Rabbi Amital – A Preparation for Departure

By Jonatan Snowbell '98

 

 

Rabbi Yehuda Amital passed way this past Friday on the eve of the Shabbat on which we read the portions of Matot-Mas'ei. In this portion we see new characters taking a prominent place in the leadership of the Israelite Nation. Until these portions the leadership rested solely on the shoulders of Moshe and Aharon (and subsequently Elazar, replaced Aharon). Despite the fact that in the Be'halotcha portion we read of the appointment of the 70 Elders (Numbers 11,16), Torah students will note that there are no actions attributed to these elders. In the face of the various crises that the Israelite nation faced subsequently to the appointment of the 70 elders, the absence of their mention is a testimony to the fact that the weight of leadership remained exclusively on the shoulders of Moshe and Aharon.

 

With the exception of the isolated actions of individuals (Kalev, Yehoshua and Pinhas – which demand a separate discussion) this trend is consistent throughout the book of Numbers until the story of the daughters of Zelofhad in Parshat Pinhas, and in a more substantive manner in this past week's Torah portions. Attentive readers of the Torah will note that in numerous sections in these two Torah portions there is a new group of people – the heads of the tribes – who are consistently involved in the events that transpire. These characters, at times referred to as Rashei Ha'Matot, Nesi'ei Ha'Eda, Rashei Avot Ha'Matot, Nesi'im, or Rashei Ha'Avot may all be one cohesive group or a series of groups. What is clear that for the first time, there is a new set of prominent and active players involved in the leadership of the Israelite Nation alongside Moshe.

 

Moshe who is leading this nation on the eve of his death realizes that it would be wise before he departs to empower not one person but many people to lead the Israelite Nation.

 

Rabbi Amital dedicated his life to empowering his students to be able to continue on without him. Death is a final departure from this world. People that we may have seen often or seldom will never again be seen when death arrives. However, as a teacher, Rabbi Amital realized that prior to the final departure of death many departures exist in the life – and these departures too must be prepared for. As students in the sheltered life of Yeshivat Har Etzion, we departed from the Yeshiva before going home for a single Shabbat and before leaving the Yeshiva for the Bein Hazmanim breaks from Yeshiva. More significantly we departed from Yeshiva before enlisting into the IDF. At a later date we departed from Yeshiva for a life after Yeshiva in university or the workforce. Here too the departure was not final, as a return to Yeshiva was a possibility and probability.

 

In each of these departures, Rabbi Amital understood that the Yeshiva as an institution could not always be there for its students. The Rabbis would not be available or equipped to answer every question at every crossroad in life. The students would be on their own. This ongoing reality was and is not an accident or an unfortunate circumstance. It is the design by which our world runs. The solution in this reality was to empower the students so that they could function after departing from Yeshiva and its teachers. The students had to learn how to think critically, to analyze their situation and their life and make mature decisions on their own that were rooted in the Torah of the Beit Midrash. The students could not depend, nor should they depend, on their Rabbis counsel in every instance of their lives and therefore students had to be educated to be independent.

 

To this end, Rabbi Amital, has educated a generation of leaders – many of them with differing opinions than their teacher. This was not to his chagrin – but a story of his success. Those leaders who are his students who disagree with him consider him their teacher not only despite their disagreements, but even at times because of their disagreements.

 

Beyond the leaders, he educated a generation of laypeople who while not being leaders of the Torah community are people who value and study the Torah and it is through the prism of Torah they view and lead their lives. These laypeople are critical listeners who don't accept any speech or ruling by any rabbinical figure at face value but demand quality, well researched and thought out ideas and Halachic rulings. They do not always call their Rabbis to answer their questions because they were educated to be independent. Life is not a Yeshiva. Life is independence and Rabbi Amital educated his students for that life.   

 

Towards the end of his life Rabbi Amital made sure that Yeshivat Har Etzion set up a search committee to appoint two new Rashei Yeshiva in his place. Once again he planned and educated towards his departure.

 

And despite all that Rabbi Amital did to prepare his students for departure, a strong sense of sadness enveloped me on this past Friday when I read the bitter news of his final departure. The thought of never seeing him give a Sicha in the Beit HaMidrash or just greeting him in Alon Shvut – his home away from home – left me with a profound sense of missing and yearning this father figure.

 

It is my firm belief, however, that if Rabbi Amital could have addressed the thousands who attended his funeral on Friday, he would have given us all a firm pat on the back and said – "Yalla Chevrei! Stop crying! It is time to move on. You were prepared for this departure!"

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