Personal Suffering and Loss, Challenged Faith, The Klausenberger Rebbe and Lessons from the Book of Genesis

Each week on my IsraelB online community I try to write ideas on the weekly Parsha and here are some thoughts I have put together to take from the Book of Genesis, we finished last Shabbat.

So, what do the Admor M’Klausenburg and Avraham Avinu have in common?

They both used the trials and tribulations that Hashem put in their path of life as a way to deepen themselves and their relationship with Hashem and those around them. Neither of them had conventional or easy personal lives.

After the Holocaust, the Admor remarried in his forties and had 7 children, whilst Avraham was 100 when had Yitzchak and 137 when he remarried Keturah with whom he had 6 children.

The Admor M’Klausenburg, R.Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam (1905-1994) was one of the most remarkable leaders of Jewry in the post-Shoah era.  He was the founding Rebbe of the Sanz Klausenburg Chassidic Dynasty and one of the youngest rebbes in Europe, leading thousands of followers in the town of Klausenberg, Romania, before the Shoah.

His wife, eleven children and most of his followers and students were killed by the Nazis Y’SH. After the Holocaust, he moved to the US and then to Israel, where he settled in Netanya in 1960.

The story goes, that as he was much older than his second wife, he promised her before they got married that he wouldn’t die before their last child was married. This in fact was what happened.

He dedicated his life to chessed and helping others. His determination and passion for life drove him to achieve heights that most cannot reach. Despite the horrific personal tragedy he experienced during the Shoah, he rebuilt his family and just kept on learning, teaching and sharing with others.
In the book of Genesis that we finished last week, we learn about Avraham Avinu. We learn of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s desire to give her a proper burial in a place worthy of her greatness. The Torah says, ‘Avraham came to eulogize and to weep for her’, the letter kaf in ‘Velivkota’ is smaller than the regular sized script.

Why? The Hirsch commentary explains that this is to emphasize that the true sense of pain and loss was kept private and was concealed in his heart and privacy of the home.

Let’s not forget what Sarah meant to Avraham . She had accompanied him throughout his journey of faith. They has responded to the call of G-d together, so he was never alone in his calling. They had started a nation together, based on the twin pillars of Ethical Monotheism and chessed.
Furthermore, they had experienced years of childlessness and davening together and through that reached a deeper connection to G-d and each other. Unlike Yitzchak and Rivka, Avraham and Sarah had grown up together and their relationship was deep and built on commonality.

Rashi explains in the first Pasuk when it says, ‘Sarah’s lifetime was  100, 20 and 7 years..’ that at the age of 100 she was as sinless as a 20 year old, and at the age of 20, she still had the beauty of a 7 year old. The Chizkuni adds, that Sarah never needed cosmetics due to her natural beauty. Rav Moshe Feinstein commented that part of Sarah’s beauty was that despite her breathtaking beauty as an adult, all who saw her recognized her purity and innocence.  So not only was Sarah Avraham’s spiritual partner and ‘Yedid Nefesh’, but she was also beautiful and youthful.
Would Avraham manage alone?

Yes, he carries on making the most of every moment of his life. He continues to build, create and love despite his inner pain and void. We see several examples of this in Parshat Chayeh Sarah:

1) To acquire a fitting burial place for Sarah he was forced to negotiate with the greedy Efron and gladly paid an exorbitant price. Furthermore, to purchase the grave site he needed the co-operation of the descendents of Heth, son of Canaan (10:15) who were the leaders of the region. This purchase, the Gemarah in Sanhedrin 111a records, was one of the tests of Avraham. So we see, however distressed Avraham is, he gets up and is able to deal with the transparent Efron – a sign of his strength of character.

2) We then see he looks ahead and turns to the responsibility of finding a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Despite his pain, he goes on building and looks to the future. He doesn’t neglect himself and detach himself from normal life, despite his bereavement. Avraham makes an oath with Eliezer in 24:3, in case he dies before Eliezer returns. In making this oath, the Shemot Shmuel comments how driven and determined Avraham was to find Yitzchak a suitable wife with a fitting character. This oath would guarantee that Eliezer would persist in his mission, even if it seemed to have limited chances of success. Rav Hirsch explains that in Avraham saying that Yitzchak’s wife cannot be from,’Bnot Canaan’ shows that Avraham was concerned that she had the correct level of morality, ethics and modesty and that we see how ‘in touch’ Avraham was with what was important for Yitzchak. Again showing how Avraham carried on fulfilling his role as a caring father and living despite his loss.

3) In Genesis 25:1, we see that Avraham remarries Keturah, who Rashi based on the Midrash says was Hagar. In 25:2, the Torah tells us the names of the six children they had together. So again, we see how Avraham carries on living and never gives up. Not only only does he remarry but he has another six children. The Netziv, in Ha’emek Davar, explains how even though Avraham was much older than he was a the time of Yitzchak’s birth, his aged body had been reinvigorated in order to make the birth of Yitzchak possible and maintained that capacity throughout his life.

4) In 24:7, Avraham dies and the Torah uses the phrase,’Asher Chay’-which he lived. The Seder Olam comments that Avraham had lived his life fully-not one day was wasted. Like with Sarah, the Torah in 24:7, uses the phrase,’Shney Chaye..’- ‘100 years, 70 years and 5 years’ and like with Sarah, Rashi makes a similar comment that at 100 he was like 70 and at 70 he was like a 5 year old, without sin. Both Sarah and Avraham lived life to the full and made the most out of every moment.
So, we see that Avraham carries on, despite the painful loss of Sarah. Also, as we have seen throughout the Book of Genesis, he never neglects his private and personal life, despite the fact he is a national leader and public figure.

So, two great leaders in our history, in very different contexts and time periods-Avraham Avinu and the Klausenburger Rebbe. Both teach us a very important lesson for life – never to give up hope in the ability of man to transcend his current reality and to carry on building and growing. The capacity  to refresh and recreate oneself is the key to happiness and a meaningful life.

Some thoughts to learn from.

Benjy..

About the Author
Benjy Singer works in social media, content writing and editing. He runs a popular online community, IsraelB.org, which is a very useful resource, especially for Olim. A graduate of the LSE, UCL and Yeshivat Har Etzion, Benjy enjoys writing, teaching and connecting people.
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