Rabbi Dr. Dov Levine

Ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba di’kula ba. Delve in it and continue to delve in it for everything is in it (Avos 5,26).

On Motzaei Yomtov, I received a shocking phone call from my nephew Yosef Chaim in Bet Shemesh with the tragic news about the petirah of his father, R’ Aaron, who was my twin brother.

R’ Aaron carried the name of our illustrious grandfather, the Reisher Rov zt”l, who was one of the leading Torah personalitites in the pre-World War II era. Owing to the profound anguish that accompanied my nephew’s call, the conversation was very brief, but he did not fail to underscore the timing of the petirah, which was in the afternoon of the first seder night in New York. Here in Israel, it was already the beginning of the second day of Pessach. Since we were born on the second seder night, the timing of his petirah took on a momentous significance. As I would later learn, the doctors had already delivered a dire prognosis in the morning of the previous day that he would die within an hour. However, the Hashgachah Pratis from Above dictated a later timing, which would be eminently suitable for him. His soul did not depart from this world until an elevated seder would be conducted in his presence by his family within the confines of a special hospital room that was fit for the most venerable dignitary. This regal spiritual seder was the distinguishing landmark for his departure from this world just before his 65th birthday to complement the seder that had marked his arrival into this world!

It was evident that the Hands of Providence had worked to extend the hours of his lifetime in order to reach this milestone, which recalls the teaching of our Sages: The Holy One, Blessed Be He, sits and completes the years of the righteous from day to day … (Rosh Hashana 11a). The levayah took place in the Eretz Hachaim cemetery near Bet Shemesh. The selection of this site was also obviously guided from Above. For the family had first considered various other alternatives and only later decided upon the Eretz Hachaim plot. The suitability of this decision was very soon corroborated by a mysterious remez that emerged from a shiur in Tehillim that the family heard on the radio. The lecture was focused on Psalm 142. When the speaker reached the verse, I have cried out to You, Hashem; I have said, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living“ (verse 6), he expounded on the various facets of meaning that is contained in the concluding phrase‚ chelki beeretz hachaim. They were startled to hear the explanation that this refers to burial in the Holy Land.

In this way, heavenly signs were displayed both for the time of his demise as well as the site for his burial. At the levayah, which was on Chol Hamoed, I delivered a short speech of Divrei Preidah. Endeavoring to keep within the halachic guidelines of avoiding Divrei Hesped, I concentrated on the special relationship that I had with my twin brother, R’ Aaron z”l. From the earliest vestige of our youth, we were connected to each other in mind, heart, and soul. This relationship persisted uninterrupted over time, despite the vast distance that ultimately separated our physical existence, after I married and moved to Switzerland and later to the Holy Land. However, this relationship immeasurably deepened during the 3 1/2 years that he was suffering from his fatal affliction.

According to our Sages, the model for empathizing with the suffering of another is to be found in the relationship between twins, where each feels the pain of his sibling (Shmos Rabbo 2, 5; Shir Hashirim Rabbo, Parsho 5, where tamossi (my perfection) in verse 2 is read as te’umossi (my twin)).

During this period, I was connected to the intense pain of my brother’s suffering and the anguish of his frustrations. But the pangs of his tribulations were not his deepest feelings. Far greater were the profound sentiments that he expressed when an issue concerning Kavod haTorah came to his attention. Over a period of several months, he was invigorated with a renewed vitality and mustered all the resources at his disposal to fight for the integrity of the halacha and honor of Gedolim from a bygone era. In addition, I shared the joy of the accomplishments that he labored to achieve during this arduous juncture of his life. Indeed, his toil in Torah was astounding during this period and his great spiritual productivity belied the intense suffering that characterized his physical existence..

The key for deepening our relationship was Divrei Torah, which was the basis for all our conversations that were conducted at least twice a week. The starting point for these transatlantic discourses was selective pieces of Divrei Torah from the sefer Zera Shimshon, which we discussed and attempted to illuminate.

During the Shivah, I focused on my brother’s extraordinary attributes which he exercised for serving the Creator in the capacity of a long standing Rav of the Young Israel of Avenue J in Flatbush, a professor of Economics at Y.U., and as a role model for the chinuch of his children. His accomplishments included his highly prolific halachic writings on the full range of topics in the field of business ethics and his numerous analyses of economic issues from the perspective of the Torah. He was recognized as a master darshan and served as a paragon model of moral rectitude for a wide circle of followers. And yet, despite this impressive profile, I found myself searching for a facet of uniqueness that would mark his distinctiveness from others who have striven to serve the Creator to the best of their abilities.

