Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Omer 5775. Day 16-17. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein z"l

The past 2 days have been tough. My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt"l passed away yesterday. Rav Lichtenstein was a brilliant scholar, an exemplary human being and Jew, and a lodestar for the Modern Orthodox community. I sat listening to his wisdom for over a decade, and never ceased to be amazed by him; his religious philosophy made the most profound impression upon my life and shaped my lifestyle, my passions and my worldview. I can merely echo the words of a dear friend at the funeral today: I cannot imagine what person I was before I met Rav Aharon.

I intend to pen a piece that articulates some of what I learnt from him. That will take some time. But for now, for this blog, let me simply record the sheer grief and sadness of these two days. On Tuesday, after I heard the bitter news, I was simply shaking. Today I spent the 3 riveting hours of moving hespedim (eulogies) - most of them by his incredible children - transfixed and in tears. I have been somewhat startled by the depth of my emotional reaction - I haven't cried this much since my grandfather died - but as the Gemara tells us, a Rav can be a form of parent figure, giving live, shaping ones future.

The funeral today was highly emotional but unbelievably inspirational. The hespedim depicted Rav Aharon in rich technicolour: His phenomenal humility, his unflagging commitment to, and joy in, Torah study; his novel and remarkable Torah methodology; his pride in, commitment to, and absolute love of his family; his normality of dress and personal comportment, his humanity and empathy, his economy of time - never wasting a second; his charity - and his joy in giving charity; his fearless and powerful moral voice, his vision, his simple faith, love of God, his piety, his passionate prayer, his sense of mission, of dedication, his Zionism. He was compared to the Ner Tamid - the eternal flame, to an army general leading his troops, to Jacob's ladder rooted on earth and reaching the heavens, to a walking Torah scroll, to an angel. Rav Gigi expressed how Rav Lichtenstein had raised the benchmark for Torah throughout the religious-zionist yeshiva world. His contribution to furthering Torah study and religious ritual for women was noted. And the family in their wonderful menchlechkeit thanked everyone possible, including (twice) Rav Lichtenstein's carer; in Esti Rosenberg's words: "You loved him and he loved you."

Thousands came out to accompany him on his final journey. The Modern Orthodox world has lost its leader.

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