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Thursday, November 30, 2017

On the Passing of a Tzaddik

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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

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On the Passing of a Tzaddik


מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים;    אֹהֵב יָמִים, לִרְאוֹת טוֹב.

“Who is the living being who seeks life, who loves the days of his life, to see good”

Rabboisai,

We are gathered here to offer our respects at the passing of one of the Gedoilei HaDor, the leaders of the generation, Reb Betzalel Kupkayk. Reb Betzalel left this world the same way he lived it - Enjoying the wonders of nature, the world created by Hakdoishboruchhu.

How do we sum up the life of a Tzaddik? We, of course, are discouraged by CHAZAL, our sages, from offering Hespedim, eulogies, for a Tzaddik. However, we are encouraged to celebrate and remember, and discuss the lessons of a life well spent, learning Toirah, doing Mitzvois, and killing small animals.

Reb Betzalel was born under challenging circumstances. We know little about his early childhood, but we do know that he was instinctively drawn to Toirah. My Bashert Feigeh Breinah immediately recognized his potential and encouraged that he be taken in by the Yeshiva, even though we had agreed not to bring in any more wards of the Yeshiva, Reboinoisheloilumdammit. When I first learned of Reb Betzalel’s arrival, I was concerned that he would be a bad influence on the other Lamdunim. But in this one, solitary thing, this one time, ever, my Bashert was right. Reb Betzalel was very special and brought great wisdom and insight into the Yeshiva.

Reb Betzalel’s early days were spent learning BiChavrusa with Reb Yoisaiph Katsky, ZTL, often in animated Machloikesin that occasionally led to knocking items off the table and the shelves. Both Reb Yoisaiph Katzky and his protege Reb Betzalel Kupkayk were particularly fond of Shabbos, and every week waited patiently at the Yeshivah Shabbos table for Shirayim of chicken or fish.

But the most profound relationship that Reb Betzalel had was of course with Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah, SHLITA. They spent years as Chavrusas and constant companions, learning Toirah and taking walks together. Indeed, their mutual affection mirrored that of Dovid HaMelech and Yehoinasan. And it is true that Reb Shmiel was known to occasionally exhibit physical affection for Reb Betzalel, but as it was consensual, we need not discuss it here. (And, no, we are not removing Reb Shmiel from his current position at the Yeshiva. He is neither Matt Lauer nor Charlie Rose.)

Pirkei Avois tells us “Asei LeCha Rav, U’Knei LeCha Chaver”, assign yourself a Rabbi, and acquire for yourself a friend”. People have forever wondered what the latter part of the phrase means. Does it refer to an actual “purchase”? Most people hold that, no, it is metaphorical for personal engagement and commitment, for investing value in the relationship. The relationship between Reb Betzalel and Reb Shmiel was indeed a synthesis of both aspects of this equation.

Legendary are the long walks shared by Reb Shmiel and Reb Betzalel, with Reb Shmiel often running ahead to ensure that Cossacks, Nazis, or squirrels were not waiting around the corner. On their walks they would often discuss the intricacies of Halacha. What is the earliest one can light candles on Friday night? When laying Tefillin, can you respond to text messages, or does that count as a Hesach HaDaas? When you find scraps of food on the street, do you need to check Hashgacha, or should you eat them immediately, lest this be the last morsel of food you will ever eat?

While Reb Shmiel is the better known Poisayk, rendering Halachic decisions across a broad range, Reb Betzalel himself, in his own quiet, modest way, established a territory in which he shared his Halachic output. He is particularly respected for his expertise on the Halachois regarding the Schechting of small birds, and on trapping, torturing, and killing small rodentia.

Reb Betzalel was unique in his warmth and tolerance. He showed the same patience and acceptance of little children as he did of Talmidei Chachamim. Because unlike most of us, he never forgot his modest roots.

Like many of our sages, Reb Betzalel Kupkayk had supernatural Kabbalistic legends associated with him. His head, facial, and body hair were a mix of black and white, and it is said that his hair was a reflection of the cosmic status of Klal Yisroel. When Klal Yisroel acted in a way that found favor in the eyes of the Aimishteh, Reb Betzalel’s black hair dominated. But when Klal Yisroel acted in a manner disappointing to the Reboinoisheloilum, his white hair dominated. And, sadly, at the end of his life, between Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, and Louis CK, the deep tax cheating and fiscal corruption scandals plaguing Lakewood, the communal cancer impacting much of the Chassidic world featured in the Netflix film One Of Us, and the continued ineptitude and failure of moral leadership by the leadership of Yeshiva University, Reb Betzalel was largely white.

Reb Betzalel was not only a great Talmid Chacham, but he was a man of the world. He followed the news very closely, as he was always on alert for threats to Klal Yisroel. At times he could become passionate about current events. During the 2016 campaign, once the video footage leaked of Donald Trump talking about “grabbing them by the pussy”, Reb Betzalel would hide under the bed every time he heard Donald Trump’s voice on the TV or radio. And who can blame him?

Reb Betzalel carried himself with measured dignity, even at the end. Despite his spreading illness he went on with his life, never complaining and never compromising on his daily routine. Even when he had lost 1/3 of his body weight, he continued to soldier forward. He even ignored the taunting of the newer generation of Talmidim and Yeshiva Loimdim, tolerating Reb Yehoishaphat Katahoula’s high energy confrontations, the disrespect shown by Reb Asher Katievsky, and the complete bitchiness of Maharat Avigail Katievsky.

Only in his very last days did his pain and suffering catch up with him. And his life ended the way it was lived, with steadfast independence and personal pride. 

How do we measure a life well spent? It is a mistake to focus on the final days of pain and suffering. More important, we focus on the Mitzvois, the good deeds, and the personal contributions to everyone touched, as well as to Klal Yisroel and the the broader world. Death may be an end of life in this world, but as the soul is reunited with Hakadoshboruchhu, hopefully, just maybe, the essence of a life well spent is integrated into the fabric of the Ein Soif, the Unknowable Divine, contributing to the positive aspects of an often cruel and distant universe.

I envision Reb Betzalel today, right now, sitting in Gan Eden at the feet of Reb Moishe Feinstein, Moishe Rabbeinu, Reb Yehuda HaNasi, RASHI, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe SHLITA, learning Toirah with them, eating from the Levyoson with them, and curling up and sleeping next to Eliyahu HaNavi. Believe me, Shamayim no longer has a mouse problem.

Reb Betzalel Kupkayk has certainly earned a great reward in the Oilum HaBah for a life well lived in the Oilum HaZeh.

Yehi Zichroi Baruch, May his memory be for a blessing.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

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