This search brought to mind an insight which I once heard from an Adam Gadol concerning the significance of the Kaddish prayer that is recited for the deceased. At first glance, it appears that the Kaddish prayer does not have a direct connection with the deceased. In the light of the commentaries, it can be seen that the recital of this lofty prayer itself generates a source of merit for the deceased by virtue of the fact that the departed soul is the causative factor for its utterance. However, it is possible to perceive a direct connection between the Kaddish prayer and the deceased. Every individual Jew who strives to fulfill the Torah is considered as a member of Hashem’s army. In the familiar military setting, the individual soldiers are expected to execute the tasks that are assigned to them based on their training, which is a function of their abilities. At the same time, each soldier is expected to concentrate on his designated function and not to intrude into areas that are outside of his competence. The success of the army as a unified fighting unit will depend upon the extent to which the individual soldiers reach the full potential of their designated functions. Analogous to the military model, each individual in Hashem’s army is assigned a mission of service to the Creator in the world which is suitable for the unique factors that define the circumstances of his life in his temporal existence, which includes the raw abilities that are consigned to his being and the manifold influences of the environment in which he dwells. When we take into account the variegated factors that are associated with the living conditions of each individual, we can see that each member of Israel achieves a unique Kiddush Hashem in striving to achieve the full potential of his service to the Creator. In this way, the Kaddish prayer serves as symbolic representation of the unique Kiddush Hashem that is now missing due to the departure of the deceased from this world.

Following this approach, we can see that every single accomplishment in service to the Creator adds further to the uniqueness of the individual’s contribution to the Kiddush Hashem that he makes during his lifetime.

Accordingly, it would suffice to explain the uniqueness of the Kiddush Hashem that R’ Aaron generated during his lifetime in terms of the cumulative effects of the individual factors that contributed towards its realization. However, in the case of R’ Aaron, we can identify the presence of another feature of uniqueness that serves to immeasurably enhance its qualitative character.

On a mystical level, the term Yisroel may be viewed as an acronym for Yeish Shishim Ribo Osios Latorah, there are 600’000 letters in the Torah. The implication of this teaching is that every member of Israel, which is personified by the number of 600’000, has a special affinity to one particular letter of the Torah. This is also reflected by the parallelism between the letters in the words neshama and mishna, which are identical but in different arrangements.

In this regard, we can identify the following Mishnah in Avos, which appears to display a special affinity to R’ Aaron’s neshamah: Ben Bag Bag says: Delve in it (the Torah) and continue to delve in it (the Torah) for everything is in it; look deeply into it; grow old and gray over it and do not stir from it, for you can have no better portion than it. (Avos, chapter 5, 26).

This teaching reflects the phenomenal “completeness”  that is embodied in the Torah.

The veracity of the statement that “everything is in it” is not dependent upon our ability to verify it. For this declaration constitutes an integral part of Torah Shebaal Peh, which possesses a truth level that supercedes direct observation, namely, emunah.

Nevertheless, there exists ample empirical evidence to make this statement eminently feasible. The proofs have steadily arisen time and again for the Torah giants in each generation. Within our own immediate grasp is the evidence; from the Chason Ish, who demonstrated a remarkable medical knowledge and expertise without any prior studies or training in this field; from R’ Aharon Kotler, who exhibited an amazing acumen in the political thinking of the world leaders without having read any analysis on this matter; and from the great Torah personalities of recent generations, who manifested a keen capability to give practical advice in areas of endeavor in which they lacked any familiarity (see Mishel Avos, chapter 5, 22).

These examples offer cogent testimony to the “everything in it” feature of the Torah. However, the search process that is associated with producing these findings belongs to the remazim of the “hidden” plane of Torah, which is accessible only to the Yechidei Segulah.

Nevertheless, there are facets of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba that are clearly within the purview of the “revealed” plane of Torah, which are available for all those who strive to toil in the Torah.

 This brings us to the framework to define the unique contribution of R’ Aaron in performing services to the Creator. His manifold accomplishments may be seen as outgrowths from the various forms of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba that he exercised over the span of his lifetime, which we describe below.

The implication of vi’siv u’vala ba, i.e., grow old and gray over it, is that the process of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba should have already started as a youthful enterprise. This transports us back to the pristine period of his Yeshivah years in the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, where he gained a formidable reputation as a mechadesh of Torah novellae. During this time, he became the editor-in-chief of the Kol Yaakov, the Yeshiva’s Torah journal. His personal contributions to this Torah periodical were not confined to the usual 3-5 page articles that one is accustomed to see in these types of publications. Rather, he produced amazing kuntressim of Chidushei Torah on specific topics one after the other which were distinguished both in terms of their content and style of writing. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Shivah transpired in the week of Parshas Emor, which recalls his major kuntress on the subject of “vekidashto,” and you shall sanctify him (the priest), (Vayikra 21, 8).

