Three Funerals in Bnei Brak
There will be three funerals taking place in Bnei Brak tomorrow.
One will be for the tragic passing of an extraordinary Torah scholar, Rav Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky. Born in Poland in 1928, he was a living legend, a relic from a previous era. He moved to Israel as a child and never left, not even briefly. Some may be surprised to learn that he served in the IDF during the War of Independence.
It is no exaggeration to say that Rav Chaim possessed mastery over virtually every aspect of Torah, albeit strictly from a Lithuanian-charedi-mystical perspective. He studied and gained expertise in every Torah topic from Levites to locusts. And he gained this expertise not merely through brilliance but also through raw hasmadah. Since he was a child, he was renowned for his dedication to his studies, learning for around seventeen hours daily!
Rav Chaim was also an extraordinary individual on a personal level. He lived a life of utter simplicity from his tiny apartment in Bnei Brak. He was completely uninterested in luxuries or even comforts. And his modesty extended beyond material simplicity to personal humility. Unlike many people revered as experts or sages or geniuses, he was ready to say "I don't know" when presented with a question that he couldn't answer.
Despite Rav Chaim's widespread renown, he had absolutely no interest in fame or glory or power or control. He was never the head of any institution or the rabbi of any community and was not any kind of leader. Rav Chaim's life was solely about learning Torah and answering questions that were asked of him. He was completely isolated from the world; it was said by those close to him that he probably didn't even know who the prime minister of Israel was. When it came to issuing rulings regarding practical matters, he simply trusted whatever information was given to him and ruled accordingly, for better or for worse. He was selflessly dedicated to answering questions from people, patiently writing out untold thousands of responses to the letters that poured in over the decades (though unfortunately much of his invaluable time was wasted by other people on meaningless trivialities). His loss is irreplaceable.
But there is also another funeral taking place in Bnei Brak tomorrow. This one is for a sort of chassidic rebbe known as "Reb Chaim." This rebbe was believed to have extraordinary supernatural insight. People thought that despite (or because of) his utter dedication to Torah and complete isolation from the world, he possessed special insight into the world. They would ask him for his opinion on all kinds of things that there was no natural way for him to know anything about, even medical matters of life and death. And they would regard even a vague response of "bracha v'hatzlacha" as containing actual approval or even direction.
This chassidic rebbe was believed to not only have supernatural insight, but even supernatural abilities. He was able to produce coins and wine and honey with magical powers, and whatever he had used was said to possess supernatural powers; such items were available, for a price. And his blessing upon anything was believed to be of immense potency and was regarded as being of tremendous value.
The loss of such a supernaturally-powered rebbe is even worse than the loss of a great Torah scholar, especially for weak-minded people who need such a magical authority figure in their lives. As one person wrote: "We tried to follow his guidance, from how to dress, what we eat, who to vote for, and how to raise our children. During these most challenging times the world has been facing - war, disease, strife, and increasing economic challenges, he has been guiding us." But alas, such a mythical figure didn't even exist to begin with.
There is also a third funeral taking place in Bnei Brak tomorrow. This is being attended by a small but powerful group of people: those who were involved in transforming Rav Chaim the Torah scholar into Reb Chaim the magical chassidic rebbe. They are mourning the loss of their source of money and power and influence. They are also undoubtedly even now figuring out how to maximize the money and power that they can still milk from him (and perhaps also eyeing which elderly reclusive Torah scholar they can next appropriate for their purposes).
Baruch Dayan Ha'Emes. And may we merit a nation which understands how to properly treat its Torah scholars.
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