The Rav: “Master, Teacher, Par Excellence” (Vol. 58, Issue 12)
The Rav zt”l, who was my rebbe, and really the rebbe of klal yisroel, was a unique phenomenon in our time. He combined incredible Torah scholarship with an equally unbelievable worldly knowledge, which he integrated in a very special way.
The Rav used to refer to himself as a “simple melamed.” He was much more than that. He was the master teacher, par excellence, To be in the Rav’s shiur and to participate in his shiurim, was to be involved in an unforgettable, awesome experience. The Rav was thoroughly prepared and demanded the same rigor from his students. I remember the Rav coming to shiur with his notebooks, and woe and betide anyone of his talmidim who was not equally prepared. The Rav would develop his thesis with a brilliant “Brisker” analysis, and at the end there emerged “the blitz,” the chiddush, the new insight, which was overpowering, and which brought the discussion to a new level.
The Rav was the architect of our approach to Torah Judaism. He was not its creator; but he gave it substance, meaning, and direction. His shiurim, lectures, and essays were not deliberately geared in hat direction; they were simply reflected and projected in the course of his development of his own weltanschauung. Thousands hung on his every word, and his comments became guides for action. The Rav’s relationship and influence moved across a wide spectrum and engulfed the greater part of American and World Jewry. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”I, was a relative and friend; his relationship with Rav Hutner zt”l went back to their days in Berlin, as did his relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I remember accompanying the Rav to a meeting with Rav Aharon Kutler zt’l, in 1949. The mutual respect and genuine appreciative friendship which flowed between these two spiritual giants is art experience which remains: indelibly imprinted in my mind.
Thirty years later, I accompanied the Rav to a meeting with the leadership of the Joint Distribution Committee. The Vaad HaYeshivos of Israel had asked me, in my capacity as President of the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Rav to intervene on their behalf for a much needed large grant for their institutions, When we walked into the conference room, the top leadership of the Joint was present, Not one of them was an Orthodox Jew; but when the Rav walked in, instinctively they stood up in respect and awe. The Rav spoke to them for thirty minutes and they sat there mesmerized. He developed the concept of “hakaras hatov’, thanked them for what the Joint had done for his family in the aftermath of the First World War, and then applied it to the need to support Torah and Torah institutions. When he was through, the president of the Joint responded that because the Rav had appeared before them and spoken to them, the grant would be forthcoming.
Where will we find his replacement in this orphaned generation? That is the question which many of us are asking. It may well be that the question should be: Who will carry on his tradition of Brisker analysis and excellence and apply it to the larger issues of Jewish life and society.
Rabbi Rosensweig is a professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University and a former President of the Rabbinical Council of America