Kavah M’or Eineinu
by Yitzchak Etshalom
The light of our eyes has been extinguished. This was the anguished phrase that kept repeating in my head all morning, since waking to the awful tidings of the untimely passing of Moreinu Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l.
“Rav Aharon” will be remembered from many angles, from a multitude of perspectives, by students, Talmidim (those aren’t the same), colleagues, neighbors and co-builders of the magnificent institutions that bear his imprimatur. I am not equal to the task and would prefer the silence of Aharon to the words for Aharon, but a talmid’s obligation is to internalize what his Rebbe has taught him. R. Aharon taught us many, many things, some from the sanctified texts on our shelves, many from arcane texts we never encountered before and, here and there, a few from those lines of Dostoevsky, Spenser and Milton that only he could weave into a Shiur on Avot d’Rabbi Natan or Ramban al haTorah. But he taught us much, much more with the sheer force of his majestic humility.
There is a simple Mishnah (ahh, we thought that such things existed before R. Aharon showed us how wrong we were…) in Avot that speaks volumes to his life, so beautifully lived; a Mishnah with which I bless my son Aharon every Shabbat: Hevei miTalmidav shel Aharon, Ohev Shalom, Rodeph Shalom, Ohev et haB’riyot uM’karvan laTorah.
“Be of the students of Aharon.” R. Lichtenstein “raised” thousands of students, between his years at YU in NY, and, since 1970, in Israel. However, that is just the privileged tip of the iceberg; for R. Aharon taught his talmidim not only how to analyze a Ritba, how to research a topic among the lesser-known Hakhmei Provence, but also how to teach. His pedagogic lessons were legendary and taken to heart, especially by those of us in the Kollel whose lessons (“Haburot”) were critiqued by the master. Students would pour in to hear us – but not to hear us, rather to hear R. Aharon’s comments on our teaching, to enhance their own abilities as Menahnchim. The institution with which he will e’er be associated, Yeshivat Har Etzion, is an incubator for Hinukh; the associated Michlelet Herzog could not have found more a more fertile or sympathetic environment in which to grow to the magnificent teacher’s college it has become.
“Loving peace and pursuing peace.” Every Shiur K’lali, every Sichah, every “Press Conference” was a lesson in tolerance – without ever having to use the word. Learning not only how, but also the value of seeing every issue from opposing perspectives gave us, his Talmidim, a healthy sense of analytic rigor side-by-side with tremendous empathy for the “other side” of the debate. In a society which regularly embroils itself in potentially “hot-button” topics, learning how to listen, to weigh the evidence and to finally decide (or not!) carries the potential tools for making our world a more diverse, interesting place without sacrificing unity of purpose and destiny.
“Loving God’s creatures”: A colleague, whose family is close with R. Aharon, showed me a beautiful picture this morning. R. Lichtenstein was Mesader Kiddushin and the picture shows him cupping his hand under the cup as the Kallah is drinking from it – he was trying to make sure that she didn’t stain her wedding dress with the wine! This heightened sensitivity to his Talmidim, their families, his neighbors and all around him – was the sort of thing that went unnoticed until you noticed it. And then – you never stopped noticing it.
“And bringing them close to Torah.” The impact of R. Aharon’s scholarship, his leadership, his amazing erudition and dazzling rhetoric was all about one thing – bringing his audience (whether NCSY’ers or the President of Israel) closer to Torah. He did this with the sophistication of a seasoned philosopher and with the strong and secure hand, holding yours in the Friday night “Gush dance” after Kabbalat Shabbat in the “M’voah.” Every one of us who merited being in his proximity was drawn closer to the Ribbono Shel Olam and to His beautiful Torah, in all its glory. By the sheer force of his simple, deep integrity, built upon decades of the most wondrous Torah study and teaching, he drew us nigh and showed us the way.
Our light is extinguished and we have no one to show us the way anymore. This is Avelut at its purest, most dreadful and most painful moment.
The only expression of hope is that we always be worthy to be considered Talmidei Aharon.
Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom is a rebbi and mechaber sefarim in Los Angeles