By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Â Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt’l, would often adjure to his students to treat every moment of life as priceless. He would encourage them to take advantage of every moment to be involved in Torah and mitzvos. Rav Kahaneman would remark that the Chofetz Chaim merited a long life. This wasn’t simply because he lived more than 90 years. Someone may live 90 years, but his life could still be considered short. The Chofetz Chaim’s life was long because he took advantage of and properly used all the minutes he was allotted in his 90-plus years.
Rav Kahaneman related that one time he and his chavrusa, Reb Elchonon, needed to research an item in an obscure sefer. They noticed that the Chofetz Chaim quoted from that very sefer in the Mishnah Berurah. They approached the Chofetz Chaim and asked to borrow the sefer. The Chofetz Chaim responded that he didn’t own the sefer in question. He explained that when he needed to use the sefer he would borrow it from the library of Reb Yaakov Brevda in Warsaw. (The Chofetz Chaim in one of his introductions specifically thanks Reb Yaakov for the use of his library.) The Chofetz Chaim realized that his visitors were somewhat perplexed as to why he didn’t just buy the sefer, as it appeared that he used it enough to warrant its purchase.
The Chofetz Chaim then gazed upon the sefarim that were in his room and turned to his visitors and said, “These sefarim are more than enough. Why should I be concerned about sefarim that I don’t have? I am already pained about the sefarim that I actually own!”
Rav Kahaneman and Reb Elchonon were dumbstruck. What could the Chofetz Chaim mean that he was pained about holy sefarim he already owned?
The Chofetz Chaim continued after a moment and explained. “Sefarim cost money. No sefer just appears on this bookshelf by itself. Money is time. A person must set aside his time to earn money. Time is the very essence of life. So someone who buys sefarim must cut out a portion of his life to buy them. In place of using one’s time to learn Torah himself, he uses it to buy sefarim that will be put on a shelf. And those sefarim don’t contain his own Torah but someone else’s Torah! Further, instead of the Torah being in one’s head, it is on the shelf!”
The Chofetz Chaim continued: “Even if one received a specific sefer as a gift, gifts may come with strings attached. Again, one must use his precious time in order to earn a gift of a sefer.”
The Chofetz Chaim said the foregoing is really found in Gittin 47a. When Reish Lakish passed away, he left over some saffron as an inheritance to his children. He lamented this, and applied the following verse to himself: “The fool and the brutish together perish, and they left to others their wealth” (Tehillim 49:11). What upset Reish Lakish so much about the saffron? Why did he assume the verse applied to him? The answer is that Reish Lakish worked to earn a livelihood. He spent time earning funds to be able to purchase the saffron he needed. When Reish Lakish was about to die, he realized that the saffron was superfluous. He lamented that he wasted precious moments of his life trying to work for something that it turned out he didn’t need.
This is the lesson Rav Kahaneman continuously imparted to his students. Time is life! Live every moment to its fullest. (This article is based upon the story as recorded in Margoliyos HaShas.)
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.