How did R’ Aaron accomplish this feat? Upon contemplating the matter, we can see that it was none other than through the exercise of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba,. For this describes the process that one must undertake in order to to arrive at Chidushei Torah. In his search for the genuine meaning of the relevant Sugyos, the aspirant must turn around in his mind the precise phrases of the relevant text in the Talmud, the accompanying phrases in Rashi, Tosfos, Rambam, and other Rishonim. The exercise must be repeated again and again until the clarity of these respective phrases is fully elucidated, as well as the interrelations between them. For the serious student, the process of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, does not end with the closing of the Gemara and auxiliary sefarim when one departs from the Beis Midrash, but rather is an ongoing process that continues nearly uninterrupted, as it is written: And you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise (Devarim 6, 7). This was the facet of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, that R’ Aaron exercised in the flower of his youth during the Yeshiva years. At this time, he became the son-in-law of the illustrious Gaon and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shmuel Dovid Warschavshik zt”l.

A second facet of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, was exercised in connection with his Rabbanus in the Young Israel of Avenue J in Flatbush. As conveyed to me by R’ Aaron himself on several occasions, he considered the pulpit as a primary medium for instilling Yiras Shomayim and Ahavas Torah in his congregants. Towards this end, he would meticulously work on his drashos, investing time and effort to perfect the ideas that he wished to disseminate, as well as the language that he would use to articulate them.

For R’ Aaron, the message that he delivered was of paramount importance. First and foremost, it had to be suitable for his audience. Towards this end, he was accustomed to search many sefarim until he hit upon an idea which he felt could be developed to inspire his particular audience. R’ Aaron’s application of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, for the purpose of developing a customized drasha did not mean that he would automatically eliminate certain sefarim and favor others. On the contrary, he had the keen ability to discern suitable material even from the most difficult sefarim, which were not for the general public. At the same time, he would often pass over material that he saw in sefarim that were primarily designed for the general public, because it did not meet the high standard that he sought for his congregants. R’ Aaron leaves behind a huge legacy of assorted drashos, which he regularly transcribed over the years. Their content, style, and language will offer eloquent testimony to the brilliance of his insights, the depth of his perceptiveness, and the timely messages that he delivered.

A third facet of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, was executed in his voluminous research in the area of his chosen specialization, namely, the interface between economics and Halachah, especially as it relates to public policy and modern business practices.

The pages of his scholarly works, which encompass six books and numerous articles, will testify to the enormous toiling in Torah that was involved in producing them. In this instance, the exercise of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, goes far beyond the personal level of achievement. For these works reflect the fulfillment of a need to satisfy the quest of a wide constituency who are searching for the genuine Torah perspective on the issues that he analyzed. The objective that was achieved here was not to demonstrate a synthesis between Torah and Mada, but rather to show that the holy Torah that was given to Israel on Sinai represents a living document that has ever present vibrancy and is eminently relevant for defining the proper moral conduct even in the most sophisticated settings of modern society. In this way, R’ Aaron generated with this exercise of ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, a Kiddush Haschem on a large scale that is only attainable for the few.

Verily, this Kiddush Hashem extends still further, because it succeeded in reaching a global audience. An example in point is his compendium on the recent economic recession in America, whose severity is rivaled only by the Great Depression in 1929.

In this treatise, R’ Aaron quotes the theories that are advanced by the leading experts to explain the causative factors for this phenomenon. R’ Aaron proceeds to shatter these theories and to show that they altogether missed the point. The true causal factor was nothing other than an acute moral breakdown in the behavior of both the creditors and debitors in the housing sector. R’ Aaron goes on to quote the laws that should govern the moral conduct of the malveh i.e., lender, and loveh i.e., borrower, based on the treatment of the Rambam. This is just one example of the wider perspective that R’ Aaron’s works generated in the general public. In this way, R’ Aaron served as an ambassador for the Torah for the general public. The gaining of public acclaim was not the intent of his study, but for the unassuming posture that permeated his essence, this was a befitting outgrowth of his labor.

In his Torah novellae, Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov ztk”l writes that the Creator, Blessed Be He, included three dimensions in His scheme of creation, namely; olam i.e., world, shanah, i.e., year, and nefesh i.e., soul. In the dimension of olam, there are countless worlds and everything that is contained in them, which includes the full range of Hashem’s creations, from the colossal to the minute. In the dimension of shana is included the perpetual cycle of days, nights, Shabbosos and new moons. Everything was created for His Glory. All of these dimensions operate in parallel with one another to render praise to Hashem and to relate His Majesty (Menachem Tzion, 28-30).

Given that R’ Aaron’s soul had a special affinity to the Mishnah which describes the process of toiling in Hashem’s Torah, ha’phoch ba ve’haphoch ba, it was befitting that Providence should guide its exit from the transitory to the eternal world with a setting in the dimensions of olam and shana that was admirably suitable for it.

May his blessed memory be a z’chus for his Rebbetzen, who was extremely dedicated to him, and was a full partner in his outstanding achievements, his children, family and friends, as well as for the entire Klall Yisroel!