At the Lonely Crossroads: Remembering Rabbi Ozer Glickman
I am very reticent about sharing such things publicly, but, in the case of my Rebbi, I feel little choice. I apologize in advance to anyone who finds such pieces in poor taste, but I feel it is correct and appropriate for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, I feel compelled to at least make somewhat known the aspects of Rav Glickman’s greatness, to shine a little light on the eminence which he carried so humbly, insofar as I can perceive and comprehend it.
Secondly, on the subjective plane, I feel so lonely. I intuit that many of us, especially the mourners flung across the globe, have no one to lament to. We are searching for someone else who appreciates the loss but we find no one. I feel that sharing our pain can help us bear the bleak future together as a collective group of bereaving Talmidim.
Thus I am drawn to silence but compelled to scream out, to sing dirge for the tragedy that has befallen us all. The tenderest of sentiments remains hidden in the heart but I sketch what I can on the page:
Baruch Dayan HaEmet
These three are the most difficult words for me to utter, as I lie in the terrible darkness, tears streaming forth ad infinitum.
My Rebbi, HaRav Ozer Glickman, Zecher Tzadik Livrachah, has suddenly passed away.
I now stare upwards into the heavenly machinery of the night and wonder whence he lies. The freezing cold and the emptiness of a lonely street burn around me. Nothingness has never ever been so pronounced.
Rav Ozer was my most important, precious role model, my deepest influencer. He was the most sublime embodiment of the elusive value that is Torah UMadda that I have ever met. Others could imitate, pretend, claim, but they never could come close to his remarkable synthesis and its authentic and sparkling magnificence.
To know him was to know, contrary to the claims of so many, that the ahistorical truths of Yiddishkeit could meet the modern world and find amplification and enhancement, not fiery collision and nihilistic retreat.
I once emailed Rav Ozer discussing a particular Rabbi who had zealously opined that the world of secular culture was worthless.
Rav Ozer aphoristically replied:
Machlokes him and the Rav. Machlokes him and Rav Kook.
Machlokes him and Rabbi Isaac Breuer.
Machlokes him and Rav Lichtenstein.
Might I add: Machlokes him and my Rebbi.
In truth, meeting Rav Ozer put an end to any Machlokes at all.
The truth was utterly clear when one stood by his side. It was limpid and crystalline and dazzling.
The most deeply painful aspect is that I had only just begun to really know my Rebbi, to encounter his thought.
I met Rav Ozer when he travelled to speak in South Africa and stayed by my family. When we first met, I was instantly captivated. We soon developed a close relationship and exchanged emails regularly. I last met him in person in Israel when we met for lunch at a particular cafe, which he poetically termed “the place where the philosophers of Jerusalem gather to discuss logic and theism.” So typical of his amicable style.
I enrolled in YU for this fall, in no small part due to his encouragement, and was immensely excited at this prospect of finally being able to learn in person with my Rebbi.
Now I am without him.
He was such a generous Rebbi, too. Always so modest about himself and so efficacious about the other.
In the recommendation letter he wrote to YU for me, he said, “I unreservedly and enthusiastically commend Moshe to you with the prayer that I will merit teaching him in person in the years ahead.” I did not deserve it, his praise or attention, not one bit at all, but we would have been so close...
Tears again, ones that I cannot control.
No words can begin to describe the pain of the loss.
Rav Soloveitchik discusses the concept of questioning God in his work on Tisha B’av. Normally, the haranguing of God is improper in Judaism, the angry demands for explanation and the questioning cries toward him have no place in our religion.
We must stoically proclaim Baruch Dayan HaEmet, affirm our faith in the Lord even within the mystery of death, for we cannot lay claim to any understanding. We were not there when God laid the foundations, this is what Job was informed. Who are we to question the Unknown and the Unknowable?
But certain tragedies are different. They are not part of the normal fabric of the life cycle, not cut from the material that we are expected to unquestionably bear. Tisha B’Av is one such tragedy. This is what what the Rav focuses on.
But he mentions another:
The death of a Chosson about to be married to his Kallah.
This sort of tragedy should never happen. Death should be the culmination of a beautiful life and blossomed relationships.
It should not be the cutting short of all potential, the terrible and sudden loss of all that remained in its incipient stage.
We cannot be expected to remain silent in such tragedy, Rav Soloveitchik says, to bear it stone-faced. We alter our practice and question out of sheer pain and sorrow.
We change the custom. Tractate Semachot even states that the coffin of the Chosson is carried for burial under the accusatory Chuppah that would have been his.
The Rav goes on to explain that normally there is end to crying, a point where mourning becomes overwrought and excessive in the eyes of the Sages. The cycle of life and death is inevitable and we must at a point move on.
But not in the case of the fallen Chosson. This tragedy is an aberration, a horror for which the eyes can never run dry. It is unnatural, something for which the mourning can never culminate and complete. We cry until our eyes have no tears left and then we sing bittersweet melodies of swirling melancholic pain because we have no more but we cannot stop. The mourning just goes on and on.
For me, on the subjective level, the passing of Rav Ozer is the passing of a Chosson.
He did not leave me as I would have so dearly hoped, he did not go after years of preparation. He did not leave me when I was a wide-winged eagle ready to soar and swoop in the oft turbulent world.
No, he left me oh so early, when I have only just begun to grasp him.
He has left me, his small dear Talmid, while I am still a vulnerable chick lying helpless in the nest.
Every day before now I was fed, but now suddenly I must get up and find my own food, years before I am ready.
Shall the bird not surely wail?
Shall I not surely cry for my support, my salvation, my Rebbi?
Make no mistake. Such loss is not part of the normal Rebbi-Talmid dynamic. The student gains independence from the teacher when he is matured. But I have been cast forward so prematurely.
It is aberrant, unnatural, awful, and tragic.
Can there be a more twisted, more heart-wrenching thing for a Talmid to lose his Rebbi when he was just on the cusp of truly learning from him?
This then is not the mourning that has limits and appropriate endpoints. It cannot terminate, I can never bring it to a culmination.
I have cried. I cry now and and I cannot be silenced forever. My tears may dry but they shall run within my soul forever.
The mourning can never stop, for I am now an orphan adrift in the cold washes of the world.
I am not brazen enough to scream out against the Lord, but sometimes when it’s so painful in the depths of the night, I slowly and hesitantly whisper to Him Why? Why? WHY?
The sole consolation, Rav Ozer, my Rebbi, is that your portrait will hang beside my bed forevermore and your image imparts strength. I see you and I pray that I can somehow live up to the dreams and visions you had for me. Tears again. Lots.
Your Talmid forever,
Baruch Dayan HaEmet