Brachos and Sand Castles

The Apta Rav, zy”a, finished davening and walked to the other side of the beis midrash, where kiddush was prepared. Suddenly he instructed that a surprising announcement be made: “Whoever noticed whether or not the Rebbe made the brachahShe’asah li kol tzorki’ will get a kreppel from the Rebbe.”

A young boy (later known as Harav Moshe of Berditchev, zy”a) had managed to secure a place near the Rebbe during davening. He said that he heard the Rebbe recite Birchos Hashachar. The Chassidim made room for him to approach the Rebbe, and the young boy reported that the Rebbe had not, in fact, recited that particular brachah.

The Apta Rav rose and recited it with great fervor. He then explained what happened:

Shavuos is akin to a wedding day; since a chassan and kallah are forgiven all their aveiros on the day of their wedding. Shavuos, too, is a day of forgiveness. He had entered shul that morning thinking the kavanos of Yom Kippur, and therefore forgot to say the brachahShe’asah li…,” which, according to his minhag, is not recited on Yom Kippur.

In Seder Hayom by Harav Moshe ben Yehudah Machir, a Rav in Tzfas at the time of the Arizal, it says “all agree that the kedushah of Shavuos is greater than that of the other Yamim Tovim.”

This most uplifting Yom Tov is also a fitting time for reflection. A time to concentrate on what really matters in life and cast away what is all too often an obsession with the frivolous and the mundane.

Shavuos is the yahrtzeit of the great tzaddik and kadosh Avraham ben Avraham, the Ger Tzedek of Vilna, zy”a, Hy”d. His father, the Graf Pototzki, was a nobleman who was considered the wealthiest man in Poland. It is told that Graf Pototzki owned 999 villages. He refused to buy the thousandth, saying that since it took longer for people to say the words, “He owns nine hundred and ninety-nine villages,” than it takes to say, “He owns a thousand villages,” his wealth was more accentuated this way.

His son rejected all his wealth and fame and, with incredible mesirus nefesh, chose to become a Yid.

Harav Shlomo Bloch, zt”l, related in the name of the Chofetz Chaim, zy”a, that the ger tzedek was caught because of a tailor who informed on him to the authorities. Before the ger tzedek was tied to a stake and burned al kiddush Hashem, the tailor came to him and begged him not to take revenge on him in the World to Come.

The ger tzedek replied, “The passuk (Tehillim 117) says, “Hallelu es Hashem kol goyim, shabechuhu kol ha’umim, ki gavar aleinu chasdo… — Praise Hashem all nations, praise Him all the states, for His kindness has overwhelmed us.”

The question is an obvious one. Why should the nations of the world praise Hashem for the kindness Hashem showed to the Yidden?

The ger tzedek explained it with the following parable:

A young prince was playing with his friends and built a castle made of sand. One of his playmates then wrecked the castle. The little prince wept bitterly and vowed revenge on the perpetrator.

Years passed, and the now-grown prince succeeded his father as king. The former playmate recalled the vow of revenge and came to the newly crowned king, shaking with fear, and pleaded for forgiveness.

The king laughed at him. “Fool! Do you think that I remained a small child, that I remember my sand castle?”

So, too, the ger tzedek declared, when the Geulah will come and the Yidden will be restored to their proper place, the nations will recall how they treated the Yidden and shake with fear of revenge. But we Yidden will reply to them, “Praise Hashem all nations … for His kindness has overwhelmed us.” We are so overwhelmed by the good and the honor we are now receiving that we are totally distracted from remembering the horrors of the past.

The ger tzedek then applied the same explanation to his own situation. “I am about to be killed al kiddush Hashem. The Gemara (Pesachim 50a) states that harugei malchus merit such a lofty place in Gan Eden that no angel can even be in their presence.

“Do you think that I will contemplate from that place the destruction of my ‘sand castle’ — the burning of my earthly body?”

* * *

As we celebrate Mattan Torah, it is a time to contemplate the words of the Ger Tzedek of Vilna. Shavuos is a day of intense study and equally intense joy. It is a day of forgiveness and rectification. A day of recognizing the fact that we are each a part of an am segulah, a people chosen for unique responsibilities and nearly infinite possibilities for spiritual growth. It is a fitting time to turn away from the sand castles in life and focus on what really matters.

Inspired by the eternal example of the Ger Tzedek and all the others who were killed al kiddush Hashem, let us rededicate ourselves to living a life of kiddush Hashem.