Yasher koach to the researcher of the recent post The Chofetz Chaimâ€™s Obituary in the NY Times (1933) and the administrators for putting it up. Here’s another important anniversary to mark, which I saw mentioned on a YahooGroups email list in Hillcrest, NY:
This Friday November 10th, is the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Mishnah Berurah, one of the seminal sources of Jewish law. If you look closely at the last page of the Mishnah Berurah, the Chofetz Chaim, in an unusual move, wrote down the exact date he finished writing his essential sefer:
“I have finished with the grace of Hashem on the 19th day of MarCheshvan 5667”
Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz from the Torah Center of Hillcrest suggests that on Friday everyone should open the Mishnah Berurah and learn at least one law from it, to celebrate this wonderful anniversary. If you don’t have the skills to learn directly from the Hebrew, open an English translation of it or learn a law from another English book of halacha. Think how much merit we can gain for the Chofetz Chaim’s memory and for ourselves if everyone learns a halacha or two this Friday!
For ba’alei teshuva, there are two other important messages from the anniversary. First, when we think about the major role models in Judaism, almost all of them lived long ago. It is sometimes difficult to relate to people who lived in such different time periods. But when we have the Chofetz Chaim, known for his piety, conviction, chesed and sincere love of every Jew, who lived within the last 100 years, we have more responsibility to let ourselves be inspired. The Chofetz Chaim dealt with many of the same challenges our society faces, from global war, to conflicts between the religious and non-religious, to the rise of the modern state of Israel. How he faced those challenges should be a lesson for us all.
Second, the Mishnah Berurah is a source of incredible breadth and depth, covering every action a person should and should not do, at every moment of their lives. Writing the Mishnah Berurah took a tremendous amount of work and perseverance.
Understanding the Chofetz Chaim’s drive to complete the Mishnah Berurah can enlighten our lives. He knew that a complete halacha sefer that answered modern questions was absolutely essential, so he put everything he had into it. As we all face hurdles in becoming more religious or elsewhere in our lives, we must remember that Hashem demands a similar level of focus and dedication, and that He gives us a similar ability to overcome our challenges. Becoming and staying frum can be demanding, but if we maintain a focus on the end goal and continually remind ourselves of the myriad benefits, we’ll be able to achieve it.
But to begin this process, one must first dive in. If we show a commitment and a sincere desire to open ourselves to Judaism from the beginning, Hashem will give us the tools to succeed. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his book Teshuva has a beautiful comparison between today’s Ba’alei teshuva and the Jews after they left Egypt. The Jews saw innumerable miracles during the Exodus, and then Hashem brought them to the seemingly impassable Red Sea. With the Egyptian army about to recapture them, the Jews hesitate and panic at the water’s edge. Only when one of the leaders, Nachshon ben Aminadav, leaps into the sea do the waters part and the Jews pass safely through. It’s the same for us. Both at the beginning of teshuva journeys and throughout our lives, Hashem repeatedly demands that we show our commitment by jumping into the water. As Rabbi Steinsaltz writes:
One can pace up and down the shore or wade about in the shallows for a long time, even a lifetime, contemplating swimming, but until one takes the plunge, one is not swimming. One cannot get swimming experience without giving up the security of treading on solid ground, without actually lifting one’s feet, even before there is absolute certainty that one can stay afloat. Thus it is in every such transition; there is a moment of risk, of uncertainty, every time a plane takes off and lands. Entering the world of Judaism is like entering a different medium, one who would experience that medium must at some point make a decision for change.
That more than anything is a key message of the Chofetz Chaim’s life and Friday’s anniversary. Face your challenges, dive in and Hashem will help you achieve greatness.