Yosef Huttler, z”l
Rabbi Yosef Huttler, Cross-Currents’ poet laureate, took his artistry to a more discriminating audience when he entered the Yeshiva Shel Maaloh a few days ago.
I knew Yossi over a long period of time, beginning with the time he learned Yoreh Deah in our beis medrash. I saw him develop the different facets of his personality: rov, attorney, husband, father, and, in the last few years, long-suffering patient. I saw and appreciated his keen discernment, his understated genius, and his enormous emunah.
I loved his poetry, which would have been sufficient reason to publish it. Yet, there was more to it than that. Rav Herzog, zt”l, explained why the Torah sees itself as shirah, song (Devarim 31:19). Generally, only a physicist can appreciated an esoteric presentation of cutting-edge physics. A dentist might enjoy a good chidush in dentistry; a zookeeper can catch the interest of another zookeeper. People outside particular disciplines will not ordinarily get excited about conversation in those fields.
Music, R. Herzog observed, is different. It speaks a universal language; it has instant appeal to everyone. So does Torah, he said. Everyone can enjoy it, without special preparation.
Interestingly, the word shirah does not only mean music, but poetry as well. We could speak of the commonality, the overlap, but we cannot evade the differences. Poetry does not have that universal appeal, at least not anymore.
The difference, I think, is that good poetry is the output of a soul that has been touched by the uncommon. Not everyone will see it; fewer will be moved by it; fewer still will be able to distill the specialness into effective words.
Yossi could. He had the penetrating eye of one who learned in Litvishe yeshivos, and the heartstrings of a neshama that inherited the greatness of Beis Zvil. When he looked at a mitzvah, at a Yom Tov, at any part of a Torah life, he saw what malachim likely see, and felt compelled to share it with whomever could understand.
May HKBH bring nechamah to his wife, his children, his father and his siblings. He will be sorely missed.