HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel greeting Reb Shlomie Gross
after Yom Kippur last year

By Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center

While the Neilah experience for most people is an important one, climaxing the entire Yom Kippur avodah, for rabbanim it’s that much more.

For most people, though uplifted and inspired by Neilah, I don’t believe that much thought goes into it, until it actually happens. However rabbanim, knowing the importance of this tefillah, think for days, some for weeks, on how to find just the right words to use to lift up the olam after a whole day of tefillah to just one more level of experiencing kedushas hayom. I spend the better part of the year with my eyes and ears wide open, looking for just the right Neilah inspirational story. This year, I found it several months ago, and it left me with a deeper understanding of what Neilah is all about.

Here is my Neilah story.

Last Yom Kippur, a prominent and popular ba’al chesed named Shlomie Gross, z’l, decided to leave his home in Flatbush to spend Yom Kippur davening in the famed Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim. Immediately after Maariv on motzaei Yom Kippur, Shlomie, who was a major supporter of the Mir, was escorted up to the front of the large beis medrash to give and receive a warm berachah from the rosh hayeshivah of Mir, HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt’l. The rosh hayeshivah gave his dear friend Shlomie a warm handshake and an even warmer berachah. Someone from the yeshiva administration got hold of a camera and took a picture of both the rosh yeshivah, Rav Nosson Tzvi, and Shlomie still dressed in their tallis and kittel with their magnificent smiles.

Just a few short weeks later, the terrible news spread throughout the Torah world; the rosh hayeshivah of the largest yeshivah in the world had left this world. Over the next week, the magazines and newspapers were filled with stories and pictures of the rosh hayeshivah’s saintly life. One of the pictures printed was the one with Rav Nosson Tzvi and Reb Shlomie, taken just a few weeks earlier on Motzaei Yom Kippur.

When this picture was printed, a close friend of Reb Shlomie, Rav Binyomin Povarsky, shlita (son of Rav Berel Povarsky, the rosh yeshivah of Ponovez) immediately faxed this picture to Reb Shlomie at his office in Flatbush and followed up a few moments later with a phone call. He said the following: “Shlomie, can you imagine that not more than half an hour prior to this picture, unknown to anyone in this world, the rosh hayeshivah was nigzar by the Ribono Shel Olam, lamisah (for death)?” and then his voice faded off.

The story picks up just a few short months later. A great tragedy occurred that left hundreds of people shocked and bereft on an Erev Shabbos, when Reb Shlomie was stricken with a massive heart attack and was niftar suddenly.

A dear friend, Moshe Feuer, who is a mechutan with Reb Shlomie Gross, shared with me the last part of the story. He, along with many relatives and friends, flew to Eretz Yisrael after Shabbos to escort this special, unforgettable ba’al chesed and ba’al tzedakah to his kevurah. In the van that picked up the family and drove them from the airport to Shamgar for the hespedim and kevurah, Rav Povarsky painfully reminded them of the picture that he had sent Reb Shlomie months earlier and the comment that he made then about the picture and then he added; “Who could have ever imagined that the gzar din handed down in Shamayim just a half an hour before that picture was taken was that both these unique and special people would be leaving the world in the coming year of 5772.”

When I heard this story and I saw this picture, that was my Neilah moment, though it happened months before Yom Kippur.

If we would truly grasp the significance of what takes place in Shamayim at Neilah, at the chasimas hadin, we would not only enter Neilah a little inspired, a little hungry, and a lot tired, we would be shaken to the very core of our being. Klal Yisrael suffered so many losses this past year and the perspective we need to have is that everything that happened was decided and finalized at Neilah.

One erev Yom Kippur, when the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Stein, zt’l, was already in his 90’s, he was walking to the yeshiva with his grandson. Having suffered a devastating loss several months earlier with the loss of his granddaughter Goldy, z’l, he turned to his grandson and said, “Had I cried more last Yom Kippur when they read about the deaths of the sons of Aharon Hakohein, I could have prevented the gezeirah of Goldy’s death.” This was the depth of the rosh yeshivah’s understanding of what Yom Kippur is all about.

The Brisker Rav, zt’l, used a mashal to describe the different attitudes to the Yimei Hadin. During the war, merchants would smuggle goods across the border illegally. The penalty for this crime was death. One would hire a wagon driver for a high fare to transport him and his merchandise to his destination. As they would get closer to the border, the merchant would start trembling from fear. He knew the consequence in case he was caught. The wagon driver was nervous, but not as afraid since he merely faced a fine. The horses weren’t nervous at all. As far as they were concerned, it made no difference where they were.

We need to stand at Neilah like the merchant, with the clarity of thought and the depth of understanding that “Hiney Yom Hadin,” and we and our family and all of Klal Yisrael’s futures are in Hashem’s hands at that moment. And if we can truly do it, then hopefully we will all be zocheh for a year of health, nachas, parnasah, and all the berachos that this world has to offer.

Kesivah vachasimah tovah! v

Rav Ginzberg has received permission from the Finkel and Gross families to use their names and the picture shown here. Any chizuk or inspiration that hopefully will come from this article should be a zechus for their holy neshamos.


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