A Palpable Absence – Rav Aharon Lichtenstein 1933 – 2015

This week my teacher and rosh yeshiva Rav Aharon Lichtenstein passed away.

People speak of Rav Lichtenstein in superlatives: an exceptional gadol baTorah who had not only Shas but also the Western Canon at his fingertips. He was terrifying in his intensity yet would take great joy in giving sweets to children on Simchat Torah. Immensely demanding of himself and others, yet humble and self-deprecating to an extraordinary degree.

As I entered the Bet Midrash last night after his funeral the makom which he had learnt in for forty years stood empty. No seforim on the table. Only a yahrzeit candle. I could only think of Rashi’s words at the beginning of Parshat Vayetze, that Yaakov Avinu’s departure from Beer Sheva is mentioned explicitly: ‘this teaches us that the leaving of a righteous person from a place makes an imprint. As long as the righteous person is in the city, he is its glory and light and majesty. When he leaves, it glory, light and majesty are gone’ (Bereishit 28:10)

Here is a piece I wrote in 2013 on the occasion of Rav Lichtenstein’s 80th birthday. May Hashem grant us strength to continue his vision even in his absence, for ‘the crown has fallen from our heads’.

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