July 17, 2024
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July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rav Chaim Leib Epstein was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Zichron Meilech in Boro Park for more than 40 years. Having spent the war years in Shanghai with Yeshivas Mir, he later became one of the closest talmidim to Rav Aharon Kotler in Lakewood. Beloved as an adam gadol and brilliant talmid chacham, Rav Chaim Leib was a source of wise counsel and guidance for other roshei yeshiva as well as talmidim around the world. In many ways, he “kept the pulse” on what was considered “Torahdik”—in line with Jewish values in a changing world.

Some bochrim from the yeshivah were baderech, on their way to Boston for a friend’s wedding. When they hit unexpected traffic, they realized that they would probably not make it to the wedding in time for Mincha there, and were not sure what to do. Should they detour, stop off to catch a Mincha minyan on the way and arrive late, maybe even missing the chuppah? Or should they make sure to arrive on time for the chuppah, and daven Mincha there beyechidus, on their own? Which mitzvah should take precedence?

They called up Rav Chaim Leib, who thought for a moment and answered definitively: “You should go straight to the chasuna and be misameach chassan v’kallah, bring joy to the bride and groom, and daven Mincha beyechidus, without a minyan. If you stop off now to daven, arrive late and miss the chuppah, it may put a damper on the chassan’s simcha. He may wonder if his chevra is coming at all!”

One of the talmidim questioned their rosh yeshiva’s instructions: “But I haven’t missed a minyan since my bar mitzvah! I have never in my life missed an obligation to daven betzibbur!”

Rav Chaim Leib’s voice became serious. “Ah, I see. Let me explain… Yiddishkeit is not about keeping a winning streak going or breaking a record … Yiddishkeit is about fulfilling the ratzon Hashem, doing what the Ribbono shel Olam wants you to do at this moment. Right now, your mitzvah is to be on time for your friend’s wedding!”

~

דַּבֵּר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹת אֶל־מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה …

“Speak to Aaron and say to him: ‘When you light up the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.’”

וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן אַהֲרֹן … כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳ אֶת־מֹשֶׁה

“Aharon did so as Hashem commanded him,” (Bamidbar, 8:3).

Rashi says the pasuk praises the consistent and yet passionate avodah of Aharon haKohen in the way he lit the Menorah—לְהַגִּיד שִׁבְחוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן שֶׁלֹּא שִׁנָּה—“It extolls his virtue that he did not deviate from Hashem’s command.” Day in and day out, Aharon haKohen לֹּא שִׁנָּה, “did not change,” his service was constant. Students of the Baal Shem Tov point out that while the structure of the preparation and performance of hadlakah (lighting) remained the same, Aharon haKohen’s holy avodah was not scripted or done mechanically, by rote; it was suffused with newness and filled with chiyus, renewed vitality, each day. It would not be so noteworthy for someone just to do the same routine every day. Rather, the praise לֹּא שִׁנָּה must mean that Aharon’s focus and freshness, intentionality and devotional intensity did not change.

Every day, every season and every stage of life is different, and necessarily so. The “avodah of Monday morning at the office” is very different from the avodah of Shabbos Kodesh. Prayer in one’s teenage years ought to be different from prayer in one’s adulthood. To be alive means to be in a consistent state of change, growth and development. If we are drawing from the source of life (Hashem), an eternal reservoir of intentionality and feeling, our spiritual perception and sensitivity will develop and change—flowing through the shifting currents of time and changing conditions.

Seeing ourselves as being baderech, in a lifelong state of process, enables us to be aware that our existence in olam hazeh is transitional. We are called upon to tether our choices and fulfillment of mitzvos to the divine will—within the ever-changing present moment before us. The access point for our deepest connectivity must be reevaluated at any given time.

~

The deep kesher, partnership and working relationship between the co-roshei yeshiva of Har Etzion, Rav Yehudah Amital and Rav Ahron Lichtenstein, stands as a shining example of middos tovos and humility. It reveals that two great men with distinct perspectives and strong opinions can share responsibilities and lead together in harmony. Even more remarkable is the fact that Rav Amital was a dynamic thinker, whose ideology, political opinions and perspective often shifted.

As recounted in Rav Amital’s biography, “By Faith Alone,” his chaver, Rav Lichtenstein observed: “That was part of his greatness. He was able to change his mind about matters close to his heart as realities shifted. From his perspective, this was not a concession of principles or a changing of his spots, but a way of maintaining principles. When reality changes, your practical attitudes must change along with it. Otherwise, you essentially turn your back on those principles, since principles must be implemented in the prevailing reality.”

~

One of the hespedim for Rav Chaim Epstein, zt”l, described him as “a man who thought through each word, each action, each Torah and hashkafic point thoroughly and relentlessly, until his last holy breath left his body. He never “just did” or “just said” anything. Everything—everything—was thought out and calculated through the prism of emes and what Hashem would want.”

~

Consistency is admirable, and maintaining a regular, stable, daily practice anchors our spiritual lives. Just as significant is the flexibility and humility required to engage in constant reconsideration of what Hashem wants of me right now. May the flames of Aharon’s unwavering avodah ignite renewed passion in our own divine service. And wherever we may be “baderech,” may our paths be illuminated by the clarity of knowing where, when and how the Ribbono shel Olam desires us to be.


Rabbi Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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