Day 1: The Chafetz Chayim - A Man Who Waited
Updated: May 31, 2020
Did You Await Salvation?
Although one of the first questions which are posed to every Jew upon arrival in heaven, after living his or her designated years in this world, is “Tzipisa liyishua (Did you await salvation (of the redemption)?”, and although one of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith is that “Even if he (Moshiach) may tarry, I await his coming every single day” – and notwithstanding the thrice-daily proclamation of every Yid that “I await your salvation the entire day” – nonetheless, certain personalities stand out in their fervent and active anticipation of the coming of Moshiach and the era of Redemption which he will herald with his arrival.
One example of such a personality, incidentally in the not-too-distant history, is Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen Kagan of Radin (5598-5693/1838-1933), popularly known by the name of the first of his twenty-one widely accepted and used seforim, the Chafetz Chayim. In fact, it could be said that his focus on and constant involvement in the topic of Moshiach’s arrival surpassed not only that of his contemporaries, but even that of the great Jewish leaders of many generations prior to his time.
Almost every one of his letters that reached our hands ends with a heartfelt prayer and wish for the coming of Moshiach, such as “May the Merciful One grant that we see the coming of the righteous redeemer speedily in our days, Amein”, or a slight variation thereof. He concluded the same way in his public sermons, according to the testimony of his students. His numerous talks and letters cover a range of subjects; yet no matter what was the topic at hand, the conclusion was always the same – Moshiach.
Whether he was establishing a women’s group called “Nashim Shananos” for the purpose of strengthening their children’s education, or expressing his condolences after an unprecedented earthquake that shook the Holy City of Yerusholayim, leaving many families poverty-stricken; that is, those who were not buried under the ruins of their own home. Be it a call unto his brethren to eradicate all hatred that they might possess to a fellow Yid, or an appeal to daven with a minyan three times a day and answer Amein to the blessings and Kaddish which the chazan recites. The common denominator of all the above, and many more lofty issues with which he was preoccupied, is that the final word was always this – that when Yidden will heed the aforementioned, we will merit seeing the arrival of the righteous Moshiach!
Moreover, this was not just a formal or poetic way of concluding a speech or letter on any random topic, with the topic remaining absolutely unrelated to its prayerful conclusion; but rather, the subject matter of any discussion was somehow always associated with bringing Moshiach. This was the focus of his every endeavor.
For example, at the rabbinical assembly in Grodno, called for the purpose of strengthening Torah study, the Chafetz Chaim based himself on the saying of Chazal (Psikta Zuta, Va’eschanan, 4:32) “Ein yisrael nig’alin min ha’umos ela bizchus hatorah (Yidden will only be redeemed from amongst the nations in the merit of the Torah)”.
Passion about Moshiach begins With Chazal!
Additionally, words of our Sages regarding Moshiach were frequently referenced throughout his writings. He would often quote the Gemara (Sanhedrin, 98b) relating how Rabbi Eliezer the Great was asked by his students, “What can a person do to be spared the suffering that precedes the coming of Moshiach?” Wherein Rabbi Eliezer responded, “One should occupy himself in the study of Torah and in acts of kindness.” Another commonly quoted passage was “If Yidden would only observe two Shabbosos according to their Halacha, they would be redeemed immediately” (Shabbos, 118b).
From the short overview of the Chafetz Chaim’s writings that are mentioned in this article, it becomes crystal clear that he was imbued with a firm and powerful belief in the imminent advent of Moshiach. He was certain that very soon Hashem would bring the Yidden back to their Holy Land and that the Beis Hamikdash will again stand in all its splendor and glory. He even went so far as to distinguish the last of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish faith (the principle of the belief in the resurrection of the dead) as “the principal of all principals” (Chafetz Chaim al Hatorah, Parshas Noach).
Clearly, the Chafetz Chaim was following the precedent laid down by our Sages. The Gemara (Taanis, 17a) states that even in our time, a Kohen may not drink wine of a type and quantity that can cause intoxication – for Moshiach may suddenly come and the Beis Hamikdash could be quickly erected, miraculously, and a Kohen may not perform the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash in an inebriated state! The Gemara (Eiruvin, 43a) also rules that if a person vows to become a nazir on the day of Moshiach’s arrival, he becomes forbidden to drink wine immediately, because Moshiach can appear any day – even today! So strong was the belief and hope of Chazal about the advent of Moshiach, and they strove to instill this faith into the hearts of all Yidden. Such anticipation, then, is not the product of a wild imagination, nor is it merely wishful thinking; but rather, it is grounded on sound Halachic rulings.
