Klal Yisrael suffered a series of crushing blows over the past two weeks. On Friday night, the first night of Pesach, the global Jewish community suffered an irreplaceable loss when angels overpowered mortals and the lofty neshamah of Hagaon Harav Shmuel Wosner, zt”l, author of the Shevet Halevi, the leading posek of our generation, was niftar in Bnei Brak at the age of 101.
At the levayah on Motzoei Shabbos — Motzoei the first day of Yom Tov in Eretz Yisrael — tragedy struck when numerous individuals were injured due to the surging crowds. Two were subsequently niftar: Reb Mordechai Gerber, z”l, a 27-year-old father, had been orphaned of both parents as a young child and it was Rav Wosner who helped raise him. On Tuesday, Yitzchak Samet, z”l, an 18-year-old who was engaged to be married, was niftar of his injuries as well.
Then last Friday, Shevi’i shel Pesach, the Torah world suffered another blow with the sudden petirah of Hagaon Harav Chaim Greineman, zt”l, a nephew and talmid muvhak of the Chazon Ish, zt”l. On Monday came word of yet another blow, the petirah of Hagaon Harav Yehudah Aryeh Trager, zt”l, who was the long-time Rosh Yeshivah of Antwerp’s Yeshivas Eitz Chaim and son-in-law of Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l.
It is important to underscore that while we rightfully refer to a petirah as a “loss,” it is their physical presence on this world that we have lost, both in regard to our ability to interact and learn from them, and the zechuyos that are aroused by having a spiritual giant in our midst.
Adding to the communal grief, 16-year-old Devorie Friedman, a”h, was suddenly niftar in Yerushalayim, and an eleven-year-old, Asher Yonah Schechter, z’l, was niftar suddenly in Rechovot.
In New York, the Boro Park community mourned the petirah of 40-year-old Reb Yanky Katz, z”l, whose oldest son is a chassan. And in Williamsburg, the community mourned the petirah of three-month-old Herschel Spitzer, z”l.
As Torah Jews we are cognizant that the eternal soul of a niftar can actually accomplish even more in the World of Truth than on this temporal world. This is true of every righteous individual, and certainly so about Torah leaders who dedicated their lives serving Klal Yisrael.
We have no doubt that much as Rav Wosner spent his days and nights lighting up our world with his Torah and guiding Klal Yisrael with his halachic rulings, he and the other niftarim will continue to act as powerful emissaries to intercede on our behalf in Shamayim.
We, in turn, have to do our part.
As a grieving Jewish nation desperately seeks tanchumin, we should bear in mind that the root of the word nichum actually has two meanings. One is consolation; the other is to reconsider and change a position.
As we seek consolation for the events of recent days, perhaps it can be said that in these circumstances, the two meanings are interconnected. As we try to obtain comfort, we must effect changes within ourselves.
In a stirring hesped for Harav Yehudah Aryeh Kempner, Rav of Prostitz, given on Asarah B’Teves 5557 (1797), the Chasam Sofer spoke at length about the fact that while Chazal teach us that the petirah of a tzaddik acts as an atonement for the generation, the Jews in that area were continuing to suffer from both devastating tragedies — including the petirah of a chassan — as well as relentless governmental persecution.
Among the numerous points that the Chasam Sofer raised was that much like a korban was accompanied by both the song of the Leviim and the nesachim — the wine libations on the Mizbei’ach — when a tzaddik is niftar and Klal Yisrael offers a collective korban, it must be accompanied by hespeidim in lieu of shirah and tears in place of the nesachim.
The Chasam Sofer urged for an end to machlokes and the speaking of lashon hara as a key part of the response to the petirah of a tzaddik, and his timeless words seem equally applicable some two centuries later.
Throughout his long life, Harav Wosner was exceedingly careful with every word he uttered. With great mesirus nefesh he pursued peace and earned the eternal respect of all segments of Torah Jewry. As we seek to ensure that our kesher with this great luminary continues as he serves as a melitz tov for all of Klal Yisrael, let us redouble our efforts to follow in his ways to cling to the path of shalom and adhere to hilchos shmiras halashon.