Fulfilling Our Mission

By Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro

In Parashas Chayei Sarah, the Torah tells us about the death of Avraham Avinu at the age of 175. The passuk (25:7) states, “v’eileh yemei shnei chayei Avraham asher chai — these are the days of the years of Avraham’s life which he lived.” Why did the passuk add the two words “asher chai — which he lived” if it already stated “yemei shnei chayei Avraham”? Sefer Gesher Hachaim teaches us an incredibly powerful lesson. The barometer of chaim is not calculated based on the number of years that one is in this world. The calculation of chaim is determined by the time that a person was occupied with the ratzon Hashem — only this amount of time is called life. This is precisely what the passuk is teaching us about Avraham Avinu. All of the 175 years that Avraham lived were asher chai, they were all defined by the true meaning of life —involvement in avodas hakodesh.

This week, 27 Cheshvan, marks the 25th yahrtzeit of my father, Harav Avraham Mordechai Shapiro, zt”l. My father did not have arichas shanim (long years), but he certainly had arichas yamim (long days). All of the years that he lived in this world were truly asher chai — a life spent immersed in learning and teaching Torah. He was the quintessential Rav, one whom people wanted to emulate — a Torah giant who dedicated his life to bringing Hashem’s children closer to Him, with a gentle yet commanding presence. It is impossible to capture my father’s essence in one article, so I will focus on just one aspect — an aspect that I believe we can all learn from and incorporate into our own lives.

In Parashas Chayei Sarah we read about Rivkah raising her eyes and seeing Yitzchak. The passuk (24:65) states that Rivkah asked Eliezer, in reference to Yitzchak, “Mi ha’ish halazeh — who is this man?” Eliezer answered, “Hu adoni — he is my master.” We must wonder why Rivkah asked mi ha’ish halazeh, and not simply mi ha’ish hazeh. Additionally, how are we to understand Eliezer’s response of “he is my master”? Yitzchak was not Eliezer’s master — Avraham was his master!

I heard a beautiful explanation. When Rivkah inquired, using the word halazeh, and not hazeh, she wasn’t merely asking about the person whom she saw in front of her. She sensed and intimated that someone else was accompanying Yitzchak. Eliezer responded to Rivkah that the one that she sensed walking alongside Yitzchak — “hu adoni — he is my master — Avraham.” When great people walk, spiritual giants accompany them.

Wherever my father lived — Lakewood, Eretz Yisrael, Bridgeport, Scranton and Miami, it was always — halazeh. He was accompanied with the pure mesorah of the Torah luminaries with whom he was so profoundly connected. He was saturated with their hanhagos and hashkafos. The Chazon Ish, Harav Isser Zalman, the Brisker Rav, Harav Bentzion Yadler, the Steipler Gaon, Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky, and of course, his Rosh Hayeshivah, Harav Aharon Kotler, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, had a visceral impact on his very essence. (My father received semichah from Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Isser Zalman Meltzer and Harav Aharon Kotler.) When people were with my father, they found themselves basking in the reflected brilliance of these Gedolim. Through firsthand encounters and experiences with my father, people were transported to the glory of a past era.

My father was a talmid muvhak of Rav Aharon. At my bris in Scranton, Connecticut, Harav Shneur Kotler zt”l was the sandek. When he spoke at the seudas habris, he said, “Rav Mordechai is like family. His simchah is our personal simchah. My father loved Rav Mordechai intensely — he cared for him as a son and that is why I am here.”

On 2 Kislev, 5723, my father was driving his car in Bridgeport at 11 a.m. when suddenly, his hands began to shake uncontrollably. He managed to move to the side of the road, and waited for a few minutes until his hands stopped trembling. When he arrived home, he was told the tragic news, that the Rosh Hayeshivah had been niftar at precisely 11 a.m. — so inextricably connected were Rebbi and talmid. Even in my father’s petirah he was connected to his Rebbi, for the day of my father’s kevurah was 2 Kislev, the yahrtzeit of Rav Aharon.

At my father’s levayah, Harav Elya Svei, zt”l, cried bitter tears, as he was maspid his lifelong friend. Rav Elya quoted the Gemara in Shabbos (106a) that teaches us that when a member of a chaburah is niftar, the entire group must be concerned. The simple explanation is that the middas hadin is resting on the entire chaburah. However, Rav Elya explained the Gemara differently: just as every individual has a particular shelichus and unique mission in this world, so too, every chaburah has its unique shelichus and mission to accomplish. Therefore, when one member of the chaburah passes away, the entire group must worry, for who knows if the rest of the group will be able to fulfill the mission without the niftar. Rav Elya then continued, “the tafkid of our chaburah — the first talmidim of the Rosh Hayeshivah, Reb Aharon, zt”l, is to transmit to future generations what we witnessed and heard from the Rosh Hayeshivah — with all of his fire and unparalleled passion. And now that Rav Mordechai, who fulfilled this tafkid b’shleimus — this mission perfectly — was niftar, the responsibility has now fallen on the rest of our chaburah. Indeed, we must all worry — for who knows if we can properly fulfill our assigned tafkid.”

May we all be zocheh to a long life of asher chai— a life of arichas shanim and arichas yomim — a life focused on avodas Haborei. May we merit to be nurtured by our Gedolim, and inspired to accept their charge to properly fulfill our assigned tafkid.

Yehi zichro baruch.

Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro is the Rav of Congregation Shaaray Tefilah in North Miami Beach, Florida.

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