Nehama Leibowitz was a remarkable person. When I think of her, two traits come to mind. Her humility and modesty, and her dedication and skill as a teacher. Even her death exemplified these traits. She requested that when she die, no Hespedim (eulogies) be delivered at her funeral, and that the only praise on her metzeva (tombstone) be that she was "המורה" - The Teacher.
I sat in class with her only once. I own her books. But if you truly wish to get to know Nechama, then study her Gilyonot - her parasha sheets. They are now online here. Please understand that these Gilyonot are truly a treasure trove on the Internet.
Why is it in her Gilyonot that Nechama comes to life? Because there are no answers to her Gilyonot, only questions. Nechama presents a text and asks insightful, thought provoking questions. She makes us think, and think hard, to read and re-read the text and to dig deep in order to discover and reveal the answers.
Many accolades have been given to Nechama. She opened Chumash to serious study. She popularised study of Rishonim and the comparisons between them. She read Midrash in innovative ways. She was an expert in Peirush Rashi. But none of these describe her true power.
You see, Nechama was THE master teacher. There are some people who have creative minds emerging with new insights and fresh commentaries. Nechama did not write commentaries. But she had an unbelieveable teaching ability. She loved to teach people to read carefully, to ask questions, to ask the right questions, to probe the text, to understand the differences between one parshan and the next.
In the single class I sat with her, she was teaching Sefer Yona. She read some pesukim, made a few observations, and then gave the class a 2 minute assignment. I was busy writing my notes on her comments and welcomed the extra two minutes to finish those lines. Suddenly I sensed someone standing over my left shoulder. It was Nechama standing behind me, like an old time school-teacher. She prompted me: "Why aren't you doing the assignment? Come on! Get to work!" And she wouldn't leave until she saw me writing her work. You see, she didn't want people to simply record her observations. She insisted that a student be an active learner, discovering the text anew. She was unrelenting in her demand that students not take the easy way out, not wait for the "chiddush" but engage in the process of learning.
For next Shabbat download one of the gilyonot and study it bechavruta. You will see her unique power; the power of questions.