Part Two: Loving Shalom and Loving People

Your Unique Role as a Disciple of Aharon: 


As I explained in Part One, this two-part letter is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Gavriel Beer, my first rebbe.
 Dear Friends,
In the previous letter, we began to discuss the following teaching from the Mishnah which refers to the unifying role of Aharon HaKohen:
“Hillel says: Be among the disciples of Aharon, loving shalom and pursuing shalom, loving people, and bringing them closer to the Torah.” (Mishnah Nezikin, Pirkei Avos 1:12)
The commentary, Midrash Shmuel, points out that the Mishnah does not enjoin us to be “like” Aharon; instead, it states that we should become the “disciples” of Aharon. The reason why the Mishnah does not tell us to be “like” Aharon, explains Midrash Shmuel, is because it would be impossible for us to be on the same level of Aharon. All the Mishnah asks of us is that we become the “disciples” of Aharon; i.e., that we learn from Aharon’s ways and follow them to the best of our own abilities. (Cited in the ArtScroll “Pirkei Avos” – Mishnah Series)
I discovered a similar insight in a teaching of Rav Aharon Kotler, a leading sage of the 20th century who founded the famous Lakewood Yeshiva in the United States after World War Two. His disciple, Rav Yitzchok Deroshowitz, asked him to explain the following statement of the Rambam (Maimonides) regarding “Moshe Rebbeinu” – Moses, our Teacher:
“Each and every human being is fit to be a tzaddik  like Moshe Rebbeinu” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2)
Rav Aharon Kotler explained that this does not mean that we can become a tzaddik – righteous person – on the same level as Moshe Rebbeinu; moreover, we cannot even become a tzaddik on the same level as Rav Chaim Volozhiner, the most distinguished disciple of the Vilna Gaon, a leading and famous sage of the 18th century. Rav Aharon Kotler then gave the following explanation of the Rambam’s statement:


Just as Moshe Rebbeinu totally used his abilities for the good, so too, each of us can totally use our own abilities for the good. (Cited in “The Legacy of Manran Rav Aharon Kotler” by Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz – Feldheim Publications)
Each of us can totally use our own abilities for the good. This insight can guide us as we share stories about the great men and women of Old Jerusalem. We should not feel overwhelmed by their great spiritual level; instead, we are to learn from their ways and strive to emulate their example to the best of our “own” abilities. Through serving with our own abilities, we can also fulfill the unique mission that each of us has on this earth.
We therefore need to be aware that each human being has a unique and significant role in the creation, as the Talmud states: “Each human being is obligated to say, ‘For my sake, the world was created’ ” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). In the following related teaching, Reb Zusia of Annapoli, a leading Chassidic sage of the 18th century, explains that each person has a unique mission and is therefore given talents and attributes for the sake of this mission:
“Each person is sent down to this world in order to fulfill a specific Divine task, to carry out on earth a lofty, heavenly purpose. This is the mission of human beings on earth; moreover, for as many people as Hashem sends down to earth, He has just as many different tasks and purposes. The work of one person is totally independent of the task of any other person, and each one must carry through and complete his given purpose. Therefore, Hashem endows each person with unique talents and attributes necessary for him to fulfill his task. These talents cry out within each person, demanding to be expressed and to fulfill the mission for which they were sent to this world.” (Cited in Hamodia, Cheshvan 10, 5759)
The following is another related teaching from Reb Zusia:


Before he passed away, Reb Zusia spoke to his disciples, and he said that if Hashem will ask him why he was not like Moshe, he will tell Hashem that He didn’t give him the very great potential that He gave to Moshe. But if Hashem asks him – “Zusia, why weren’t you like Zusia?” – he will then have reason to worry.
I will conclude this letter with a related teaching of Rav Yisrael Salanter, a leading 19th century sage who was the founder of the Mussar movement:


Rav Naftali Amsterdam was a noted disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Rav Naftali once expressed to Rav Yisrael his concern that he, the disciple, did not have the following gifts: the “head” of a certain sage famous for his genius, the “heart” of another sage famous for his fiery emotional devotion, and the wonderful “character traits” of Rav Yisrael, his own rebbe. Rav Yisroel responded, “Naftali, serve Hashem with “your” head, with “your” heart, and with “your” character traits!”
May Hashem help us to become the disciples of Aharon with “our” heads, with “our” hearts, and with “our” character traits!    
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. As we discussed in this series, we, the People of the Torah, were given the Divine mission to serve as a model in Zion for all the peoples of the earth. In order to fulfill this Divine mission, however, we ourselves need role models. The Rambam (Maimonides) therefore writes:
“It is natural for a human being’s thoughts and actions to be patterned after those of his friends and neighbors and for him to conduct himself in the way of his society. A person must therefore attach himself to the righteous and always sit among the sages so that he will learn from their ways.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De'os 6:1)


