The life of Sarah was 100 years, and 20 years, and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. (Bereishis 23:1)
Rashi explains the unusual repetition of the word year, based upon the midrash, to mean that each age has its own significance: at 100 Sarah was as sinless as someone at the age of 20, and at the age of 20, she was as beautiful as someone at the age of 7. In other words, Sarah Imeinu died a spiritually and physically beautiful woman, at the age of 127.
Even though this is being said about a righteous woman, it can apply equally to a righteous man as well, since physical beauty, from a Torah perspective, is also a function of spiritual beauty. For, unlike with respect to other cultures, Torah does not separate the two when it comes to human beings, because to the Torah, physical perfection means little if it is not backed up by spiritual perfection.
Having said that, I would like to personally dedicate this week’s parshah sheet to such a man, Rabbi Eli Moshe Gross, zt”l, who passed away (Cheshvan 11/October 29: the yarzheit of Rachel Imeinu), after fighting cancer for about a year. He was only 54 years old when Shamayim took him, the father of 9 children, several grandchildren, bli ayin hara, may they all live long and healthy lives, and the Executive Director of the Bais Ya’akov in Toronto.
And, though normally we reserve such initials-zt”l-which stand for zecher Tzaddik l’brochah-the memory of a righteous person should be for blessing-for righteous Torah leaders, Eli Moshe Gross was such a person, or certainly would have been had he been allowed to live to a ripe old age. He was one of those rare individuals who did so many things right and well, while making it look so natural and never attracting any attention to himself or what he did.
The word “no” was not part of his vocabulary when it came to doing the right thing, and he always had a smile on his face, according to his family, even to his last breath of life.
Eli Moshe was not my blood relative, but it certainly felt as if he was. He was the husband of a first cousin of my wife, both of whom I met while engaged to be married. I am from Toronto, and they lived in Toronto, so I was at their house for Shabbos a few times during those early months of engagement, over 24 years ago. I always enjoyed myself, and I was always impressed by Eli Moshe and his family, and their warmth.
And, even though I lived in Eretz Yisroel after we were married, I always saw Eli Moshe each trip I came back to Toronto, because I happened to doven in the same shul at which he was the Gabbai. It is a minyan comprised of what they call chashuva Ba’alei Battim, some of the more influential individuals in the Torah community, and the rav of the shul is Rabbi Dovid Pam, shlita, son of none other than a previous Gadol HaDor, Rabbi Avraham Pam, zt”l.
It is a great minyan in which to doven, but it is also easy to be somewhat intimidated and to feel out of place there, since most of the men have probably learned in places like Lakewood or the Mir. However, everyone respected Eli Moshe, and Eli Moshe always paid respect to everyone, including me, taking some time out from his hectic schedule to shmooze with me and to catch up on my life since the last time we spoke. And, he always made sure to give me an aliyah the first Monday or Thursday I was there. With Eli Moshe, you always felt like a someone.
I was in Eretz Yisroel, when the news of Eli Moshe’s petirah reached me, which hurt and shocked me even more since I was hoping to see him when I would be Toronto, b”H, actually for this week’s parshah. I can’t even begin to imagine how large the levayah was (being as dear to the Torah community as Rav Eli Moshe was, I am sure that a tremendous amount of people probably made a point of being there for it), or how much good was attributed to him in the hespedim, since there is no end to the good things that can be said of such a perfect soul.
I truly pray that Hashem Yisborach will comfort his wife, children, grandchildren, and the entire family, amongst the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim. No loss is easy to bear, but this one will be harder than most, not just for the immediate family, but for the entire Toronto community, and all the individuals Rav Eli Moshe, zt”l, helped from all around the world.
The week of the petirah was Parashas Lech-Lecha, but I had already written and dedicated Vayaira in someone else’s memory by the time I received the sad news. Therefore, the first parshah that I could say something was this week’s parshah, but that is Hashgochah Pratis too, since the beginning of the parshah is all about mourning the loss of a righteous individual.
Furthermore, it was really Lech-Lecha that set in motion the events of this week’s parshah. For, the command to leave Charan and to follow God to Eretz Yisroel changed the dynamics of Avraham Avinu’s, and therefore, Sarah Imeinu’s, life. It was Lech-Lecha that made possible the Akeidah, which was the source of Sarah Imeinu’s death, when she saw Avraham, from a distance, about to slaughter their only son, the one that Sarah had to wait 90 years to bear.
