By: Gerald Blidstein  | 

Rabbi Dr. Soloveitchik Eulogizes Famed Uncle, The Brisker Rav (Vol. 25, Issue 5)

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik painted a word-portrait of the total personality of his late uncle, Rav Yitzchak of Brisk, in the hesped he delivered before an eager audience which packed Lamport Auditorium on December 9. While most eulogies attempt to arouse indiscriminate emotion, Rabbi Soloveitchik rather striving to communicate an understanding of his uncle, precisely defined and delineated the essential person of the Brisker Rav.

The analysis of the Brisker Rav was preceded by the construction of a framework of symbols into which his unique personality would be fitted. With a magnificent sweep which transformed  historical occurrences and personalities, holidays and halacha into one congruous whole, Rabbi Soloveitchik isolated two motifs in this integrated totality. 

These two motifs, revelation (gilui) and concealment (hester) indicate, firstly, the character of the High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah which looks ahead to the eschatological universal revelation of God, is contrasted to Yom Kippur, a day in which the individual Jew must seek out and return to a withdrawn God. Thus, the Medrash states that the giving of the first tablets to Moses accompanied by the universal revelation of a flaming Sinai of which all creation was aware, announced by the sound of a great shofar, and viewed by the entire nation, occurred on Rosh Hashonah. The second tablets however, were given on a gray morning upon a bleak mountain which Moses had ascended while his brethren were yet asleep, on Yom Kippur.

Moses and Aaron, Rabbi Soloveitchik continued, exemplified in their personalities these two motifs of concealment and revelation. The greatness of Aaron's soul was displayed and was easily appreciated, much as were his priestly garments. The soul of Moses, on the other hand, was concealed by a mist, much as Moses himself pitched his tent far from the camp of Israel. The great man can be loved, but the unique man, lonely and apart, though reverenced, is often disliked.

Here two motifs, which flow from the revelation of God Himself to the world, recur in the personalities of our great men through the ages. Some giants are sparks of the flaming Sinai, while the souls of the others burn with the hidden jewel-like flame of Moses. Rav Yitchak-Ze’ev was the unique man of this generation. He was not merely the greatest man, for a comparative adjective, by very nature, precludes uniqueness. Like Moses, he was a man apart.

Rav Yitchak Ze’ev’s analytic power was grounded on a unique intuitive insight into the Torah which guided him, infallibly, to the proper analytic categories. More important, his insight kept him from an unproductive and unperceptive approach to any problem; he knew not only what to say, but what not to say. Rabbi Soloveitchik developed the relationship of Israel to the Torah as both a betrothal and a marriage, and pointed out that one refers to a rather external relationship, the other to a complete intimacy. The intuition of Rav Yitchak Ze’ev grew from such an intimacy in which his very existence was fused with the Torah. 

In his dealings with other men, Rav Yitchak Ze’ev combined the paradoxical elements of complete devotion to truth, on the one hand, and non-belligerancy, on the other, with unbelievable success. His politics served no party but the truth; he rejected popular approval in favor of an honesty which would not let him enter political alliances. Above all, he zealously guarded the integrity of the Torah, and refused countenance its smallest distortion.

This uniqueness led those who misunderstood him to accuse Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev of aloofness and unconcern. Who was disliked by the Jews more than Moses? And yet, atop Sinai, alone with God, unseen by the Jews dancing wildly around the Golden Calf, only Moses begged for the life of his people.

His devotion to the integrity of Torah, and to the integrity of a life of Torah, was tested by constant hardship and strain. Honesty precluded the utilization of his reputation for material advantage; integrity precluded the accepted forms of pandering.

A pall of loneliness has descended with Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev’s death, for he was the only guarantee of light for chose who were awake in the dark. His pupils might feel this most intensely, and yet they absorbed from him only as much as the laps of water of .an ocean. In truth, then, he was a stay to us all.

Rabbi Soloveitchik concluded his hesped in a voice timbered with emotion aroused by a memory for which words must prove inadequate.