Chazal say that the choli and the makah, illness and blow, are references to the tragic passing of tzaddikim, righteous persons. (Veritably, this Midrash, which is quoted by a number of commentators, has yet to be found.) The Yaaros Devash quotes it (Chelek 1, Drush 4). Horav Yeshayah Pik, zl, writes that he had searched for this Midrash and was unsuccessful in locating its source. Indeed, he observed anecdotedly that this is the meaning of a blow that is not written in the Torah. He is unable to locate this Midrash. Apparently, in Shut Tiferes Tzvi Yoreh Deah 38, the author cites the Zohar HaKadosh (Chelek bais daf 10b). Horav B. Ransburg explains that every one of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, Five Books of the Torah, mentions the deaths of tzaddikim: Bereishis, the Avos and Imahos, Patriarchs and Matriarchs; Shemos commences with the passing of Yosef and the Tribes; Vayikra relates the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu; Bamidbar details the passing of Aharon HaKohen and Miriam HaNeviah; Sefer Devarim does not mention the death of any tzaddik. (Although Moshe Rabbeinu’s death is mentioned after Parashas Ki Savo, when he admonished the nation with the rebuke, he was obviously still alive.)
Furthermore, the deaths and burials of every one of the preceding tzaddikim – were noted in the Torah. No one witnessed either Moshe’s death or his burial. The atonement of a tzaddik’s passing is derived through the medium of contemplation, ruminating over his life and achievements. This is best achieved when one can stand at the tzaddik’s grave, and, with a relaxed mind, deliberate about his life. This is impossible with regard to Moshe Rabbeinu’s life. Thus, Sefer Devarim is the place in which the blow of missas tzaddikim is not explicit. To recap: Veritably, all Five Books mention a tzaddik’s passing. However, Devarim mentions it later after Moshe’s Admonition. Thus, it really does not count.)
When the Satmar Rav, zl, visited Yerushalayim in 1932, he davened in one of the shuls. When the shliach tzibbur, chazzan, who was reading the service concluded chazoras ha’shatz, the repetition of Shemoneh Esrai, the gabbai, sexton, banged on the lectern. The Rav inquired for the reason behind this makah, banging. The gabbai explained that the shul’s custom is not to recite Tachanun, supplication-confessional service, and instead recite Kaddish if that day coincides with the yahrzeit, anniversary of the passing, of a tzaddik. Thus, since that day they were commemorating the loss of a tzaddik, he banged as a form of announcement. The Rav mused that now he understood the meaning of the pasuk, “and a blow which is not written in the Torah,” a reason Tachanun is not recited when a bris is being celebrated or if a newly-married chassan, during the first week following the wedding, attends the service. Such a makah, “blow/banging,” is written in the Torah/Shulchan Aruch., The commemoration of a tzaddik’s passing, however, is one that is not recorded in Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, Tachanun should be recited (unless a Meseches of Talmud is concluded and a siyum ceremony is celebrated).
In Chut Ha’meshulash by Horav Shlomo Sofer, zl, Rav of Beregszasz, Czechoslaovakia, the author distinguishes between choli, illness, and makah, blow. A makah is obvious, noticeable to the naked eye. One bangs himself in such a way that results in a wound that can hardly be concealed. Choli, illness, is different. It can be covered up, camouflaged, thus kept secret. One does not become immediately aware of an illness. It might take weeks and even months before the effects of the illness are noticed and revealed.
A similar phenomenon occurs with the passing of a tzaddik. When a tzaddik takes leave of his mortal surroundings, his passing leaves an immediate void, a vacuum that is painful. The tzaddik illuminates a community; he is their inspiration, their lodestar, their source of hope. With his passing, the makah, blow, is felt throughout. When time passes and life goes on, however, we become further aware and understand the depth of the loss of the tzaddik. When life continues and people begin to move on, we recognize and finally acknowledge the irreplaceable loss that we sustained. This is choli – illness, revealed, laid bare for all to see and truly sense the loss.
The p’shat, explanation, of makah and choli appropriately apply to the passing of a tzaddik. It is only after some time has elapsed that we truly begin to grasp the irreparable loss, the immeasurable toll of losing such a tzaddik. If this is the case, why does choli, illness, precede makah, blow? The blow is immediate, while the illness is only felt later on. The sequence in the pasuk should have been reversed. After ruminating over this question, I came to the realization that, indeed, the sequence is as it should be. The pasuk (I suggest) is addressing long-range effect. While long-term loss of the tzaddik might be mollified somewhat when a successor ascends to fill the void, no one can actually replace and serve as a substitute for the tzaddik who inspired so many. The natural course of life is that no one lives forever, and we hope that when we are summoned “home,” our life has served as a blessing for others. Generations pass, and tzaddikim move on to a better world, take their rightful place in Olam Habba, the World-to- Come. What we never get over is the shock of the blow, the suddenness of the loss, the overwhelming grief that we are unable to shake. The blow lives with us. It is something that we can never forget. Thus, choli precedes makah.