By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
His name was Naftoli Rhodes, and he was a tzaddik.
He was a hidden gem, until the tragic accident last week that ended his young life. He was a father of two and all of thirty two years old.
At the age of seven, he took it upon himself to no longer hear lashon harah. And somehow, he managed to avoid it – for a quarter century. He would quietly leave whenever the conversation veered toward lashon harah.
His schedule was one deeply devoted to Torah study. His love of Torah was palpable. His excitement and warm smile whenever discussing Torah revealed how he felt about it.
Aside from being a Talmid Chochom, he had a particularly honed sense of who was feeling downtrodden and dejected. And he had an uncanny ability to befriend them and make them feel better. Whether it was a child who was socially isolated or an adult who was feeling the vicissitudes of life bearing down upon him – he always managed to find that person and develop a relationship with him.
He once observed someone unemployed and down. He offered to learn with him. They have been learning regularly ever since.
When meshulachim came he would treat them kindly, he would go to great lengths to help them in any way that he could. Once he saw that a meshulach was missing a belt. He took off his own and gave it to him.
He never raised his voice and disciplined his children with such a calm loving demeanor that one could not tell that the child was being disciplined.
His observance of hilchos Shabbos was meticulous and predicated upon a thorough grasp of its intricate halachos. Although he kept numerous chumros, he did not impose these upon others at all. His conversation was always focused on Torah.
His family are maaminim bnei maaminim.
To so many of us, however, the tragedy of this young Tzaddik of a family man being killed in a car accident while walking so close to home requires explanation.
Chazal tell us (Moed Kotton 28a) that the tragic deaths of Aharon HaKohain’s sons are juxtaposed to the Para Adumah to teach us that the deaths of tzaddikim are mechaper – they atone for us.
There are numerous ways this happens. One way is through the notion of general kapara discussed in the Gemorah. Another way is that when we are noseh b’ol chaveiro, when we feel the pain of others, this removes decrees against us. When we are concerned for families that lost children, decrees are reversed. Chazal (Vayikrah Rabbah 34:14) tell us of a time when there was no rain. A man had compassion toward his downtrodden ex-wife and gave her significant funds. This caused the decree to change and rain came down right away.
There is also a third way. The Zohar further tells us that if not for the tefillos of those that have passed on, we would be unable to stand.
FURTHER INSIGHT FROM THE MAHARAL
The Maharal tells us that people who are given stress or challenges can generally be divided into three groups:
The first type consists of those who Hashem finds incredibly special. Hashem brings about the tzaar precisely because He wants and desires the added closeness. This group is why the Imahos, Sarah, Rivkah, and Rachel and others such as Chana, did not, at first, have children. Hashem wanted their closeness to Him through their tefillah – prayers. The Gemorah in Yevamos (64a), “HaKadosh Boruch Hu Misaveh leTfilasan shel Tzaddikim, Hashem yearns for the prayers of the righteous.”
A second group are those that Hashem wants to give more schar, more merit, by bringing them closer to Him. This group is also included in those described in Mishlei (3:12) in the posuk, “For those to whom He loves, He afflicts.” In Yishayahu (57:15) the posuk says, “Ani eshkon es dakah, I shall dwell in those who are broken-hearted.”
These people may be average or beinoni, but for some reason Hashem singled these people out to get ever closer to Him. It is hard to say – but this is what Chazal tell us.
A third group are those people who Hashem wishes to give an atonement on some action that they may have done. One such case is Avimelech. Another case l’havdil, is Miriam who spoke, on a very subtle level, negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu.
HASHEM COMFORTS US
Whichever group one is in, the Maharal (Nesivos Olam – Nesiv HaYesurin chapter 1) explains that when Hashem brings these afflictions, just as a father comforts a child, so too does Hashem comfort us.
The Maharal explains that the Yesurim somehow prepares the person for greater Dveikus Bashem – connection and cleaving to Him. It removes the “chomrius” physical nature of the person, in the words of the Maharal, and fully spiritualizes the person. As proof he cites that an eved, a slave, is called chomrius and when he loses a tooth, the master must set him free. Certainly, writes the Maharal, when someone’s entirety is afflicted with Yesurim, that person’s entire essence becomes spiritual. The Maharal further explains (chapter 3) that the person becomes kadosh, holy.
The Gemorah in Brachos (54a) writes that we are obligated to make a bracha on “bad news” just like we make a bracha on “good news.” Chazal tell us (Brachos 5b) that we should accept all Yesurim, affliction or pain, b’ahava – with love. Yissurin B’Ahavah is an important level to achieve. The Maharal (chapter 3) brings a proof from Iyov that if one reaches this level, the schar that a person gets is multiplied manifold.
This may be a high spiritual level to reach, and we should not be down on ourselves, if, occasionally, we don’t reach it. Whenever we do reach it, we get that higher level of merit.
CUP IS ALWAYS FULL
Rav Tzvi Myer, grandson of Rav Gedaliah Schorr says that there is an expression which states, “Don’t look at the cup as if it is half empty – look at it as if it is half full.” Both perspectives have it wrong. The truth is that the cup is always completely full. Hashem is so filled with love and compassion toward us that He is always showering us with good and what is in our best interest.
The problem is that, at times, we may view things negatively as if the cup is only partially filled with good and that the rest is air. This perspective is incorrect. The cup is always full. We just fail at seeing it.
THINGS DON’T HAPPEN TO US – THEY HAPPEN FOR US
We must teach ourselves that seemingly negative things do not happen to us – they happen for us. This idea must be entrenched within us and is the reason that the sages ordained that immediately before we recite the Shma we declare the realization of G-d’s intense love for us: ahavah rabbah ahavtanu or ahavas olam.
This is the meaning of the expression of the sages, (Brachos 54a) – k’shaim she’mevarchin al hatov kach mevarchin all haRah – just as one recites a blessing on good news – so too does one recite a blessing on ‘bad news.’ It has to be k’shaim – equally – because the cup is always full. This is also the reason we recite in Hallel, “ki gavar aleinu chasdo – we are showered and perhaps even overwhelmed with His goodness.”
The Gemorah in Brachos (60b) says that a person should always say, “Kol Ma D’avid Rachmana l’tav avid – whatever Hashem (the Merciful One) does, He does for the good.”
Elsewhere, (Nesiv Ahavas Hashem p.43) the Maharal explains that this attitude even has the effect of changing what might be perceived as negative things around to fully perceivable positive things. Understandably, this is a very worthwhile attitude to adopt.
May Hashem comfort the Rhodes and Grumet families and the entire community who knew and loved Naftoli among the other mourners of Tzion.
The author can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.