A Life of Kiddush Hashem

A Eulogy of Harav Yehuda Amital zt”l

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a

 

Adapted by Yitzchak Forer

Translated by David Strauss

 

 

Achi, achi, rekhev Yisrael u-farashav! My brother, my brother, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen! (See II Melakhim 2:12.)

 

Our Rabbis taught: When a sage dies, his beit midrash stops learning. (Mo’ed Katan 22b)

 

What is meant by the words, “his beit midrash”? Rashi (ad loc., s.v. beit midrasho) explains: “Those who are accustomed to learn Torah from his mouth.”

 

In this sense, the Yeshiva is the beit midrash of Rav Yehuda zt”l. But beyond this, it is “his beit midrash” not only because of those who knocked at the Yeshiva’s doors to hear his Torah, his learning and his analysis, in the realms of hashkafa and halakha. Here it is also his beit midrash in the simplest sense of the words. “Uman koneh bi-shvach kli” (Bava Kama 98b and elsewhere): one who fashions a utensil acquires it in a certain sense. In this sense, Yeshivat Har Etzion, with all its branches, is Rav Amital’s beit midrash. For these reason, Rav Yehuda, the beit midrash has stopped learning.

 

It has stopped learning because its students have assembled here. They have put everything else aside in order to focus on paying their final respects as expected; in order to express their pain and sorrow, and to be here with you in your company.

 

Beyond the various understandings of what it means that “a sage’s beit midrash stops learning,” there is something that goes deeper, for surely when a sage dies, his beit midrash does not stop learning!  We, his disciples, and the disciples of his disciples, take upon ourselves to make sure that the Torah that he disseminated, the values that he espoused, the service of God that he taught – all these with God’s help shall thrive and flourish in times to come.

 

Rav Amital’s teachings and values are diverse. But at their center stands a central pillar.

 

We have gathered here in this place, at this time, in an atmosphere of Kaddish. But anyone who has paid attention to its words knows that while the Kaddish carries connotations of death, it contains not a word or a hint about death. The central motif from beginning to end is “Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name” – an enlargement and expansion, as it were, of God’s name; a perfection of the world through the kingdom of Heaven. God’s great name and presence should be felt in every aspect of our lives and in every facet of our existence.

 

Following the horrors he experienced during the Holocaust, Rav Yehuda devoted all his energies to one end: to glorify and sanctify God’s great name. This was expressed in two ways.  First, the slightest trace of desecration of God’s name terribly agitated him. He harnessed all his talents and strengths, his facility of expression, his leadership ability, to this one purpose: to ensure that the name of Heaven not be profaned, but on the contrary, that God’s great name be glorified and sanctified, that it be strengthened and more firmly established.  This was his polestar, his guiding principle in fashioning the Yeshiva, and he did his best to convey it to his students.

 

Second, as the Kaddish deals not with death but with life, so too his was a Torah of life. In the depths of his soul, Rav Amital continuously felt the impact of the Holocaust, and this prodded him to make sure that here in Eretz Yisrael he would serve God in an atmosphere of life, rather than in a climate of death.

 

His Zionism was a Zionism of life. His connection to Eretz Yisrael was a deep connection, one that depended not only upon the metaphysics of Eretz Yisrael, nor only upon that which is mentioned in tractate Sota (14a), that Moshe Rabbenu wanted to enter into Eretz Yisrael in order to fulfill the commandments that depend upon the land. His connection to Eretz Yisrael accorded with the verse:

 

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Tehillim 133:3)

 

It is in this context – “life for evermore” – that he wanted to build, and to be built, on the foundations of Divine service, Torah and fear of God, “for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

 

All his actions were built on connection, continuity and wholeness. In the Yeshiva, we are currently studying the laws of Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. Rav Yehuda, you deeply internalized two connections in the world of prayer and in the world of tefillin.

 

First, you profoundly understood the words of the Yerushalmi that one who interrupts between “Yishatabach” and the “Yotzer” blessing is guilty of a sin, for which he is sent back from the battlefield. It is a sin to detach the praise of God (Yishtabach) from the world of deed and action (Yotzer).

 

Rav Yehuda’s creed was one of unity. He combined the handiwork of God with that of man. “And the earth He gave to the sons of man” (Tehillim 115:16). We shall follow in his footsteps and try to combine and unify in our own personalities the “Yishtabach” – the name of Heaven – with “Yotzer,” creative human action.

 

Second, he believed that not only one who interrupts between “Yishtabach” and the “Yotzer” blessing is guilty of a sin, but also one who interrupts between the tefillin of the arm and the tefillin of the head. The combination of intensive study, in its full Brisker sense, on the one hand, and a life of building and action, on the other, was so characteristic of him and his personality. What a rare combination of vision and practical action!

 

This is the way he built the Yeshiva, and this is the way he built his life in the Holy Land, in which he found life and taught others to live.

 

He served as shaliach tzibbur on the High Holy Days – and he served as a shaliach tzibbur in a larger sense as well. Anyone who heard him pray between Rosh Chodesh Elul and the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur could feel the sense of mission in his crying and supplication, reaching a climax on Motza’ei Yom Kippur: “Min ha-metzar karati Y-a, anani ba-merchav Y-a (Tehillim 118:5) “Out of my distress I called upon the Lord; the Lord answered me with liberation.”

 

This is what he felt: God took him out of his distress, so that he might serve Him in the holy land, the land of the living, the land he had yearned to reach.

 

Now, Rav Yehuda, you have reached the land of the living, aretzot ha-chayim, in a different sense. The Gemara in Pesachim (113b) states:

 

Rabbi Yochanan said: Three are of those who will inherit the world-to-come: one who dwells in Eretz Yisrael; one who raises his children to the study of the Torah; and one who recites havdala over wine at the termination of Shabbat. What does this mean? One who leaves over [wine] from kiddush for havdala.

 

“One who dwells (dar) in Eretz Israel” – not one who merely resides (gar) there, but one who dwells there in permanent manner, one who lives there a life of Torah and service of God.

 

“One who raises his children to the study of the Torah” – as Harav Amital raised his extensive family to serve God and to live in accordance with His word.

 

“One who leaves over [wine] from kiddush for havdala” – he understood that kiddush and havdala are not two separate ideas. The same wine is used to pass from the mundane to the holy and from the holy to the mundane: an integrated life, whole morally, whole practically, and whole conceptually.

 

As one who merits the world-to-come on all three counts, you come now to aretzot ha-chayim.

 

May you be a melitz yosher on behalf of your family, and on behalf of your wife Miriam, who in these difficult days, after years of working behind the scenes, has revealed to all her strength and bravery in leading the family. May you be a melitz yosher on behalf of the community that drank thirstily of your words, that it should continue in the tradition of Torah and service that you developed, built and strengthened.

 

Achi, achi, rekhev Yisrael u-farashav!

My brother, my brother, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!

 

Na’amta li me’od.  Tzar li alekha achi.

You have been very dear to me. I am very pained over you, my brother. (II Shemuel 1:26)

 

 

(This eulogy was delivered at the funeral of Moreinu Harav Amital zt”l, Friday, 27 Tammuz, 5770 [July 9, 2010].)

 

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