Rashi writes: “Our Rabbis said (in the Sifrei) that the people cried in the desert over the matter of families, over the relationships that had become forbidden to them.” In the desert, there occurred a general breakdown in morality that became pervasive throughout the camp of B’nei Yisrael. Although the pasuk states that the people complained about a lack of meat to consume, many commentators infer that their real grievance was of a much more sinister and promiscuous variety, to which “the anger of Hashem flared greatly, and in the eyes of Moshe it was bad.”
The Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan zt”l was a living example of how a human being can emulate Hashem – the Compassionate One. Aside from his famous s’farim on halachah and the laws of Lashon HaRa, the Chofetz Chaim was very concerned with the state of family purity in klal Yisrael and published a number of books and pamphlets to strengthen these aspects of Jewish life, including Tz’nius and Taharas HaMishpachah.
A talmid by the name of Rav Alexander Linchner z”l relates a story that took place when he was a student learning in the Radin Yeshivah. Each and every morning, there was a minyan in the home of the elderly sage, and only select students were permitted to attend this minyan. Alexander Linchner was one of the fortunate ones, and he made it a practice to daven in the tzadik’s home every day. In the winter of 5690 (1930), a visitor came to Radin and reported to the Chofetz Chaim on the deteriorating state of family purity that was affecting the Jews of Poland. Specifically, reported the messenger, the all-important safeguarding of Taharas HaMishpachah was not as widespread as should be expected in the big city of Vilna. The tzadik was already over 90 years old but, as he listened, he became deeply disturbed and agitated.
Suddenly, the Chofetz Chaim raised his voice and announced, “I must go to Vilna and correct this situation.” His family told him that it would be impossible for him to go to Vilna; he could scarcely walk without assistance. But the Chofetz Chaim was not deterred. “I am going to Vilna to speak to Rav Chaim Ozer. I need my coat.” There was no holding him back.
A bus was chartered that very day and loaded with Rav Yisrael Meir, a few family members and several bachurim from the yeshivah, including Alexander Linchner. The aged tzadik was wrapped in a warm blanket and carried aboard the bus, yet he shivered the entire two-hour drive to Vilna. The bus stopped at 66 Kavolna, the home of the Poseik HaDor, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski zt”l, where Rav Yisrael Meir disembarked – he was literally carried into the house where Rav Chaim Ozer, unaware of the surprise visit of his illustrious guest, was meeting with several halachic authorities.
The Chofetz Chaim’s entrance made quite a stir, as would be expected. The elderly sage came right to the point: A public gathering must be called to strengthen Taharas HaMishpachah. A reminder is always in place, for z’chirah – remembering mitzvos promotes sh’mirah – keeping mitzvos. The principal speaker would be the Chofetz Chaim.
In a matter of hours, Vilna was plastered with “pashkivilim” – posters and placards calling all women to the Alter Stodt Shul on the Vilna Gaon’s Hof (Court) for a public assembly that very evening, to be followed by a similar meeting for men the next night. Needless to say, the 600-year-old shul was packed to overflow with women that evening. The Chofetz Chaim entered – carried in on a chair – followed by a small group of rabbanim and Torah scholars. He began to speak from the bimah, warmly, yet very softly. When he finished, the Ivye Rav (later Lomza Rav), Rav Moshe Shatzkes zt”l, repeated the holy sage’s message in his booming voice, and explained it in more detail. The evening concluded with a unique blessing from the Chofetz Chaim, to which the women responded with a resounding Amen!
Tuesday night, the same program was repeated for men, and the next morning, the tzadik returned to Radin. That Friday, when the Chofetz Chaim went to the mikvah to prepare for Shabbos, he met the Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Moshe Londinsky zt”l, who later commented that the Chofetz Chaim’s face had a special glow that day. Rav Moshe told the Chofetz Chaim that he marveled at his energy to undertake the trip. “I didn’t go to Vilna,” he replied. “Si hott zich getann – it just happened!”