Today, 3 Kisleiv, marked the 20th yahrtzeit of my rebbe and Rosh HaYeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, Harav Yaakov Moshe Kulefsky, zt"l. Just in time, Artscroll has released a brand new biography written by Baltimore's own Rabbi Yechiel Spero. This week's shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Yaakov Moshe ben Refael Nissan Shlomo.
Rashi (27:1) details a discussion in the midrashim as to why Yitzchak's vision was impaired. First, he quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that it was caused by the smoke from the incense that Eisav's wives would burn for idol worship. The second suggestion, from Midrash Rabba, is that the angels were crying at the akeidah and their tears fell in his eyes. Rashi's third and final explanation is that Yitzchak became blind so that Yaakov could receive the blessings.
The third explanation is quite contrasted from the first two in that it fails to offer any cause for Yitzchak's blindness. It would seem that the third opinion is suggesting that there was no cause at all. It was simply a Divine decree with a purpose rather than a cause.
When I first arrived in Ner Yisroel and began in Rav Kulefsky, zt"l's shiur, he had already lost most of his sight. I am not aware of what it was that caused his vision to go. At the same time, we are certainly not in any position to be guessing at what it was HaShem had in mind. But looking back, I can't help but feel that to a certain degree, his impaired vision was brought about for the benefit of us, his talmidim. We watched Rav Kulefsky endure and overcome his impaired vision. He would have the dapim of gemara blown up to a large size. When it became increasingly difficult for him, he would simply have it blown up larger and used a magnifying glass and a lamp. He never gave up. It was a true lesson in mesiras nefesh for Torah.
Normally, in publicly displayed photos, especially of revered gedolim, it is unusual, perhaps disrespectful, to accentuate their handicaps. However, it is not uncommon to walk into a house and find proudly-displayed pictures of Rav Kulefsky in his study with his bright light and his enlarged texts. Certainly, it is the tremendous mussar value that makes these photographs appropriate.
Rav Kulefsky would always point out Rashi's explanation of (Devarim 30:12) "lo bashamayim hi." Indeed, the Torah is not in the heavens and we need not ascend to the heavens to learn Torah. However, what this pasuk is really telling us is that if it were in the heavens, we would be required to do so. Rav Kulefsky did not have the Torah available right before his eyes as we, who are blessed with proper vision, do. But he never let any obstacle stand in his way. He was a true, living example of this Rashi.
I'm sure that anyone who was in Rav Kulefsky's shiur has the picture of his sweet smile etched in his brain, expressing the sweetness of Torah which was his hallmark. But the memories of his ameilus and mesiras nefesh serve as a lesson to us of how hard we must work and how me must not let even the most difficult of circumstances get in our way of achieving that.
If the above is indeed on the mark, it is truly fitting that the yahrtzeit of Rav Kulefsky, zt"l, coincides with parshas Toledos. As well, it is a fitting lesson for this year when we have all been met with so many different challenges that have put our dedication to Torah and mitzvos to the test.
Yehi zichro barcuch.