Within the short past period of time we lost a number of gedolim. You said that there is a chesed in everything Hashem does. What is the chesed for us if we lose our gedolim?
Now, this question deserves a serious answer which I am going to attempt. What’s the chessed when gedolim are taken away from us? After all, any talmid chacham who passes away from us, it’s like a Beis Hamikdash was burned down.
The gemara asks a question: Why did Shmuel Hanavi pass away at a certain time? And the answer given there is that he was taking up the place that somebody else was supposed to have. And we have to understand that this is a great principle in history. People are taken out of the world because Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to give somebody else a chance. Like the gemara says הבאים אחריך בהמה ירעו – Should the ones who come after you remain shepherds or cattle herders? Give them a chance to become leaders too.
Now we have to know there is a new energy in young people that the old ones didn’t have. Let’s say, here’s an old talmid chacham. I have nobody in mind so don’t suspect me of any particular case. Here’s an old rabbi, an old rosh yeshivah. As long as he’s still around, he is the boss. But he’s old now. He has old-time ideas too, and the whole situation of the institution is petrified. Of course, it continues. It’s wonderful. He’s a great teacher and a great tzaddik. He says wonderful shiurim too. But finally he passes away and some young man takes over. And this young man has new ideas; he has the idea let’s say that you have to spread Torah by founding yeshivos in other cities—ideas that the old one didn’t have—and now he gets busy doing that.
That’s the plan of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. You need new times. You need new leaders. And therefore the old ones are taken away.
First of all, they can’t live forever anyhow. But even if they happen to die an untimely death—a little earlier than they should have died, it seems to us—it’s for the reason that the person who follows in their footsteps is going to do something that they couldn’t do.
That’s the reason why old people have to leave this world. Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “You’re an old fellow. You’re just sitting around. You’re not producing anything anymore. You’re hardened in your ways and you’re not learning any new things. You’re not going out and conquering new worlds. What are you benefiting the world? And therefore you have to make way for somebody else.”
And that’s why if a person is able to be useful in his 90’s, if he can be a mechadesh in the 90’s, if he can still be a pioneer in his 90’s, so Hakadosh Baruch Hu says, “I still need you. Of course, you can’t live past 120 but I’ll try as close as I can. As long as you’re useful, we’ll try to keep you here.”
TAPE # 314 (May 1980)