Life is Precious

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

HaGaon Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt”l, would often adjure his students to treat every moment of life as priceless. He would encourage them to take advantage of every moment to be involved in mitzvos and positive endeavors. Rav Kahaneman would quip that the Chofetz Chaim merited a long life. This wasn’t simply because he lived over ninety years. Someone may live ninety 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 ninety-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 his work, the Mishna Berura. 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 the 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 seforim that were in his room and turned to his visitors and said, “These seforim are more than enough. Why should I be concerned about seforim which I don’t have? I am already pained about the seforim which I actually own!” Rav Kahanemen and Reb Elchonon were dumbstruck. What could the Chofetz Chaim mean that he is pained about holy seforim which he already owns?

The Chofetz Chaim continued after a moment and explained himself, “Seforim 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. Someone who buys seforim 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 seforim that will be put on a shelf. And those seforim 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 or pay back the gift of a sefer.” The Chofetz Chaim said the above is really found in Gittin 47a. When Reish Lakish passed away, he left over some saffron as an inheritance to his children. He lamented about 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 Kahanemen 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 is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@

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