The Gemara (Chagigah 4b) states:
R. Eleazar, when he came to the [following] verse, wept: And Samuel said to Saul: Why hast thou
disquieted me, to bring me up? Now if Samuel, the righteous, was afraid of the Judgment, how much more so should we be! How do we know this about Samuel?
— For it is written: And the woman said unto Saul: I see godlike beings coming up out of the earth. ‘Coming up’ implies two:one was Samuel, but [who was] the other? Samuel went and brought Moses with him, Saying to him:Perhaps, Heaven forfend, I am summoned to Judgment: arise with me, for there is nothing that thou hast written in the Torah, which I did not fulfill.
Tosfos there (heading “For There is Nothing“) asks: How would Moshe Rabbeinu be able to testify about Shmuel HaNavi’s perfect integrity given that they lived centuries apart? They answer: Shmuel brought Moshe Rabbeinu to attest that he had correctly interpreted the Torah.
I see two fascinating points from this Gemara, and both of them are fundamental for a Jew’s path to self-perfection.
The first observation is about what the Gemara is relating that Shmuel felt a deep fear of the Judgement. What was he afraid of? After all, Shmuel HaNavi had led a life of vast accomplishments and pure integrity (as he himself attested to in Shmuel I 12:3-5). What’s even more curious is the fact that this occurs well after Shmuel HaNavi’s death, so presumably the Heavenly Court that judges each person when they come back up to shomayim had concluded what we are all certain of: that Shmuel led a perfect life–so what caused this great fear in him?
This Gemara underscores the depth and scope of Hashem’s judgement. With all of Shmuel HaNavi’s assurances that he had always made the right choices in life, this did not assuage his profound fear of being examined through the penetrating lens of Hashem’s Justice. This is a thought that can add a healthy dose of seriousness to our thoughts and actions and help us closer align them with the Truth of the Torah.
The second point is from Tosfos’ comment about how Moshe Rabbeinu could attest to Shmuel HaNavi’s perfect integrity–by confirming the correctness of Shmuel’s interpretations. Just because Shmuel interpreted the Torah correctly, why does it follow that he acted uprightly?
I think the answer is that when it comes to Torah it is basically impossible (granting that there have been rare exceptions) to engage in the necessary toil to gain true Torah understanding without actually living according to the laws and ethics of the Torah.
As the Masters of Mussar explain, this works both ways: one cannot approach true study of Torah without being one who fulfills (or at least aspires to) all of its details; and the person who has truly toiled in Torah will inevitably have been transformed into a person of purity and integrity.
Appreciating the depth of Hashem’s Judgement and what we can do about it is crucial in approaching Rosh HaShanah & Yom Kippur, and in how to organize life’s priorities.
May we all merit a sweet New Year of bracha and simcha.