In his commentary on Mishnah Pirkei Avos (1:17), the Rambam writes that one form of beloved speech is “to praise those who are great and to speak of their positive attributes so that their manner of behavior will find favor with human beings, and they will follow in their ways.”
 Our tradition teaches that when we attach ourselves to sages and their disciples who serve as Torah role models, we are actually fulfilling one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. A source for this mitzvah can be found in the verse where Moshe tells us to “love Hashem, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him” (Deuteronomy 11:22). A midrashic commentary on this verse explains that one of the ways to cleave to Hashem is to cleave to the sages and their disciples who serve as living examples of Torah (Sifri). Through this process, teaches the Talmud, we cling to the Shechinah – the Divine Presence (Kesuvos 111b).


The insights that we discussed in the above letter give us the following guideline regarding the mitzvah to cleave to the sages and their disciples:
Our task is not to become exactly like these role models; our task is to be “inspired” by their example, so that we can fulfill our own unique mission.


2. One of the ways to have Torah role models is to read well-written biographies of great sages and tzadikim. I prefer those biographies which reveal some of the human struggles that they went through in order to achieve their level of righteousness and wisdom. The biography of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld – “Guardian of Jerusalem” – can serve as an example. The Creator endowed this sage with great talents and noble character traits; however, the book describes some of the difficult struggles he had in developing those talents and traits. Through reading the book, I will not become exactly like Rav Yosef Chaim, but the book is helping me to become Yosef!


This book also gives me a deeper understanding of the spiritual and universal role of the People of Israel in the Land of Israel. For further information, visit:  


3. According to our tradition, there is a spiritual decline in each new generation, for each new generation is further away from our collective experience of receiving the Torah at Sinai. This decline will cease, however, in the messianic age, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem” (Isaiah 11:9). The tradition about the decline of the generations is cited in the following teaching of the Chazon Ish, a leading sage of the 20th century:


“The generations are continuously deteriorating, but one who is rich in knowledge of previous generations has an extra measure of holiness and wisdom.” (Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 1:120)


The above teaching was cited in the Feldheim book, “In Their Shadow – The Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, and Rav Shach,” by Rav Shlomo Lorincz, a former member of Israel’s Knesset. For information, visit:


4. There is also a tradition that in some generations, Hashem may send a great Torah leader who is actually on the high level of Torah leaders from previous generations. For example, it was said that the Vilna Gaon, who lived in the 18th century, was on the level of the Rishonim – leading sages who lived in the period between the 11th and 15th centuries.


This tradition was cited by Rav Shmuel Greineman in the following excerpt from his eulogy for the Chazon Ish, who passed away in 1953, in the city of Bnei Brak – a city which is a major Torah center in the Land of Israel:


“Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin once said that his rebbi, the Vilna Gaon, was akin to the Rishonim who lived centuries earlier. Rav Elchonon Wasserman asked the Chofetz Chaim (his rebbe) to explain why Heaven decreed that such a soul such as the Gaon’s descend to a generation in which it did not belong. The Chofetz Chaim explained as follows: In every generation, the presence of Torah leaders serves to impede that generation’s spiritual decline. However, in certain generations, the risks of spiritual decadence are particularly great. Heaven may then deem it necessary to send to this world a soul that actually belongs to an earlier, more sublime period. Such a soul can single-handedly uplift an entire generation and raise its spiritual sights. Such a soul was that of the Vilna Gaon.


“Such was also the soul of the Chazon Ish. A soul that belonged centuries ago was sent to preserve Torah life in our time. He planted the seeds of Torah throughout the Holy Land, combated ignorance and secularism, illuminated the world with his Torah wisdom, and raised the sights of an entire generation.”


(The above excerpt was cited in the ArtScroll biography, “The Chazon Ish – The Life and Ideals of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz” by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman. For information, visit:  )


5. I was informed by my good friend, Yitzchak Dorfman, that the full name of Reb Zusia of Anipoli was Reb Meshulam Zusia. He was the brother of another great Chassidic rebbe, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, the author of “Noam Elimelech.”

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