERSON
By Roy S. Neuberger
“Tzedek, tzedek tirdof … righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue…” (Dvarim 16:20)
Why is the word “tzedek” repeated? There are many opinions (see Sanhedrin 28a), but the common denominator is that Hashem expects an extra level of righteousness on the part of Am Yisroel. He expects all His children to be righteous, but the Children of Israel are expected to be righteous to a degree of meticulousness at which every action and even thought is scrutinized and analyzed and b’ezras Hashem perfected. Put simply, the survival of the world depends on our observance of “tzedek, tzedek.” And that is the particular avoda of this season of the year.
I remember reading that the Chofetz Chaim would speak to himself in this vein: “Yisroel Meir … you have to do better on this inyan.” The madreiga was never high enough. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l defines “righteousness” as “the highest goal, to be striven for purely for itself, to which all other considerations have to be subordinated. The concept …. [which pertains to] all private and public matters [that they be carried out] in accordance with G-d’s Torah is to be kept in the mind of the whole nation. To pursue this goal unceasingly with all devotion is Israel’s one task.” (Parshas Shoftim)
“Israel’s one task!” These are mighty words!
And the possuk continues, “l’ma’an … so that you shall live and possess the Land that Hashem your G-d, gives you,” about which Rabbi Hirsch says, “the possession of the Land comes into question every minute,” making constant “tzedek … righteousness” a prerequisite for our possession of the Land.
If we would live like this, our entire existence would be different.
There are people who live like this. I knew such a person. His name was Rabbi Aaron Mordechai ben R' Shlomo Zalman Brafman, zaicher tzaddik livracha. The news of his petira, erev Shabbos, 19 Av, hit me like a shock wave. I had seen him four days earlier, and he said, “Yisroel, I am not feeling well.” Little did I know that he was already standing at the gateway to Olam HaEmes.
Although born in America, Rabbi Brafman was an old-world tzaddik, for whom “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” was the only way to live. He did not know how to live without constant, intensive focus on every nekuda of Torah in this world, whether it concerned some distant event or the welfare of a bochur under his care as the legendary menahel of the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.
Rabbi Yechiel Perr, the Rosh HaYeshiva, stated that, in almost fifty years of partnership, they never had a fight. Rabbi Brafman was a man of war and a man of peace. He battled without letup for Torah; he let nothing pass that he perceived needed correction, but everything he did he did with derech eretz, peacefully, quietly.
Decades ago, I was davening shacharis at the Yeshiva when Rabbi Brafman stopped the shaliach tzibbur. He told the bocherim that they had to stop scraping their chairs on the floor when they pushed them under the tables prior to Shemoneh Esreh. He said, “The noise of a hundred chairs scraping the floor is deafening. You can’t hear the shaliach tzibbur! Lift up your chairs and quietly move them forward.” This nekuda changed the entire davening! He taught us derech eretz. He taught us how to “move forward quietly.”
He didn’t expect things to be good; he expected things to be perfect, yet all this was with compassion, with emotion, with exquisite sensitivity, with love.
Things affected him in the most personal way. If he was bothered by a political event on the other side of the world, he couldn’t live in peace. I can hear him speaking now: “Yisroel, what’s going to be? What’s going to be?” He had no peace if something was amiss.
Years ago, he had pain in his foot. I recommended a non-Jewish podiatrist in Manhattan. He visited this busy office regularly, and each time he would bring a large box of doughnuts for the entire staff. Of course, they loved him. He was their malach. Rabbi Brafman made friends for Hashem and he made friends for Am Yisroel. Every nekuda was carried out with dignity. And there was never anything in it for him. He never expected anything in return. No kovod. No credit. Only to serve the Ribono shel Olam b’tznius.
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof! This man carried the world on his shoulders.
The first time I ever saw Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l was when he came to speak to the bocherim at the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, decades ago. I remember how Reb Nosson Tzvi banged away at the shtender. It was not only for emphasis; his terrible illness caused his arms to flail. He would hit the shtender with tremendous force, again and again, and every time he hit the shtender he would cry out, “You have to have a tshuka for Torah!” The arm always came down on the word “tshuka.” I had never heard that word before, but, after that, I could never forget it.
Rabbi Aaron Mordechai ben R' Shlomo Zalman zt”l had a tshuka for life, a tshuka for Torah, a tshuka for truth, a tshuka to serve Hashem “b’chol levav’cha, b’chol nafshaka, u’v’chol m’odecha.” May he continue his fervent tefillosbefore the Kisai Hakavod and may we see him soon again, on the day of the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh for which he longed with all his heart, on the day that Hashem will erase tears from all faces, “and they will say on that day, ‘Behold, this is our G-d. We hoped to Him that He would save us.’” (Yeshiah 25:9)
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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2017 by Roy S. Neuberger