How Can We Move On?

Rabbi Akiva Wagner of Toronto reflects on the shocking passing of bochur Meir Likhovetski and how we can get the strength to move forward.

By Rabbi Akiva Wagner – Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Lubavitch Toronto

A young budding talmid chochom, a ben Torah, once visited the Rogotchaver gaon. During the visit, the yungerman shared a chidush of his with the Rogatchover. His chidush, his novel interpretation, was based on – and supported by – a number of questions that he raised, in the gemoro and rishonim, that would all be resolved based on his chidush.

The Rogatchover listened to the yungerman, but could not agree with his conclusion, the idea was too radical. “But how can I not be right”, the young man protested, “how else can all of these questions be answered?!”

The Rogatchover told him that he would give him his response in writing. Sure enough, a few moments later, the Rogatchover presented him with a page, on which he had written כדרכו בקדש marei mekomos to various tosefos’, which were scattered throughout shas. At first glance, there was no obvious connection, the sugyas containing the tosefosen were as varied and diverse as can be. But the yungerman was certain that by delving into them he was sure to discover some common thread that bound them, the one that was sure to reveal the profound chidush that the gaon was trying to share with him, which would surely address his own questions.

He went home, eager to begin the task of deciphering the mystery. But, try as he might, the message remained as cryptic as ever. He just could not find any common denominator between the sugyos represented. Finally, after 3 days of intense toil, he had to admit defeat.

The young man returned to the Rogatchover gaon, and asked him to explain what he had written.

“It’s very simple”, the gaon clarified.  “Take a look at each tosefos in the paper. With virtually each one, you will find that the preceding tosefos concludes with a question. In each case the question remains unanswered; Tosefos apparently considered each of these questions to be problems unsolved and unsolvable. But, despite that, as you see in each of the tosefos’ that I noted, tosefos did not get bogged down by the question, but continued on to the next piece of the gemoro. Sometimes, you have to face the fact that you have no answer to your questions, and, nevertheless, you have to live with that and just move on!

I don’t know what the questions that were bothering this yungerman were. I surely don’t know each tosefos that the Rogatchover pointed out, that remains with a question (although each of us has surely, on numerous occasions, encountered a tosefos here or there that concludes with a (seemingly) unresolved problem).

But, the questions that many of us are facing today, are undoubtedly more troubling, more difficult than any of those: Of course, we know that death is a part of the world, as the possuk says “באשר הוא סוף כל האדם”. But, it has its’ time and place. When a child loses a parent, it is tragic and painful, and the Torah prescribes a period of mourning to deal with it. However, when parents have to, ר”ל ל”ע, bury a child, that is unnatural, that is a pain that is unequalled and unbearable. That is a question that can’t be solved! When young bochurim have to bury their young friend, their classmate, that is senseless and inexplicable. It is a problem that is definitely unresolvable.

When, furthermore, the tragedy struck while the niftar was traveling between his place of learning Torah and his place of carrying out a holy shlichus, enveloped by holiness on both ends, then it defies even the logic of Torah and its’ guarantee that שלוחי מצוה אינן ניזוקין לא בהליכתן ולא בחזירתן. The question is unanswerable, and unbearable!

[In 5740, chassidim were shocked by the murder, on the 4th of Marcheshvon, of the chosid R’ Dovid Okunov HYD, while he was on his way to shlichus. During the farbrengen of Motzoei Shabbos Parshas Noach, a few days after the incident, the Rebbe delivered a maamar (ד”ה וירח ה’ את ריח הניחוח), and in the maamar the Rebbe spoke in heartfelt tones about the mesirus nefesh of our generation. The Rebbe’s voice broke as he described how after all of the avoda of Tishrei, culminating with the tremendous simcha of simchas Torah etc., “we still find ourselves in such intense darkness, to the point of experiencing what took place with shluchei mitzva who are supposed to be protected vechulu”].

But our response has to be the same. As troubling and as painful as the questions are, all that we can do is live with them, and – move on! אנן פעלי דיממא אנן! We are soldiers, and a soldier can’t afford to waste energy on endless analyzing and pointless pontificating. We can’t waste our precious time in fruitless philosophizing, when we are in the midst of a crucial battle. The only question that is relevant is what is our next step, what more can we do to illuminate the world around us, and hasten the coming of Moshiach. Then, perhaps, we will have the time to dwell on these events; – in fact we will need to, to be able to say אודך ה’ כי אנפת בי.

Meir a”h lived a short life, and was taken from our midst much too soon. But he lived a life that was full and complete, that was a shining example that was clear for all to see ofפעלי דיממא , of spreading light and bringing brightness and cheer to all around him and everyone with whom he came in contact.

והחי יתן אל לבו.

The only question for us, for his friends and fellow chassidim to dwell on is what can we learn from him and from the way he lived his life, and what can we do to ensure that through us he will live on.

There is one specific area that I want to call attention to. Meir a”h had an exceptional koch in all of the Rebbe’s inyonim, but one specific area that stands out was the Torah of the Rebbe. A very large-scale project that he was involved in in the last year or so was digitizing all of the Rebbe’s Torah (and, to be honest, although he tried to explain it to me more than once, and he was very enthusiastic about it, I still don’t really understand what it means). And this was a result of his general involvement in the Torah of the Rebbe, and he was very closely involved with the Project Likutei Sichos as well.

