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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rav Aharon’

My Rebbe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein Is Awarded the Israel Prize 2014

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

My chaver Billy Altshul informed me that our rebbe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein has been awarded the Israel Prize 2014 in Jewish religious literature.

He was one of the finest teachers that I studied with in college – a genius as an educator and a sincere and compassionate human being. He is the person that I chose to personify the quintessential scribe personality of prayer in my book “God’s Favorite Prayers (p. 71 ff).”

The Scribe’s Prayers

Shema — n 1. the central statement of Jewish belief, the sentence “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is your God; the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4) 2. the section of the liturgy consisting of this and related biblical passages, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41, recited in the morning and evening prayers and on retiring at night [Hebrew, literally: hear]

—Collins English Dictionary, 2009

I had the privilege of studying in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s Talmud shiur (class) for two years, 1966-1968. Each December, he invited us talmidim (disciples) to his house for latkes (potato pancakes) on Hanukkah. There, in his apartment, we sat with his little kids and his wife Tovah, daughter of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The latkes were good and the Lichtensteins appeared to be a regular family. For some reason, that surprised me.

Once, during the years that I was in his shiur, while I was out with some of the guys playing basketball on the courts between the Yeshiva College dorms, Rav Aharon, a lanky, thin and tall man, came walking by. One of us had the chutzpah to ask him to join the ball game. He said okay and he played aggressively—and just like a regular guy. For some reason, that blew my mind.

And, one year, in our student play, the Yeshiva College Purim shpiel, a satiric revue for the holiday, I played the role of Rav Aharon. In my performance, I hemmed and hawed and exaggerated my rebbe’s mannerisms much more than I should have. And there in the audience sat my rebbe, laughing heartily along with us. For some reason, that really blew my mind.

These three anecdotes aside, Rav Aharon was not just a regular guy. He also was a special teacher who imbued me with indelible lessons that I have taken with me throughout my life.

Rav Aharon taught me that you could be both a humanist and a Talmudic scholar, a lamdan. He clearly loved English literature, which he had studied at Harvard. He often and freely quoted poets John Milton and Edmund Spenser. He happily contrasted the ideas of the enlightenment with those of the Torah. But all the time it was clear to me that literature was his avocation and that learning Torah was his true vocation.

Rav Aharon also taught me that you could critically study and deeply love the lifestyle instructions—called the hashkafah—of the Torah. Each week, we read and discussed a chapter in Rabbi Elimelech Bar Shaul’s inspirational Hebrew treatise, Mitzvah Valev (Tel Aviv, 1956), which means the commandments and the heart. Through that work, Rav Aharon taught us that the cognitive understanding of a commandment needed to be joined to the emotional commitment of one’s heart. His lessons had a profoundly powerful and positive impact on my faith.

Finally, Rav Aharon taught me that you could be a vitally creative pedagogue even in the most traditional subjects of learning. The college administration told him that he had to give us exams in Talmud, the main subject that he taught us, so he used that as an opportunity to teach us more. He gave us thought-questions. Based on something we learned previously, he would ask us to resolve a new scenario. Or he would give us text-questions. He would have us examine a brand new text, related to some passage we had learned before, and then he asked us to parse it and to comment on it. We had to decide what commentary he had plucked the text from, tell him what the text meant and then explain why we came to our conclusions. That was hard.

The Legacy Of Rav Aharon Kotler

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

As we commemorate the fiftieth yahrzeit this Friday, the second day of Kislev, of Rav Aaron Kotler – the greatest Jew, in the opinion of even many of his fellow Torah luminaries, ever to set foot on North American soil – we are obligated to reflect on his achievements and the lessons he taught.

This assessment of Rav Aharon isn’t hyperbole or the kind of excessive adulation that is often accorded to persons of significant achievement. How Rav Aharon was regarded by other great persons in his lifetime and what his legacy has been in Lakewood and elsewhere amply justify the view that he towered above everyone else in our community, including other Torah giants.

I knew him over the last eleven years of his life. Our first encounter was at the initial meeting he called to assist Chinuch Atzmai, the network of religious day schools he established in Israel. I had just become active in Zeirei Agudath Israel of Boro Park and attended the meeting that took place at the National Council of the Young Israel in Manhattan. As I lived a block away from his apartment in Boro Park, the driver who took him home allowed me to come as well.

Throughout the next decade, I raised money for Chinuch Atzmai on a voluntary basis. At times, I accompanied Rav Aharon when he raised funds for Chinuch Atzmai or for his yeshiva. At conventions of Agudath Israel and Zeirei he always ate privately and asked that I join with him.

* * * * *

He came here seventy-one years ago, a man in his early 50s who scarcely spoke any English and yet who somehow was able to communicate with American-born youngsters who were far more proficient in baseball statistics than in Yiddish and with laypeople who were distinctly modern in their orientation.

He came here with a mission, namely to build Torah in America, having turned back in Japan from the remnants of the great pre-Holocaust European yeshivas that were headed toward safe haven in Shanghai. When he arrived in the United States he spoke immediately of this urgent mission, though his first task was hatzalah, or rescue, activity.

In 1943, Beth Medrash Govoha was established and opened with a handful of students.

At a young age in Europe he had earned a reputation as one of the preeminent Torah scholars of recent generations. His yeshiva in Kletzk, a small town in Poland not far from Slutzk across the Russian border where his father-in-law, the great gaon Rav Iser Zalman Meltzer, had headed a major yeshiva, was recognized as one of the outstanding advanced institutions of Talmudic study in the yeshiva world. In the 1920s, when a new building for the yeshiva was dedicated in Kletzk, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzienski referred to Rav Aharon as the “Rav Akiva Eger of this generation.”

There was more to Rav Aharon’s story during this phase of his exalted life. For all of his intensive immersion in Torah study, including giving shiurim, and the burden of sustaining the yeshiva, especially after the Great Depression of 1929, Rav Aharon never lost sight of his obligation to serve the larger community. He was an activist and his activity included Agudath Israel and many other communal causes. At one of the Agudah conventions in the 1950s, as we ate privately, he remarked about his activities in 1917 during the period between the first and second Russian revolutions that occurred that year.

The lesson he taught was of communal responsibility, of caring and working for the attainment of goals that extend far beyond a person’s ordinary four cubits of responsibility. For each of us, of course, this obligation is defined by the positions we hold, as well as by our capabilities. I have known persons whose devotion to the klal has been extraordinary. None reached the super-human level attained by Rav Aharon.

There is a collateral obligation arising from Rav Aharon’s communal activities. His yeshivas, Kletzk and Lakewood, obviously were institutions of advanced Torah study. They operated at the post-high school level and without a scintilla of secular education, even for livelihood purposes. Students could not attend the yeshiva and be enrolled at the same time in an academic program. This was not by chance but rather because Rav Aharon insisted on complete immersion in Torah study. He believed that Torah greatness could not be attained in North America unless there were students who devoted themselves entirely to its study.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/the-legacy-of-rav-aharon-kotler/2012/11/14/

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