Therefore, as Avraham Avinu sat there mourning his beloved Sarah, he must have re-traced his steps in his mind. As he faced a future without his partner of 100 years, he must have contemplated how his life choices resulted in his wife pre-deceasing him by 48 years. And, as he tried to recover from the loss, it must have been more than a passing curiosity how in place of sacrificing Yitzchak as planned, he lost his wife instead.
In fact, some hold that the tenth test that Avraham had to endure and pass was not questioning God’s judgment in using the Akeidah to take the life of his wife. Anyone who could say “This too is for the good” after such a negative ending to such a positive event truly understands how to work with Hashgochah Pratis, and deserves to be the forefather of God’s people.
In life, we make decisions that can seem small compared to the impact they have, for good or for bad. For example, last week (at the time of this writing), two Northwestern pilots, holed up in their own little private cockpit, known by very few beyond their families and supervisors, made seemingly small decisions that had phenomenal consequences. Phenomenal.
On their cross-country flight (not even overseas), they chose to use their laptops in flight, and somehow . somehow . got so involved in what they were doing that they overshot their destination by 150 miles! Not only that, but they remained out of touch with the control tower for an entire hour, oblivious to the fact that the people on the ground were frantically trying to reach them, lest they were hijacked along the way. Had the stewardess not come forward to ask about their landing time, which was supposed to have been in five minutes time, they would have kept going past their destination point.
Were they drunk? Were they asleep? Were they arguing? Those were some of the possibilities suggested for their extremely bizarre behavior, and it was days before the truth came out. And, once it did, it did not take long for head office to fire them, and the FAA to take away their licenses, and perhaps, their pensions.
So, what started off as a normal day for two seasoned pilots, probably with good reputations until that point, ended in disaster for them and their families, and the end of what probably would have been illustrious flying careers. They could have flown for many years more, and at the end, simply retired and collect their pension after decades of flying with a commercial airline.
Instead, their professions came to an abrupt end, and their names are well known in many places, but for the wrong reason. And, who knows where it will end for these two pilots, all because they chose to use their laptops while flying a commercial airliner! It is staggering how much went wrong because of seemingly so little.
Likewise, we make decisions to work on ourselves, to grow in Torah and mitzvos, and perhaps even middos. One might think that it is a package deal, that by enhancing one’s learning of Torah and performance of mitzvos that his middos will also, naturally, change. There are many examples to the contrary, and I can confirm this personally. Improving one’s middos is a separate, more difficult project, that enhancing one’s knowledge of Torah and performance of mitzvos will certainly support and make easier.
However, as a person makes the big leap from being a “pashut” Jew to becoming a righteous one, he makes a decision that may not only enhance his spiritual life, but a decision that may change his destiny. As he becomes “bigger” in the eyes of Heaven, he becomes more valuable in the eyes of Heaven, capable of counterbalancing the sins of many people, depending upon his level of righteousness. And, in some cases, when the Klal is really in need of a tikun, he or she may even be taken as a sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish people, as the Talmud states (Moed Katan 28a).
It doesn’t make a difference how they die. It doesn’t make a difference that they suffered for years prior to their death, or didn’t suffer at all. And, it doesn’t even make a difference how old they were, though when righteous people die untimely, it certainly makes it easier to see that they were a sacrifice for the generation. In Eretz Yisroel, it often rains right after the burial of a Gadol HaDor who dies at the age of 92, or after one who dies early as well, as even Heaven itself is crying, while their deaths result in blessing for those whom they have left behind.
The Torah promises us a long life for remaining loyal to God and His Torah, but the Talmud promptly explains that long life means in the next world, not necessarily in this one. Nevertheless, something intuitive tells us that part of our reward for being loyal to God is a good, long, material life as well, if only to allow us to further work on our relationship with God, and to help others to do the same as well.
However, as Yeshayahu told Chizkiah HaMelech (Brochos 10a), God told Moshe Rabbeinu (Shemos 33:19), and later, Rebi Akiva (Menachos 29b), God has secrets that man cannot know, at least not at this stage of history, while we’re still physical. As God Himself has said, His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not like our thoughts.
All we can do, in the end, all we should do, in the end, is simply worry about one thing only: Am I being the best servant of God I can be? And, if not, then how can I improve this, and become the best servant of God I can be? Whatever else happens along the way is God’s business, even when it directly impacts us, and our quality or quantity of life.
That was Avraham Avinu. That was Sarah Imeinu. That was all the Avos and Imahos, not to mention all the righteous people who learned from their examples, and lived their lives by them. I can personally add Rav Eli Moshe Gross, zt”l, to that list, for I know that Heaven already has.
May Hashem comfort his family and the Jewish community amongst the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org