From Insights and Inspirations
Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
Ra’anana Community Kollel
A Nation of Tzaddikim
Rabbi Aharon Liberman
In this week’s parshah, we learn about the deaths of both Miriam and Aharon. From the juxtaposition in Sefer Devarim of Aharon’s death with the narrative about the breaking of the Tablets, Chazal learn that the death of a Tzaddik, of a righteous person, is as great a tragedy as the breaking of the Tablets. The Tablets were broken on the infamous seventeenth day of Tammuz, Shivah Asar B’Tamuz, a day which will be observed in a few weeks as a fast day, commemorating the broken Tablets as well as four other national calamities which occurred during the course of Jewish history.
The breaking of the Tablets was preceded by the worship of the golden calf. The extended period of Hashem’s wrath which followed ended on Yom Kippur with the giving of the second set of Tablets. Nothing was the same since. While the first Tablets were crafted and engraved by Hashem, the second were quarried and inscribed by Moshe. Their relationship with Hashem was different now that a terrible sin hung over them. The decree that they were destined to wander the desert for forty years was already determined, and was waiting to be enacted following the sin of the spies. The serenity that they once knew had been shattered along with the tablets.
The same is true, says the Midrash, with regards to the death of tzaddikim. Tzaddikim give so much to the world, spiritually, physically and emotionally. Chazal learned from this week’s parsha that the well from which the Jews drank during their time in the desert was provided in the merit of Miriam. Aharon’s merits sponsored the existence of the Clouds of Glory which protected the Jewish encampment from the elements as well as from invading armies. Additionally, he always sought to make peace between friends who were feuding, and he strove to strengthen everyone’s shalom bayit. When they passed away, life dramatically changed for the Jews in the desert. After Miriam passed away, the well disappeared and there was no more water, leading to the sin at Mei Merivah where the Jews complained to Hashem. After Aharon’s death no one succeeded in implementing shalom, and the Israelite nation was immediately attacked.
Sometimes a tzaddik provides for us in ways beyond our recognition; sometimes even the tzaddik himself is unaware of his affect. The Shlah Hakadosh relates a very powerful story from the Emek Hamelech which has ramifications for each one of us. Following some harsh pogroms, there was one tiny village which survived the rampage. The reason for this became clear following the death of a simple, unlearned old man in this village. During the Shloshim period, he appeared in a dream to an outstanding Torah scholar who lived in the nearby city. This old man was wearing his burial shrouds, and he was carrying a small book in his hand. The sage asked, “Aren’t you that old man whom we buried the other day?” He answered that he is. The sage continued to inquire about the small book that the old man was holding. The old man responded that it was a book of Tehillim. He further explained that while he was alive, he completed the entire book of Tehillim every week. In the merit of this, his village was saved from the massacres. Now that he has passed on, there is no one left in the village in whose merit they can be protected. He requested that the sage warn them to flee for their lives in anticipation of an imminent, brutal pogrom. When the sage awoke in the morning, he was quite disconcerted over his dream. He immediately sent an emissary to the village, bearing his message. Those who heeded the warning and fled were saved, while those who did not perished in terrible carnage. This old man, who was not even learned, unknowingly saved his village from terrible doom and destruction merely by reciting Tehillim.
During our weekly recital of Pirkei Avot we quote a verse from Isaiah, “ve’amech kulam tzaddikim,” that the Jewish nation is composed entirely of tzaddikim. Every one of us is a tzaddik. We have no idea what dangers lurks around us, and when we have been saved from a horrible disaster. We also do not realize whose merits have saved us. It could easily be the most unlikely person amongst us, and maybe even ourselves. Just like the old man saved his city simply by reciting Tehillim, we also have tremendous power through “small” merits to save our communities. We must not underestimate the value of similar seemingly insignificant acts. Perhaps it is reciting Tehillim or learning a Mishnah; maybe it is giving charity or attending a Daf Yomi shiur. Imagine if a bus were saved from a suicide bomber or if a soldier were saved on the frontier in merit of a minor act of righteousness on our part. Indeed every single Jew has the potential to be a tzaddik. We must approach everything we do with great awareness; for one never knows what merits may result.