There are certain people whose accomplishments seem to traverse normal human limits. They seem to possess uncanny and selfless devotion to their causes, which influence klal Yisrael and promote Torah. What is the secret to their unmitigated energy?
How did Rav Yaakov Yosef Herman (All for the Boss) continue to devote himself to Torah causes when there were so many odds against him on a constant basis?
How did the Chofetz Chaim infuse hope and instill Torah values in his generation, to such a degree that his influence is still poignantly felt until today?
How did the Ponovezher Rav build his yeshivah, after escaping the ashes of Europe?
How did Rav Aharon Kotler rebuild Torah in the spiritual desolation of America?
How did Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel promote the greatest Torah institution in the world?
How did the Bluzhever, Bobover, Belzer, Gerrer, Satmar, Klausenberger, and Kaliver Rebbes rebuild after all of the devastation they endured, and the loss of so many of their chasidim?
On a personal note, I wonder how someone like my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, continues to travel and teach, and to recently publish another book, after so many years of devotion to education and teaching.
A few weeks ago, I was in a local s’farim store, perusing the newest English publications, when a book caught my eye. It was about the life of Rav Zusha Wilamowsky, known in the circles of Lubavitch as “the Partisan.” Although it wouldn’t seem that such a book should pique my interest, I was actually very excited and immediately purchased it. Rav Zusha is my great uncle, the brother of my zeide, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn z”l.
I wish there was such a book about my zeide’s life. But my zeide didn’t talk much about the painful war years and his experiences, and we only know bits and pieces from the few anecdotes he shared and from stories related by others. But the book about Rav Zusha contains a few quotes and insights that my zeide shared about his younger brother who predeceased him.
It may seem strange that they had different last names, but that was a result of the war years. At one point, my zeide’s passport was taken away and he was thrown into prison. He found a passport with the name Kohn on it (there were no pictures on the passports then). From then on, that was his name, despite the fact that he was not a kohen.
The book describes Rav Zusha’s youth, which mostly paralleled that of Zeide. Their father was the rav of the town, and a saintly Jew, who, along with their mother and only sister, was killed by the Nazis. They learned in the great yeshivah of Baranovich, the yeshivah of Rav Elchanan Wasserman zt”l Hy”d. During the war years, they were separated. Zusha ended up with Tuvia Bielski’s Partisans in the forests.
In the DP (Displaced Persons) camp after the war, Rav Zusha discovered Lubavitch and forged an inextricable lifelong connection with it. For the remainder of his life, Rav Zusha became devoted to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who affectionately referred to Rav Zusha as “my partisan.” In fact, on the monument above his grave it says, “R’ Chaim Zusia who was known as the Rebbe’s Partisan.”
On Sukkos 1986, a weakened Rav Zusha briefly joined the major Simchas Beis HaShoeivah at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, the main headquarters of Lubavitch. But after a few minutes, he wasn’t feeling well and he entered the sukkah and lay down on a bench. It was there that he passed away. He died as he had lived his life, as a faithful devotee fulfilling his mission.
The book describes the incredibly selfless dedication that Rav Zusha had to the Rebbe and his causes. Rav Zusha dedicated his life to fulfilling the word of the Rebbe, and considered any request the Rebbe made of him to be a holy mission. He often spoke of “reporting to duty,” “the battlefront,” and “onward march.”
The common thread between those who persevere beyond all odds and accomplish incredible things is that they have an unyielding sense of mission and responsibility. They aren’t merely doing what they want to do; they are striving to accomplish what they feel needs to be done. They feel the weight upon their shoulders.
The Gemara (Shabbos 138b) relates that when the rabbis arrived in the vineyards of Yavneh, they related that they feared that Torah would be forgotten from the Jewish people. At that point, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai declared, “Heaven forbid, that Torah will be forgotten from the Jewish people, as it says, ‘for it will not be forgotten from the mouths of your progeny.’”
The Beis Yisrael of Ger explained that by declaring that Torah would never be forgotten, Rabbi Shimon was essentially taking responsibility to ensure that it would never happen. It wasn’t just a prediction; it was a commitment.
That is what we celebrate on Lag BaOmer. The fire of Torah was ignited within our souls at Sinai. But a fire will only endure as long as it has fuel. In the time of Rabbi Shimon, it seemed that the fuel source had been depleted. Rabbi Shimon himself fueled the fire with every fiber of his being and reawakened the surging flames.
In the generation following the Holocaust, the flames of Torah again seemed to have been weakened by the nefarious flames of the crematoriums. But then, too, there were those who declared that Torah would not be forgotten, and in so doing committed themselves to its preservation, despite impossible odds.
Those heroic personalities have refueled the fire that continues to burn in the hallowed halls of our shuls, yeshivos, and homes.
The fire of Sinai and the fire of Rabbi Shimon continue to burn within our hearts, ensuring that it will indeed never be forgotten!