“Memories of a Spiritual Giant” (Vol. 58, Issue 12)
On Friday morning, April 9, the second day of Chol Hamoed Pesach, I stood in the room in Brookline, Mass. where the Rav’s zt"l soul had been called On High, and recited Tehilim beside his talit-shrouded body. “But his delight is in God’s Torah and in this Torah doth he meditate day and night.” My mind wandered back 52 years to the Friday night, when I sat beside the tearful Rav in the Soloveitchik apartment on Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights at the aron of his father, our Rebbe, R. Moshe, zt"l, and chanted those self-same applicable words of the Psalmist. I was one of the Yeshiva students who volunteered for shmira then, as the Rav’s students and admirers volunteered to fill the hours before our Rebbie, R. Yoshe Ber, was laid to rest beside his beloved life companion.
Fifty years of consecrated memories of a spiritual giant, who influenced the course of Jewish life through his philosophy, his genius, his insights, his learning, his teachings, and above all, through his students. He prided himself upon being a melamed, “But what is so bad about being a melamed?,” he said, “We speak of God as being a melamed when we each morning recite the bracha, ‘Baruch ata Hashem, hamelamed Tora l'amo Yisroel.’”
And what a melamed he was! His drashot were not only memorable and stimulating because of his gifted oratory, or masterly use of language, or originality of message. They were profound and inspiring learning experiences for the hundreds who crowded into Lamport Auditorium to hear him. He could explain the most difficult thoughts so that even a neophyte could grasp their meaning.
In addition to my other duties, Dr. Belkin zt'l, asked me to administer the Yeshiva program for half a year before Rabbi Charlop was chosen as dean. I recall trying to place a newly arrived young student in a proper first year shiur and the student’s words of protest. He insisted on being in the Rav’s shiur, saying that he had heard the Rav and could follow his train of thought and understand him. I responded that he could aspire to enter the Rav’s shiur someday in the future, and he would then appreciate the analysis and intricacies of what he now considered simple concepts. When that day came, the young man expressed his gratitude.
The Rav’s memory and recall were fabulous. In the sixties, l escorted him to a personal meeting with Rav Unterman, zt"l, who was visiting New York after being chosen Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. As we entered the room, the Rav told Rav Unterman that they had met before when Rav Unterman had come to Brisk to see Rav Chaim, zt"l, the Rav’s grandfather. The Rav proceeded to repeat to the Chief Rabbi's amazement the dvar Torah which Rav Unterman had spoken to Rav Chaim more than 50 years ago. But even with his uncanny memory he meticulously wrote his lengthy major drashot, - a lesson in itself for each of us.
He took pride in his role at Yeshiva and in the school he and his Rebbitzin had created in Boston. For though he was internationally prominent, he was most at home in the atmosphere of learning and study. Knowing of his insistence upon excellence, I hesitatingly accepted the Rebbitzin’s invitation many years ago to deliver the High School Commencement Address at Maimonides in Brookline. I asked the Rav whether there was any message he wanted me to stress. He smiled and said, “I rely upon you for the message, but I will give you two ‘do nots’: do not speak to me and do not speak about me.” I hope I am not disobeying him when I speak now and say “Thank you Rebbe for everything. Please forgive us if we speak about you. It helps us bear our grief.”
Rabbi Miller is the Senior Vice-President of Yeshiva University.