But it gets better.
The Gemara (Bechoros, 53a) explains that the reason we do not separate maaser from animals nowadays, despite the fact that the Biblical obligation applies in all times, is because of concern that one will unwittingly commit a transgression by shearing or working the animal while waiting for it to develop a blemish. A possible solution is suggested, that the owner inflict a blemish on his entire flock before he performs the maaser count, thereby exempting them from tithing and avoiding the above issue of using an animal separated for maaser for personal use. But this proposition is rejected for the following reason: “Meheiro yiboneh Beis Hamikdash ubo’inon behemos lihakrava veleka (The Temple will speedily be rebuilt, and we will need unblemished animals for offerings, and there will be none)”! Yes, this is what the Gemara says! Your eyes are not deceiving you.
In light of the above, the Chafetz Chaim saw it an obligation to study the laws which will be necessary as soon as the Beis Hamikdash will be built, an event which could very well transpire suddenly and unexpectedly, starting with the laws pertaining to the offerings discussed in Seder Kodshim. He himself had a daily shiur together with his son-in-law on these subjects and also very much encouraged his son to join in their studies, although that never really materialized on a large scale, as his son was overwhelmed with communal matters.
A letter most characteristic of the Chafetz Chaim was written upon receiving a copy of the sefer Yad Ramah from the author, Rabbi Refoel Mordechai Soloveitchik, Chief Rabbi of Kleshtzel; “I received your precious sefer, Yad Ramah, which is full of Talmudic acuteness and proficiency… I would like to take the opportunity to bring to the attention of his honor, being that all the signs which Chazal specified for the coming of Moshiach have been fulfilled… – there is no doubt that we now stand on the eve of Moshiach’s arrival. Therefore, if all the giants of Israel in our time would listen to me, I would advise that they harness their Talmudic capabilities to author compilations for the common folk on concepts related to the Beis Hamikdash”.
In order to bring his plans to reality in a more practical and concrete way, this Torah giant established a kolel for young, married men, where, in addition to their regular studies of Yoreh Deah or Choshen Mishpat, the young men would dedicate at least three hours of their daily schedule to study Seder Kodshim, until they would become so fluently versed in its laws, that they could answer and decide any practical questions that might arise in these subjects!
He was of the opinion that it is the responsibility of the scholars of the time to teach their unlearned brethren, especially the Kohanim, the basic laws of the long-awaited era of the Redemption. It was not merely once or twice that he was seen sitting with the less literate Kohanim of his town, learning with them the chapter of eizehu mekoman from the Siddur, a study rather simple for a giant of his stature, but perfect for his uninitiated listeners.
This, too, was not a baseless sentiment; but rather, there is a well-known historical precedent to this behavior. When the time came for the building of the second Beis Hamikdash, Hashem instructed the prophet Chagai to examine the Kohanim to see if they knew the laws of ritual uncleanliness and purity. According to the Gemara, they gave wrong answers out of ignorance, which pained, as it were, Hashem. “I am sure,” the Chafetz Chaim writes, “that if there would be a navi in our time, Hashem would command him the same – we must be ready!” It could well be that he was indeed sent in place of the prophets of old, to deliver Hashem’s message unto the nation. After all, Hashem has many messengers. And such an esteemed one, at that.
Shmiras Halashon and Moshiach
True, he has become famous and revered for promoting the purity of speech and the love of one’s fellow Jew, the subjects that fill the first few of his publications (Chafetz Chaim, Shmiras Halashon, and Ahavas Chesed). Yet many people almost entirely dismiss the author’s ulterior motive in writing these great works; as he himself states, unequivocally, that being careful in these mitzvos will bring Moshiach!
According to the Gemara, the sin of lashon hara delays the Redemption. When Moshe heard that a wicked man had informed on him, he grew worried that there is slander among the Yidden – how are they fit to be redeemed?! Prior to their Exodus, however, the Jewish People corrected this, as the Midrash (Vayikra Raba, 32:5) lists four reasons why the Yidden merited to be redeemed from Mitzrayim, one of them being that they did not gossip (see Likutei Sichos, Vol. 31, pg. 8, at length). Similarly, the Midrash (see Eliyahu Rabba, 23) relates that the Yidden were liberated from Egypt through the merit of the very quality of loving-kindness, for despite the tribulations and harshness of their servitude, they solemnly undertook to uphold and strengthen this quality and mode of behavior.
