“Chaval al d’avdin — Woe for those who are lost and are not found. …”
This term, which is often used nowadays to describe the loss of a person of stature, has its roots in this week’s parashah. Rashi teaches us this week that the Ribbono shel Olam told it to Moshe Rabbeinu regarding the Avos — Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
At first glance, this seems somewhat difficult to understand.
On numerous occasions, Chazal teach us that the tzaddikim are considered as if they are alive, even after they had been niftar. In particular, we are taught (Moed Katan 25b) that Rav Ashi was critical of the notion of comparing the passing of a righteous person to a lost item.
So why are the Avos referred to in this context as “lost and are not found”?
The sefer Shaar Bas Rabim offers a short story by way of explanation.
A city with a less-than-desirable reputation, which was struggling to find a suitable Rav who would agree to serve as their spiritual leader, came up with an original idea to try to attract a worthy candidate.
In an empty area of their cemetery, they erected a number of matzeivos, and chiseled on each the name of another famed Gadol.
When a noted talmid chacham passed through the area, he was purposely shown the gravestones. One read, “Here lies the author of the Turei Zahav”; on another, “Here lies the author of the Magen Avraham”; on a third stone, “Here lies Rabi Akiva Eiger,” and so forth.
Though he was well-versed in Torah knowledge, the scholar was ignorant of historical facts, and fell for the ruse. Impressed by the thought that so many tzaddikim were buried in this town, he agreed to become their Rav.
As time passed, he learned that in reality, the Turei Zahav is buried in Lemberg, the Magen Avraham in Kalisch and Harav Akiva Eiger in Pozna.
The new Rav demanded to know why he had been deceived.
The townspeople insisted that there was no dishonesty involved.
“In Lemberg they learn Turei Zahav, and so it is considered that the tzaddik who wrote it is still alive, in Kalish they learn the Magen Avraham, and in Pozna the sefarim of Harav Akiva Eiger.
“In this town no one learns these sefarim, so it is truly considered as if they are ‘buried’ here,” the townspeople concluded.
When Hashem states, “Woe for those who are lost and are not found,” it is in reference to the fact that, unlike Moshe Rabbeinu, the Avos never asked Hashem, “What is Your Name?”
It is vital that we recall at all times that we have no inkling of and can’t possibly fathom the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, who was the greatest Navi of all time.
However, it appears from the simple understanding of this Chazal, that in this specific detail, the way of the Avos wasn’t being emulated. Therefore, in this particular aspect, their teaching was “forgotten,” and this is being lamented.
* * *
The second passuk in our parashah states, “And I appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and to Yaakov.” Rashi states, “And I appeared to the Avos.”
Many meforshim seek to explain what Rashi wants to teach us with the word “Avos.” The Sefer Hazikaron (written 400 years ago by Harav Avraham Bokrat, of Spain and later Tunis) suggests that it was a copyist who shortened the passuk.
However, the overwhelming majority of meforshim took a different approach.
The Mizrachi says that Rashi was referring to the words of the passuk, but instead of repeating the names of all three Avos, he gave a shortened version. The Maharal strongly rejects this approach, and gives a detailed and profound explanation why Rashi specifically used the word the word “Avos.”
Many other meforshim over the generations also gave explanations as to why Rashi used the word “Avos,” among them the Rebbe, Harav Meir of Premishlan, zy”a.
He explains that an individual who is the son of a tzaddik is tempted to rely on the merit of his lofty father instead of striving on his own to reach sheleimus in avodas Hashem. This is especially true when this individual’s father and grandfather were spiritual giants.
Rashi seeks to teach us that, although Yitzchak Avinu was the son of Avraham Avinu, and Yaakov Avinu was a son of Yitzchak and grandson of Avraham, each strived to attain the highest levels of avodas Hashem on his own. Each one chose to become an “Av” — an “ancestor,” in his own right, instead of relying on being a son or a grandson.
* * *
As the descendants of the Avos, we are entrusted with a multi-faceted mission. We are responsible to ensure that, through emulating their lofty ways, we keep their teachings alive at all times. At the same time, we are obligated to strive to serve Hashem with every fiber of our being, and to the very best of our abilities, without relying on the fact that we stem from such spiritual giants.