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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Reb Simcha (Acharei Mos)

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Many people will remember Rav Simcha Schustal as one of the most pleasant and joyful people that they have encountered. I will remember him yelling at his Chavrusa.

It happened on the day that Rav Simcha disagreed with Rav Shach’s approach to a Gemara. The teenaged bochur who was his chavrusa was quoting Rav Shach’s Avi Ezri, but Rav Simcha refused to give in. Rav Simcha stood up and got in the young man’s face. He backed the boy against the wall. He questioned his logic. He debated his reasoning. He broke a sweat and, possibly, broke the sound barrier.

Later in the afternoon, the teenaged bochur came across a newer edition of Rav Shach’s Avi Ezri. It seems that Rav Shach had eventually retracted from his position. Rav Simcha had been right.

That was Rav Simcha Schustal: He smiled, he was kind, and he was easygoing. He was respectful of all people and he never said a hurtful word. He was also extraordinarily strong on his principals and shockingly unyielding in his opinions.

Whether he was disagreeing with Rav Shach on a Rambam or staying out of the limelight by taking an unpopular stance, Rav Simcha managed to be both respectful and opinionated. He would apologize profusely to his study partners while not budging an inch on the proper interpretation of the Gemara.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (68a) finds Rabi Akiva mourning the loss of Rabi Elazar. The Talmud tells us that he wept to the point of self-flagellation. He hit himself in agony until blood dripped to the ground.

Is this the Rabi Akiva that we know? Is this the Rabi Akiva that was able to laugh as he watched a fox enter the ruins of the Holy of Holies? Is the Rabi Akiva who was able to profess his love for Hashem even as the Romans tore his flesh with hot pieces of iron?

Tosfos explains that even Rabi Akiva knew when to cry. Rabi Elazar had been a man who held strong opinions and was singularly unwavering in his beliefs. Rabi Akiva cried because Rabi Elazar’s unique stance had been lost forever. Important questions would remain unasked and and unanswered. Rabi Elazar’s Torah would never be replaced.

Rabi Akiva could see the silver lining in every tragedy, but he could not smile at the loss of Rabi Elazar’s Torah. (Of course, self-flagellation is never recommended).

The Ibn Ezra (Devarim 29:18) writes that we often often resist change because we rely on the merit of righteous people to outweigh our sins. We figure that the world will survive because there are enough righteous people around. When a righteous person passes away, we are forced to step up to the plate and generate our own merit. Their death forces us to take responsibility for our actions.This is one of the reasons why the death of the righteous atonement for the actions of the living.

In Parshas Acharei Mos, the death of the sons of Aharon is followed by a rendering of the laws of Yom Kippur. The Medrash derives from this juxtaposition that the death of any righteous person should force us to observe a personal Yom Kippur. Our losses force us to reassess who we are, who we can be, and the role that we are obligated to fill.

We need to develop the Rav Simcha Schustal that lies within each one of us.

(Based in part on the Lev Shalom, by Rav Shalom Schwadron)

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