“Redemption is near!”
Not only was Moshiach’s coming the focal point of the aforementioned books, but later he was to publish many more volumes of works directly focused on the laws pertaining to sacrifices. Above all else, he became the author of Likutei Halachos, extending the work of the eleventh-century Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi, better known by his abbreviation, the Rif, to another nineteen tractates, the bulk of which are from Seder Kodshim, or at least deal with the service in the Beis Hamikdash. He also compiled a super-commentary on the cryptic Toras Kohanim, rendering this largely abandoned portion of Torah available to the masses, a mission so timely, as the study and knowledge of Temple services is all the more important nowadays when the time of the Redemption is near.
Even in his sefer Machanei Yisrael, which deals with all the laws a Jewish soldier must know while in an army camp, three long chapters were included explaining the obligation to long for Moshiach’s arrival, as well as a description of what will be when he comes. It seems that the Chafetz Chaim held these to be important laws for a Jewish soldier in the Russian army to know!
In addition, the Chafetz Chaim authored a three chapter essay on the importance of longing for and anticipating the arrival of Moshiach. He begins by demonstrating how all the signs which Chazal foretold of the time prior to Moshiach’s advent have materialized in their most literal sense, concluding from this that it is only logical to expect him at any moment.
He continues to assure that when it finally happens it will be very quick, while, as usual, presenting an analogy to make this concept more tangible to his readership; a king becomes infuriated with his son and sentences him to five year exile in a distant country. In essence, the king longs the end of his son’s exile period as much as, if not more than, the prince himself. He therefore orders his servants to pave the way and develop various machines to hasten his reunion so that his pain not be prolonged any more than the exact five years.
Almost prophesizing the invention of the airplane, he compares this haste to the verse that describes the ingathering of the diaspora as those “who fly like a cloud”. In reference to the invention of the steam train, he commented that everything transpires in the right time. Nowadays, there is no time for prolonged travel by foot or by horse and wagon, for there is much yet to be achieved before the ultimate Redemption – hence, the stream train was provided.
When Yosef was to be brought before Pharaoh, it says that “They hurried him from the pit”; for as soon as his twelve years of imprisonment were over, he was to be set free without any further delay. It is brought (Levush Yosef, pg. 228) in the name of the Chafetz Chaim that the same will be by the ultimate Redemption – as soon as the time comes, we will be hurried out of exile without any delay.
Are we fit for Geulah?
How could one be so certain that now is the time for the arrival of Moshiach? After all, it could be argued that our generation, with all its shortcomings and lack of Torah scholars, is not fit to see the revelations of the future Redemption; revelations of such magnitude that the glorious and noble generations of the past, with all their Torah scholarship and piety, did not merit to see? Moreover, the non-observant class of Jews continues to grow daily, which seems to render our nation totally undeserving of Moshiach!
The truth is that both observant and non-observant Jew signal and hasten the Geula. When a simple yet observant Jew of our generation follows in the path he was taught by his parents or teachers, even though he is not necessarily a Torah scholar (or at least not of the caliber of the scholarship of previous generations) – this is special to Hashem. As for the non-observant, their unequivocal message to the Al-mighty is: “If You don’t redeem us fast, You will have no one to redeem!” The Chafetz Chaim concludes: both are bringing Moshiach closer – these with their good deeds, and the others via the opposite. It is much better, of course, to be of those with the good deeds! (Tzipisa Liyishua, ch. 3).
In case one is still unconvinced, the Chafetz Chaim insists (in Biyam Derech, Lugasi, vol. 5, p. 47) that this present state of the world itself the appropriate recipe for Redemption, for when realizing one’s shameful state of being, one then becomes humbled and, hence, fitting for the Geula. Again, his stand is firmly based on a Gemara (Nedarim, 66b) where it is related that a man once vowed not to derive pleasure from his exceedingly unattractive wife (as she was laden with numerous blemishes) unless she could show any single beautiful quality that she might possess to Rabbi Yishmael ben Yosi, believing that this was an impossibility. After a tiring examination of her every limb, only to find negative results, the sage tried his last resort; “Maybe her name is beautiful?” he asked. When informed that her name, in fact, was “Repulsive”, he nullified the husband’s vow, proclaiming that her name matches beautifully. If we recognize our lowliness, we are beautiful and, hence, deserving of the Geula.