R Chaim Kanievski’s letter
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky Shlita was born in 1928.
He is the son of Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, known as “the Steipler,” and Rebbetzin Miriam Karelitz Z’l, sister of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz—the Chazon Ish.
Like his father and uncle, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is considered one of the greatest scholars of our generation, and thousands of people each week, in person and through the mail, seek his blessing, halachic guidance, and personal advice.
Recently due to the historical coronavirus pandemic, Rabbi Chaim reached out to Jews worldwide with a short but powerful letter, encompassing a message to help save us from this terrible virus.
Rabbi Chaim wrote that “Everyone must be mechazek to refrain from Lashon Harah and Rechilut as it states in Arachin 15b: [Why is a leper so different, that the Torah states: “He shall dwell alone; outside of the camp shall be his dwelling” (Vayikrah 13:46)? He (Rabbi Chaninah) answered: By speaking badly] he separated between a husband and wife and between one person and another; therefore he is punished with tzara’at, and the Torah says: “He shall dwell alone; outside of the camp shall be his dwelling.”
People need to realise that when a word is in your mouth – you control it.
When it leaves – it controls you.
“They must further strengthen themselves in the Midah of humility and to be Maavir al Midotav (let things slide) as the Perush HaRosh on the side of the page says explicitly in the end of Horiot [14a].”
The Gemara there cites a debate between Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and the Chachamim as to who is preferable – a Sinai, one who is extremely knowledgeable or an Oker Harim – One who uproots mountains, one who is extremely sharp.
The Gemara explains that this is not just theoretical.
Rav Yosef was a Sinai; Rabba was one who uproots mountains. They sent a message from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael: Which takes precedence? They sent in response: Sinai is preferable, as the Master said: Everyone requires the owner of the wheat, i.e., one who is expert in the sources.
And even so, Rav Yosef did not accept upon himself the appointment of head of the yeshiva. Rabba did accept it upon himself and he reigned for twenty-two years, and then Rav Yosef reigned.
The Gemara relates that in all of those years that Rabba was in charge, Rav Yosef did not even call a bloodletter to his home.
Rav Yosef did not assume even the slightest authority, in deference to Rabba.
The Rosh explains in the name of the Ramah (Rabbenu Meir ha-Levi Abulafia) that since Rav Yosef lowered himself and did not wish to lord over Rabbah, his humility protected both him and his household members that not any of them became ill all of those years that Rabbah ruled and even an expert bloodletter was not needed to be called to his home.
R Chaim Kanievsky ends his letter saying;
“Whoever strengthens himself in these the merit will protect him and his family members that not one of them will be sick.”
What an important message – what a guarantee from a Great Sage.
This week we enter the third book of the Torah – Vayikra.
Perhaps there is a similar message within the name of this special book.
Out of the five books, Vayikra sits third in the centre surrounded by two books on either side. It speaks about the Avoda service that was carried out in the Tabernacle.
Hashem created the world and took us out of Egypt, (the first two books) in order that we be free to serve Him.
He calls out to Moshe, symbolising that speech should be utilised as R Chaim suggested, for the good, learning Torah, prayer, complimenting others and working for a unified world.
The Torah writes the word Vayikra with a small aleph at the end.
The commentators point out that this represented Moshe’s modesty.
He was “called” to by G-d, yet he never really wanted the fanfare that goes around such a top position, he was always seeking to give all the respect to G-d. In fact as we approach Pesach, it is interesting to note that Moshe Rabenu’s name hardly appears in the Hagada. One of the explanations being, that he wanted all to recognise that he was but a messenger, and the real conductor and leader of all events was the Creator alone – G-d Almighty. He alone should be our focus on Seder Night.
Upon deeper inspection of the letter aleph, we can observe it is made of a slanting Vav and two Yuds. Added together the numerical value is 26 which is the same numerical value as G-ds Name.
He is the Alef – the First and Only One.
Yet there is a deeper explanation to the secret of the Aleph. The Vav is a connecting letter. It represents the connection between this world and the next. The two yuds can be considered like two Yids – Jews. The Yuds are facing towards each other, but one is seemingly upside down. Perhaps we can suggest that this is the centrality of the world. We are all here together, sharing one purpose. But there will be times that we disagree, times where the other person seems to be upside down. It is at those times, we need to connect and work together. Sometimes it requires Maavir Al Midotav – for us to override our natural tendencies, turn upside down in order to reconnect with others dear to us.
Our rabbis teach: “Kol ha’maavir al midotav, ma’avirin lo kol p’shaav – whoever is forgiving, God is forgiving of them.” (Rosh Hashana 17a) Too many of us are accountants, not by training or trade, but in practice. We are constantly balancing the books of our relationships with others. “We invited them 3 times and they only invited us once,” or “they didn’t give my son a bar mitzvah gift even though they attended, so I am not giving their child a gift either.” “I am always calling him or asking to go to lunch, he never initiates so I am done with this friendship.
A professor once held up a beaker filled with water before a class and asked how much they think it weighs. One student said two ounces, another though six ounces, another two pounds. The professor looked at the class and said they are all right. How could they all be right, asked the students, aren’t they saying different things? The professor answered, they are all right, it just depends how long I hold onto it.
When our grudge is formed, it seems somewhat light, small, and insignificant so it is easy enough to carry around with us. The longer we hold onto it, however, the heavier it becomes and the greater the energy, effort, and focus necessary to carry it forward. It is time to let go, to be willing to forgive and forego, even that which is due to us.
The Rambam identifies as one of the defining characteristics of a Talmid Chacham that one must be a Mevater, a forgoer, one who is forgiving and does not hold a grudge.
As we continue to experience difficulties around the world with this pandemic, now is the time to decide to be a Mevater, to transform ourselves into the kind of people who let things go. I can tell you with certainty the Almighty loves a Mevater. Don’t be concerned with rights, honours, privileges, and entitlements. Don’t focus on what we are due and what the people who hurt us deserve. Put down the heavy baggage, let go and forgive, and you will live life so much lighter.