Thursday, February 12, 2009

Torah and Reality

Although Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, zt”l, only spent a year in Novhardok, the Alter, zt”l, left an indelible impression on him. At times he recounted with great emotion the Alter’s words to him: “Mustar’l! (This was the Alter’s nickname for Rav Abramsky, since his hometown was Must.) If you want to know how to go through your entire life in this world doing the ratzon Hashem, I will tell you. You must always place upon your heart and know absolutely that there is no real existence except that which is written in the Torah. This is the lesson in Gittin 56. The Gemara tells us that when Rav Yochanan ben Zakai met Vespasian, he greeted him as a king even though he had not ascended to the throne. Vespasian pointed out that Rav Yochanan was liable to the death penalty for calling him king when he was merely a general. Rav Yochanan ben Zakai explained that he knew that Vespasian would be a king because of a verse and a gezeirah shavah that indicate that the one who conquers Yerushalayim will be a king.
The Alter continued, “But how could he take the chance and put his life in danger? We see that when Rav Yochanan ben Zakai approached Vespasian he saw a king. For him, there was no reality besides the Torah!”
The Biala Rebbe, Rebbe, zt”l, applied this same gemara to the following well known story: When the Baal HaTanya, zt”l, was imprisoned, he was interrogated on numerous occasions. One day, the Czar of Russia decided to disguise himself and meet this rabbi to decide for himself if the charges against him were true or false. Despite the fact that he was incognito, the i Baal HaTanya greeted him as one greets a monarch.
“But I am not the Czar, so why are you giving me this honor?”
“But of course your majesty is the Czar,” the Baal HaTanya respectfully parried. “Earthly kingship is likened to heavenly dominion. Just as the heavenly beings are filled with fear and awe, I was filled with awe the moment your majesty entered the cell. Although I was interrogated by a number of noblemen and officers, I never felt such intense fear inspired by any mortal before!”

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