Marking the 40th Yahrtzeit of the Satmar Rebbe

It is not for a person like me to even attempt to sum up the life and teachings of any gadol, especially a gadol hador of the caliber of the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l, whose 40th yahrtzeit we will mark next Tuesday. However, as I once suggested on these pages, perhaps a pasuk in the Torah that summarizes the life work of Moshe Rabbeinu can serve as a model of how we are to understand the singular contributions of the Satmar Rebbe, as well.

The Torah says, “And in all the mighty hand and in all the great and awesome deeds that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Yisrael” (Devarim 34:12). Quoting Chazal (Shabbos 87a), Rashi explains that the last three words of the Torah refer to Moshe’s having broken the first set of luchos after the sin of the eigel: “‘Before the eyes of all Yisrael’: When he took the liberty of shattering the luchos before their eyes, as it is said, ‘I shattered them before your eyes.’ The Holy One, Blessed be He, consented to Moshe’s act, as it is said, ‘which you shattered,’ meaning ‘yasher koach for shattering them!’”

In his sefer Meshech Chochmah, Rav Meir Simchah of Dvinsk explains that by breaking the luchos, Moshe Rabbeinu sought to demonstrate that there is nothing intrinsically holy in the world except for Hashem. Anything else can only become contingently holy as a result of obedience to Hashem’s will.

“Even the luchos,” he writes, “the script of Hashem, weren’t intrinsically holy but were holy only on account of the mitzvos. The moment klal Yisrael transgressed what was written on them, they became mere bric-a-brac, devoid of kedushah… Moshe was afraid that the Jewish people would deify the luchos as they had the calf. Had he brought them down intact, they might have substituted the Tablets for the calf and not changed their ways…For this reason, Hashem approved of Moshe’s actions in breaking them.”

Without a doubt, one of the paramount rebuilders of Torah and Yiddishkeit after the Second World War was the Satmar Rebbe. He performed mighty and awesome deeds when the Jewish nation was spiritually lost and in a state of deep mourning.

But perhaps even more awe-inspiring is the way he took things that some people believed were intrinsically holy—even when devoid of Torah and Yiddishkeit—and broke them before their eyes. Tragically, after the Holocaust many Jews cast off the yoke of Torah but found intrinsic holiness in Eretz Yisrael and in the Hebrew language. By so doing, they made holiness independent of the Torah. The Satmar Rebbe, realizing the inherent danger in this idolatrous approach, took these deified things and proclaimed that they are only holy through avodas Hashem; when divorced from the service of Hashem and a life of holiness, they too are profane.

Delivering the luchos to klal Yisrael requires the highest spiritual attainment man can strive for. Breaking them requires far more.

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