Friday, April 22, 2011
My Rebbe, זצ"ל on his Eighteenth Yahrzeit
About a year after R. Aaron Soloveichik זצ"ל passed away, I asked my friend, הקדוש David Applebaum הי"ד how he was coping with his rebbe's death. David, for those who had the privilege of knowing him, was the embodiment of a devoted disciple, a true תלמיד מובהק. Indeed, as R. Aaron wrote in the introduction to his book on the Rambam, פרח מטה אהרון, David was as much his son, as his biological children. It was, thus,only logical that I seek his insight in coping with my ongoing feeling of bereavement at the Rav's absence (though, I certainly would not have the temerity to claim as intimate a relationship with the Rav as David had with R. Aaron. On the other hand, every talmid has his own unique relationship with his rebbe. Anyone who knows me, or has read anything I have ever written, knows that the Rav was my spiritual father and that without his teachings, without sitting in his shiur for almost a decade, without the personal relationship that we did have I don't know how I might have made my way in the world of Torah and mitzvot.)
In response to my question, David gave me a quizzical look. "What do you mean that R. Aaron was נפטר? he asked.' I'm learning הלכות נידה with him now. David, of course, meant that he was listening to recordings of R. Aaron's שיעורים and, in that way he kept up the ongoing relationship of learning that bound them together. R. Aaron lived, as long as David learned from him.
Over the years, I've followed his advice, especially as more and more tapes of the Rav's shiurim come on-line and more manuscripts have been published. On those occasions, I agree with my beloved, much lamented friend, the Rav still lives as long as I continue my rebbe-talmid relationship with him. Thus, when learning the second and third chapters of Pesahim this year, I've kept my notes of his shiurim nearby.
I've also tried to spread his teachings and expound them in print and orally. Today, on the occasion of his eighteenth yahrzeit, I devoted myself to writing a long study of his attitude toward time awareness as a source of spirituality. Given the amount of revisionism about him and his teachings, I feel something of a sense of mission in trying (to the best of my ability), to understand and transmit his legacy without apology or defensiveness.
And yet, it's not enough. It's not enough because the Rav has been gone for eighteen years, and he retired from the public stage twenty-five years ago. The world has changed much since then, and stayed much the same (only more so). When I listen to his shiurim I am stunned by how prescient he frequently was, and how dated other things he said appear. That is, of course, to be expected. Great thinkers live in their own times and are ahead of their times. The challenge is to distinguish between the two. That requires living up to the challenge he frequently set up before us: 'What do you have to say?' For those of us who were privileged to sit at his feet have the obligation to go further and see farther, as dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.
So today, on the eighteenth yahrzeit of my beloved rebbe, רבן של ישאל, I have decided to commit myself to finally writing a book in Hebrew on the interaction between Torah and Hokhma, on (Post)Modernity and Judaism, on Spiritual Daring and Intellectual Humility. It will be what I think, and what I've learned about these issues, for the Israeli community that has never encountered or grappled with them.
I do this as a tribute to one who embodied all that (and more) for four generations of disciples and a world beyond, still waiting to be guided by the ideas he set forth; a person who wanted his students not to be mimics but autonomous creators and servants of the Creator.