Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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17 Elul 5765 - September 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Connecting to Hashem: A Tribute to Rabbi Dovid Sofer, zt"l

by Rabbi Y. A. Sofer — Maggid Shiur

On the 28th of Tammuz (4 August), the Far Rockaway (NY) community lost one of its most distinguished members, HaRav Dovid Sofer zt"l.

Rabbi Dovid Sofer, zt"l was born on a ship, the SS Olympic, in 1922, escaping Communist Russia. He received semichoh from the Lomzha Rov, HaRav Moshe Shatzkes, zt"l, in 1945. He was a rebbe in the Hebrew Institute of Long Island for over twenty years. The last four years of his life he was bedridden after losing both legs to the effects of diabetes.

In the Musaf of Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur we say a very moving prayer called Unesano Tokef which describes how awesome and frightening the judgment of these days really is. After declaring "Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil decree" (ArtScroll R.H. Machzor p.483), we describe Hashem's greatness and compare Man to a broken shard of clay: moshul kecheres hanishbar. Man is likened to broken pottery.

Rabbi Reisman, shlita, rov of Agudas Yisroel of Far Rockaway, in his hesped for my grandfather o"h, asked: How do we understand the comparison of people to broken pottery?

He explained that clay vessels are special. They are the cheapest objects to make, being hardened clay obtained from the ground. With respect to the laws of purity, clay vessels are different from all others. If a dead rat touches the outside of a clay vessel, it does not become tomei. Only if the contact is inside the pot, does the pot become impure. To purify a clay vessel, koshering or tovelling does not help. One needs to break it and, if possible, remold it.

This is a human being. The essence of Man is not his looks, his external appearance or his strength. In Yiddishkeit, the content is what is important. This is what defines who a person really is. It is one's character traits that really count.

The ultimate purity is attained when the vessel is broken. A person reaches purity when he breaks his exterior physical drives and desires. My Zaide's physical body was broken. He had his first heart attack some thirty years ago, and subsequently underwent three open-heart operations, a number of heart attacks, both feet amputated, dialysis, and was permanently bedridden with all that goes with that. He lived in this world in a broken physical body, but he attained the purity of a cheres hanishbar, a broken piece of pottery.

He always had a smile, a good word to say and never lost his sense of humor. He had every reason to be depressed, but he wasn't. His physicality was broken but not his true essence.

How did he reach such a level, bearing so much pain, yet never complaining? So much suffering yet never asking "Why me?"

Whenever we asked him "How are you Zaide?" he would reply "Boruch Hashem."

And if we asked (which we sometimes did), "Really, how are you? Boruch Hashem what?" He always said, "Couldn't be better!"

He once replied to my question, "I am getting better." So I asked, "Really?" And he said, "If I am not getting worse, it means I am getting better!"

At his fiftieth wedding anniversary (about five years before his first amputation), he spoke about bitochon — trust in Hashem. He noted how the Patriarchs were tested in many ways, yet they demonstrated a tremendous amount of bitochon. He said that we all have our own individual tests as we go through our lives. If we merit to live a long life, there are sometimes sicknesses and, G-d forbid, sometimes tragedies. The most important lesson that we can learn is to face all the difficulties that we will encounter and come out of them as strong people. Our only real strength is bitochon, trust in Hashem. We cannot, we must not, take golden opportunities for granted, but we must realize that they are a gift from Hashem Who could, chas vesholom, reverse the situation at any time.

The key to life is how much trust in Hashem you really have inside of you. If you are strong in your trust in Hashem, then you will definitely be strong in overcoming anything you will have to face. If you are not strong then, when faced with adversity, you will feel shattered and you will feel that your problems are insurmountable. The only way to develop and acquire bitochon is by learning more Torah and yet more Torah. This is part of what my Zaide said, and this was the way he lived his life.

He said that trust in Hashem brings us to a state of calmness, whatever the situation. When he was told that his second foot had to be amputated, a grandson called him in the hospital and asked him how he was feeling. He responded: "Boruch Hashem, couldn't be better!"

The grandson asked him: "How could you say that?"

To which he responded: "If Hashem wants it to be this way, then it couldn't be better."

This conversation took place only a few weeks after he had his first leg amputated, and he was suffering terribly from the phantom pains and knowing that he would go through all this again and be completely bedridden. Yet he was still able to say: "Boruch Hashem, it could not be better!"

It was not just lip-service. He felt a degree of calmness to the point that he could even joke about his situation. When he was being wheeled into the theater to have the second foot amputated, my father was with him and witnessed the following.

When the doctor asked my Zaide: "Are you allergic to anything?" He responded with a smile: "Yes! To leg amputations."

We are now on a journey. It starts with Elul, proceeds to selichos, Rosh Hashonoh, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Succos and finally Simchas Torah. There is one thread that connects all these days together.

Elul is preparation for Rosh Hashonoh, accepting Hashem as our King. He is our King and we are His very special servants. It is a time to connect to Hashem, to regain and feel a closeness to Him.

Yom Kippur is teshuvoh, returning to Hashem. Succos is living with Hashem under His protection.

Finally there is Simchas Torah. When we begin to dance with the sefer Torah, we proclaim, "It was shown to you, that you may know that Hashem, He is G-d, there is none beside Him." At that time, at the climax of our journey, we should genuinely feel that there is only Hashem, He is the only Power; all that I need, and all that I have is Hashem.

My Zaide o"h had this connection to Hashem and this is why he never complained throughout his great suffering. May his life be an inspiration for us to grow in our own connection to Hashem and through this closeness may we all merit to have a Kesivoh vechasimoh tovoh.


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