Tonight is the third day of the month of Elul, marking the seventieth yahrzeit of one of the most remarkable,enigmatic, and elusive personalities ever produced by the Jewish people. I am, of course, referring to R. Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. Here in Israel, in Religious Zionist circles, he is known simply as the 'Rav,' the rabbi. Indeed, his thought (interestingly, less his Halakha) has been the almost exclusive source of interpretation and orientation for the Religious Zionist public, at least since the Six Day War. That same philosophy of imminent redemption is the one that has been at the center of the crisis of Religious Zionism that started with Oslo and reached a watershed with the retreat from Gush Qatif. His seventieth yahrzeit presents an opportunity to reexamine his teachings, to see if his interpreters really conveyed his message and (as a healthy move) to break the stranglehold that Kookian Orthodoxy (which, I believe, is an oxymoron) has on that community.
That, however, is not why the third of Elul resonates for me.
Thirty five years ago, another Abraham, Abraham Irving Woolf (Avraham Yisrael b. Yosef Reuven) passed away suddenly from an embolism at the age of forty nine. He left a stunned widow and three sons, aged 15, 13 and 10.
He was my father.
Thirty five years is a considerable amount of time, and yet despite that, I find that it's still difficult to speak of him. Nevertheless, as time has passed I’ve come to realize that part of the responsibility of teaching one’s children (and by extension, one’s students) requires not only the imparting of information but vivifying people whose lives should be remembered. That responsibility is especially true of children, now parents, who want to teach their own children. We are obligated to make our parents’ lives come alive for them, especially if our parents did not live to see them.
My father was a hard working and totally devoted husband and father. He passionately loved my mother and us. His business kept him working all kinds of odd hours. However, there were very clear red lines. Wednesday was always his day off, to be with us. Though we weren’t Orthodox, he was always home on Friday Night, and we always went to shul together on Shabbos morning. Business be damned, we were more important.
He wasn’t very expressive verbally. He expressed his love through action. He didn’t tell us very often (if, at all) that he loved us. He showed it. When we were cub scouts, he was the packmaster. When we became boy scouts, he joined the troop committee (and he really was not the camping type. He hated the army in WWII). When we joined little league, he became the team manager. He was there. I never appreciated what that demanded, until I had to pull acrobatics to be places that my children needed me to be (and I, with all the flexibility of a rabbinic/academic schedule, have succeded as much as he did.) It requires a special type of eloquence to speak through silence, through a warm hand on a head, through one’s shy, but strong, presence. He had that.
Thirty five years later, I still feel it. And its absence.
תהי נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים