Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Serving Hashem, Mitzvot and Repentance
To dedicate this lesson

A Performance with Purpose

The still-hiding nephew is shocked to see the Chafetz Chaim, at the end of his long performance, suddenly begin weeping and pounding on his chest, “You are still alive, and you have the ability to merit the World to Come! Why do you not repent?!”


Oded Mizrachi

Elul 5768
Mordechai Dov, the nephew of Rabbi Yisrael Meir, the "Chafetz Chaim," saw his uncle making his way up to the attic of Radin’s synagogue one evening. Surprised, he followed the rabbi up the stairs and hid in a corner. To his surprise, he heard his uncle begin speaking to himself. He was putting on a kind of one-man show that included a number of characters, himself among them.

The Chafetz Chaim began by describing how he met an acquaintance one day while walking down the road:
The man asks amiably, "How are you, Rabbi Yisrael Meir?"
The Chafetz Chaim responds, "Thank God, I’m fine."

The acquaintance pats the rabbi on the shoulder and says, "You’re a strong man, Rabbi Meir, a good strong Jew….May the evil eye have no power over you!" Then he goes on his way.

The following day, the Chafetz Chaim meets another acquaintance. "Nu, Rabbi Yisrael Meir," says the man, "What’s new today?" The Chafetz Chaim coughs a bit and then answers weakly, "So-so…not so good, I didn’t get a wink of sleep all night."

Worried, the man says, "Yes, you do look a bit pale. Maybe you should rest a little." The Chafetz Chaim takes his advice, goes home and lies down on his bed.

But his infirmity only grows. He loses his appetite. They summon the town doctor. The doctor arrives quickly and checks the patient. He finds nothing wrong with him. Yet, in light of the patient’s weakness he tells the family, "I can do nothing to help the rabbi; all we can do is pray.

The Chafetz Chaim’s strength is leaving him. It becomes difficult for him to breath. His relatives are summoned, as are the members of the burial society to help him recite his final confession.

The hiding nephew is shaken to hear his uncle slowly recite the long confession, word after word, paragraph after paragraph, all the while encouraging himself, "Never give up faith! God can help….Even if a sharp knife rests on a person’s neck, he must not lose faith in God’s mercy."

Oh no! He has stopped breathing! All present cry out "Shema Yisrael!" They place the deceased on the ground and look for the shrouds. "Here is the prayer shawl," one exclaims. "Light the candles," another says. As they pick up the body for purification one of the members of the burial society pats the Chafetz Chaim on the back and says, "He was a strong Jew. Who would have thought that he would pass away so quickly…"

They carry out the purification, dress the body in white shrouds, and carry it to the cemetery. The attendant beats on the almost-empty tin coffin and recites, "Tzedaka Tatzil Mimavet" ("charity saves from death"). They lower him into the grave and cover him with dirt and gravel. His son, Aryeh Leib, recites kaddish. That’s it. The escorts exit the cemetery. Chafetz Chaim remains alone at the bottom of the pit. Life has reached its inevitable end. Absolute silence…
Suddenly there are knocks on the grave. Who is it? Who’s there? A loud voice answers, "Yisrael Meir, come to the Heavenly Tribune to present your case."

Two angels take hold of him and whisk him away to the Heavenly Tribunal. There they begin questioning him regarding every single action he performed during his lifetime. He thinks to himself, "What will I answer regarding every moment I wasted? What will I say regarding the times I prayed without proper concentration? Then a voice rang out, saying, "Whoever wishes to speak in favor of Yisrael Meir, let him come and speak."

Numerous angels begin to appear, each one bearing some good deed. Every word of Torah he studied in his lifetime created an angel, every Torah commandment he performed became a merit to him, the books he wrote, the sermons he delivered, the yeshiva he founded…a veritable myriad of merits!

But then another voice announces, "Whoever has something negative to say about Yisrael Meir, come forward and speak!"

Suddenly a myriad of angels appear…this good deed was carried out offhandedly, another was performed without proper joy, in this prayer he did not concentrate as he should have, and so forth and so on. Finally, the number of his wrongdoings reaches the number of his merits so that the two groups are exactly even!

"Even?! If this is the case there is still hope, for God is ever merciful, and the sages teach that if a person’s offenses equal his good deeds, the good deeds prevail."
But just then a voice rings out, "What is Yisrael Meir’s state at present – living or dead?"
The answer comes, "He is still alive!"
"If this is the case," says the voice, "the count is no longer even, for he is guilty of one more sin: He has not repented!"

The still-hiding nephew is shocked to see his uncle, at the end of his performance, suddenly begin weeping and pounding on his chest, "You are still alive, and you have the ability to merit the World to Come! Why do you not repent?!"
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