The Roman rasha called in the gedolim and asked them: “What’s the
punishment for kidnapping and selling a person?” They replied: “The penalty is
death.” So he told them that their ancestors sold Yosef, and no one ever brought
them to justice. “You stand in their place, and you will receive their
punishment.” When they heard such a strange thing, they realized it was the
Yad HaShem. Rebbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol went up to shamayim and asked
if the decree could be averted, or would it have to be. He was told that it
would have to be. So they did not try to escape. There’s a Midrash that says
that when they brought Rav Chanania ben Tradion to be burned at the stake, each
time they lit the fire, he would have the fire go somewhere else. They asked
him: “If you have such power, why don’t you escape? He said: “This is a decree
that we can’t escape. If I run away, HaShem has bears and lions that can also
get me. It’s futile to run away. For whatever reason, it has to be.”
The Shla HaKadosh says that in the end, it wasn’t the Romans
who killed these Ten. It only appeared that way. By Rabbi Akiva, it says that
when the Romans were torturing him, his neshama flew out at Echad, as he
recited Shema. He reached such an exalted level of kedusha, such a closeness to
HaShem, that’s what caused him to depart this world. Not that they were killed
by the Romans, but that each of the martyrs reached such a level that they
simply left this physical world.
In the Crusades, how many Ba’alei Tosafos were taken
from us? Today, if we find a manuscript from a Tosafos, it’s tremendous, another
sefer of rishonim! How many of them were brutally murdered? Rabbeinu Tam was
left for dead. They took him and wounded him in the five places where the goyim
claim that Yoshke was wounded. He had to suffer for what they claim we did to
their god. (If he was a god, he could have saved himself. But that’s another
story.) So Rabbeinu Tam was left to die, and some benevolent horseman came by,
and Rabbeinu Tam offered him a horse if he would save his life. For a horse, he
was willing to save Rabbeinu Tam.
Hundreds of rishonim were murdered brutally during the
Crusades. How many talmidei chachamim of the first rank were murdered
during the massacres of Tach v’Tat?
We must ask ourselves: Why are the gedolim taken? If
HaShem wants to teach us a lesson, and not hurt us, then leave the gedolim.
We need them to lead us, to teach us. Michtav MiEliyahu says that’s exactly the
reason: People do mitzvos by rote, approaching Torah superficially, without
seeing the holiness of Torah and life. They rely on the gedolim to think
and feel for them; and make them into some kind of idol to be worshipped, to get
a brocho from. This only compounds the problem. So HaShem takes the
gadol, and then we no longer have anyone to do it for us. We’re forced to
think and feel for ourselves. Then there’s hope that we can be cured. You have
to learn from the gadol how to be a gadol yourself. That’s what
he’s there for. Not to do it for you, but to show you how to do it yourself.
After Rav Moshe Feinstein was niftar, and all these
stories came out about his fantastic, superhuman accomplishments, how he
reviewed Shas 1500 times, not eating, not drinking, his family issued a protest.
They said that such stories don’t add to the memory of Rav Moshe, they destroy
it. The greatness of a gadol is that he’s flesh and blood. Where are the
places of the tzadikim, where do we go to remember them? By their graves.
Not in their batei midrashim. Why? To know that they were flesh and
blood. But that flesh and blood was a malach HaShem tsevakos. And if I
know that another human being like me became a malach HaShem, then why
can’t I become one too? But if I make him into a superhuman, what does he have
to do with me? I’m not superhuman. I can’t apply it to my life. If the Chofetz
Chaim was a human being, with the same tongue and teeth, the same mouth for
speaking lashon hora that I have, and he could control it, then maybe so
can I. But if he was not an ordinary human being like me, then it has nothing to
do with me.