The Midrash Rabbah (51:8) questions the significance of the word, “Ve’eileh.” Why does the Parsha begin with this word? This Midrash ultimately concludes that this “Ve’eileh” is connected to the one in Shemot (32:4), mentioned in reference to the Eigel Hazahav, where Bnei Yisrael exclaimed, “Eileh Elokecha,” “this is your G-d.” Through this term “Ve’eileh” we both angered and appeased Hashem. However, the Mishkan, in a sense, achieved atonement for the episode of the Eigel.
The first idea reported by this Midrash on its way to reaching this conclusion is that when Hashem gave the Torah to Bnei Yisrael they were exempted from the rule of the Angel of Death. This is seen from the fact that in Shemot 32:6 we are told that Hashem’s writing was “Charut,” engraved on the tablets. The words were etched in such a way that they were essentially “Cherut,” free from and unattached to the tablets. Consequently, we were also “Cherut,” free from the Angel of Death, because the splendor of the Torah protected us. Rabi Yochanan says that this splendor was symbolized by Hashem adorning us with crowns. These crowns represent our connection to Hashem through His Torah.
I believe that these crowns and their meaning to us can also be manifested through our Rabbeim, people whose every breath echoes the messages of Torah. In observing the Sheloshim of my Rebbe, Harav Yechiel Michel Katz zt''l this past week, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge one of the crowns of Torah we were privileged to wear for many years. Yeshiva University has been privileged to have many Torah giants grace its hallways. Harav Katz zt''l was one such person. I cannot within the confines of this publication properly articulate the ways that this Rebbe touched my life. His greatness in Torah was matched by greatness in Midot which enabled this Kohen Gadol to gracefully affect so many Talmidim.
Klal Yisrael is not, at present time, exempt from the rule of the Angel of Death. The Torah, however, is most certainly exempt. The influence that Harav Katz zt''l had on his Talmidim will certainly permeate and resonate within their souls forever, similar to the way that the letters floated free within the tablets, unencumbered by physical surroundings. May this crown bask in the light of Hashem and may this Rebbe be a Bracha to us all. Yehi Zichro Baruch.