I know that his friends, those who are capable, will carry on the monumental project. But everyone can resolve to increase, in some manner, their koch in the Torah of the Rebbe. If you haven’t yet joined the Project Likutei Sichos, maybe now is the time to join. If you joined, but, perhaps, your enthusiasm cooled off over time, maybe now is the time to re-apply yourself. [After all, this Shabbos is Parshas Zochor, when we remember Amolek, remember the אשר קרך – the way he tried to cool us off from every matter of kedusha. Amolek said: ‘Even if you’re going to do something good, take a chill, no reason to get so excited about it’. So, when we set out to obliterate the memory of Amolek, we have to see to it that our actual behaviour reflects the opposite!].

And, if you’re already learning sichos, perhaps you can be learning them better, deeper, more thoroughly. Get together with some friends, set up another shiur, another chavrusa. Increase the buzz! [I will bli neder try to do my tiny part as well: For a while I was giving an occasional shiur in some of these sichos, but then I felt I couldn’t anymore (or I convinced myself that I couldn’t anymore). But I am going to try to re-start those (FWIW)].

Another area that Meir a”h stood out in was his constant simcha. Everyone remembers the bright smile that never left his face. As a bochur, he had his struggles, just like every bochur. But, he never let them faze him. Always, in every situation, he faced it with infectious joy and positivity.

והחי יתן אל לבו.

This, too, must be carried on, so that his life continues on through his living friends. It may seem challenging, daunting, in the face of such an overwhelming tragedy, and with all the darkness that we are engulfed in these days in general, to react with unbridled joy. But that is our most powerful weapon. In fact, in 5752, the Rebbe emphasized repeatedly that the sure way to annul all negativity is by harnessing the force of 60 days of simcha, an unstoppable wave of happiness that will overpower anything undesirable. And as soldiers, all that matters to us is what weapon will be effective to help us move on, to continue going forward until we, inevitably, win the war!

[When Reb Sholom Shaya Deitch made a shidduch for one of his children, he went by the Rebbe (for kos shel brocho), and thanked the Rebbe for (the brochos that resulted in) the shidduch. The Rebbe responded to him: “In that case (that you are crediting me with the shiduch), you owe me shadchonus”. He wasn’t sure what the shadchonus was that the Rebbe was expecting of him, and shortly afterwards (before the chasuna), he passed away.

His wife, who was left a young widow, with young children to raise (now) alone, was subsequently in yechidus. During the yechidus, she referred to the above exchange, and she told the Rebbe that she knew that her husband a”h had wanted to pay up this debt, and therefore she asked if the Rebbe could tell her the amount of the shadchonus, so that she could pay it on her late husband’s behalf.

The Rebbe told her that, in fact, she could pay it up on behalf of her husband, explaining that “The shadchonus that I’m expecting is simcha, and you can pay it up on behalf of your husband by being b’simcha!” In fact, the Rebbe added, he wanted her to avoid crying during the chuppah (of the upcoming chasunah), and display only a face of joy.

She heard the expectation, and wondered how this could be possible, with everything she’d been through. She, especially didn’t think it was attainable to avoid crying by the chuppah.

But the Rebbe didn’t relent, explaining that “through Emunah and bitachon, you will be able to experience genuine simcha (to the point of not needing to cry by the chuppah)!”].

We need to strengthen ourselves in Emunah and bitachon, in the realization that we are fighting the final battles of golus that seem overwhelming in their intensity. We have to arm ourselves with courage and bravery, with dedication and determination, and with simcha and bitachon. With the power of these weapons we are sure to prevail, and speedily transform the intense darkness of the final moments of the night of golus into the everlasting and infinite light of Moshiach now!

One more point: Sometimes we think – this may be, we’re in the midst of an intense battle, and every soldier needs to do his utmost to ensure a speedy victory. But who am I, מי אני ומה אני? Surely this battle needs to be fought by the big tzaddikim, by the accomplished chassidim, by the dedicated shluchim.

I’m just a plain bochur, a simple citizen. Can I really imagine that what I do will make a difference? In fact, the more I realize and can acknowledge how crucial of a battle we find ourselves in the midst of, the less likely it seems, and the harder it becomes to convince myself, that anything that I do (or don’t do) can really matter or make a difference.

There is much to be said about this (especially in light of current events), but I want to call your attention to the haftoroh of this week: Continuing the theme of the special parsha of this week, of our obligation to obliterate all traces of amolek, which in a spiritual sense is the battle against “asher korcho” – against kaltkeit and prikas ol, we learn about the actual battle of King Shaul to carry this out.

In that battle, unfortunately, Shaul failed, which ultimately resulted generations later – in the emergence of Haman and his evil scheme to ch”v annihilate the Jewish nation. In a spiritual sense, the failing resulted from a lack of kabolas ol, and when Shmuel hanovi reprimanded him, he did so by telling him שמוע מזבח טוב להקשיב מחלב אלים, – that listening precisely to the Eibishter’s instructions, with pure obedience and kabolas ol, takes precedence over all else.

But the preface, the very first point that Shmuel made to him was אם קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה! The first chink in our armor, the first weakening that ultimately enables infiltration and invasion by amolek, is our sense of false anivus, our underestimating our own importance and the contribution that we can make to the battle and to victory.

So, let’s all recognize and acknowledge that it is up to us – to each and every single one of us – to fight this war and win this war. And let’s translate that realization into action into increased efforts, todaynow, each one in their way, in their area. Whatever you do, whatever each of us do, as insignificant as it may seem, is extremely vital, and will be part of what brings us our victory.

May we each do our part, and may we speedily experience techiyas hameisim and הקיצו ורננו שוכני עפר, when we will experience the greatest and ultimate simcha of שמחת עולם על ראשם!!!

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  1. Very well spoken. We should get together to finish his project, i had people that read my article reach out to me saying they would like to do something in Meir’s memory A”H, there’s also money involved, so lets make this happen.

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