from Zichron Av (translator).
I am a young man, not having reached what our sages call “the era of discernment” (Avos 5:21), fifty years of age.
Nevertheless, twelve years have already passed since the onset of my kidney problems with which my merciful Father in Heaven woke me (for He wishes that we waken to serve Him). I underwent surgery twice—once in the summer of 5681 (1921), and then again in the summer of 5689 (1929), eight years later. I thank Hashem for having brought me safely through these dangerous operations, and for healing me.
But now, it is more than a year that, due to my many sins, after having “fled the bear, I came upon a lion.” I contracted a serious heart disease from which I suffer today.
I have not lost hope in my Creator—“my help is from Hashem, Who makes Heaven and earth.” I have trusted in Him and received His aid, and I hope that He will again heal my pains and lead me forth in peace—if not for my sake, then in the merit of my holy parents and of my small children, who have no sin.
Still, I am afraid that my transgressions will weigh against me.
The greatest men have endured this fear. Who was greater than Yaakov Avinu? Yet he was afraid that his life might be jeopardized by his wrongdoing. When he fled his father‑in‑law, Lavan, only to learn that he was about to be confronted by his angry brother, Esav, he asked Hashem for help and confessed, “I have not deserved all the kindness You have shown me” (Bereishis 32:11). The Aramaic of Onkelos translates, “My merits are few”; and Rashi paraphrases, “Perhaps I have been soiled by sin.” If these were the feelings of Yaakov Avinu, what then of a worm, of a flea shorn of its wings, such as I?
Who will not fear? Who will not tremble as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zaccai did upon his deathbed?
Our sages tell us that when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zaccai was ill and his students came to visit him, he began to weep.
His students asked him, “Rabbi, why do you cry?”
He replied, “Imagine if I were being brought for judgment before a human king. What is he? Today he sits on his throne, but tomorrow he may be lying in his grave. Even if he were to stay on his throne and sentence me to death, I could still plead with him. And even if he rejected my plea, I could at least look forward to the world‑to‑come. But even knowing all that, I would still be terrified.
“But now I am about to come before the King of kings. If He decrees death, it will be eternal; and He cannot be swayed by pleas or bribes.
“Two roads stretch out before me. One leads to Gehinnom, and the other to Gan Eden; and I do not know upon which road I will be led. And so should I not weep?” (Berachos 28a).
The wisest of all men, Shlomo Hamelech, said, “Go out in the hoofprints of the sheep” (Shir Hashirim 1:28). Rashi explains, “Study the path taken by your forefathers, who received the Torah and kept its commandments, and go in their ways.”
So let us look at our forefather, Avraham. Hashem said of him, “He commands his children and household to go in Hashem’s ways by acting righteously, in order that Hashem will do for Avraham all that He has promised” (Bereishis 18:19).
Rashi notes that since the verse began by speaking of Avraham’s children, one would have expected it to end, “in order that Hashem will do for the children of Avraham.”
Rashi explains that by saying “Hashem will do for Avraham,” the Torah teaches us that when a person leaves behind a righteous child, it is as though he didn’t die. Hashem’s blessing will rest on him even though he will no longer be in this world.
Following the advice of Shlomo Hamelech to go in the path of the fathers, I wish to emulate my forefather, Avraham.
I have therefore decided to record some thoughts which I had previously hidden in the recesses of my heart, so that they may remain for many years to come.
My dear sons and daughters, each one of whom is precious to me, have mercy on my soul. Follow a good and honest path. Let your fear of Heaven be so great that whoever meets you will see that Hashem’s blessing rests on you. Then none of us will have cause for shame in either this world or the world‑to‑come.
May the verse, “So says Hashem to the house of Yaakov, He Who saved Avraham...” (Yishayahu 29:22), be fulfilled in me. And as our rabbis interpret this verse to read that “Yaakov saved [his grandfather,] Avraham” (Sanhedrin 19b), so may you, my children, bring a blessing to my soul with your righteousness.