Why do tzadikim pass away? It's not a simple question and simple answers such as "because everyone passes away" will not suffice. I usually avoid the complex kashas, preferring to tackle easy ones like "Why do Babylonians have round heads?" but the key to the demise of the holy Steipler Rav (z"tl) dawned on me this morning, quite by accident, over coffee which, let's face it, is how most epiphanies land.
In the summer of '85, my chavrusa, let's call him Shlomie (because his name is Shlomie) arrived in Eretz Yisroel bright-eyed and eager to embark upon a summer of learning, touring and tutoring at Aish. Shlomie is a learned and serious man and, one would assume, was a learned and serious boy, straight from a smicha program at one of New York's top citadels of Torah learning. So when he met a girl he describes, three decades later, as "absolutely gorgeous--athletic, smart, really together," he naturally abandoned his studies and students for a day and joined the young lassie on what he describes as a tiyul to Ein Gedi. As he imparts this story, I picture a thin little thing, a dark-haired waif of a gal, a regular willow-the-wisp... "She was like an Amazon," he trumpets, dissipating my illusion, proving once again that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, forcing me to rethink Chava, Sarah, Nefertiti, Helen of Troy...
"So there I was with this Lubavitcher girl," he continues.
"Wait a minute," I said. "She was Lubavitch?"
"Modern Lubavitch," Shlomie amends.
Modern Lubavitch. I try to picture what that meant in 1985. I certainly know what it means now.
"So," he continues, "we drive to Ein Gedi and have a terrific afternoon. It was the first time I ever kissed a girl."
"You were how old?" I ask.
"Twenty-three," he says.
I admire him and tell him that. Look at the Torah and look at its reward! Twenty-three and still unkissed. No misspent youth there. Me? I got laid at fifteen. In a graveyard. Upon admitting that, he tells me he admires me.
"Anyway," says Shlomie, "we make up to go to the beach at Netanya the next day. I remember I went home feeling great and woke up the next morning all ready to go. And that's when I heard the news. The Steipler Rav had died. So I went back and forth in my head, and then I called her--told her I couldn't go to the beach; that I had to attend the levaya."
Shlomie never saw the girl again. The road not taken. Ended up marrying the next one who came along.
And now I know why the Steipler died. So my chavrusa wouldn't marry a Lubavitcher.
© 2007 Clifford Meth