May 25, 2024
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Today is the ninth yahrtzeit of Harav Aharon Lichtenstein (May 23, 1933–April 20, 2015).

I had the privilege of learning Torah, and perhaps, more relevant for me, was the privilege of simply observing him in his day-to-day life. This Shabbos at 5:30 p.m., Rav Lichtenstein will be the subject of my Shabbos afternoon shiur. I have written in the past about Rav Lichtenstein—or as he was called lovingly by his talmidim, Rav Aharon.

A few years ago, when I wrote about Rav Aharon on his yahrtzeit, a fellow came over to me and said, “You wrote very nicely about Rav Aharon. I told my children that he was certainly a talmid chacham.” He then surprisingly added, “However, I made sure to stress to my children that, even though he was a talmid chacham, he is not in our camp,” (full disclosure: this person is an alumnus of Yeshiva University,) I remained silent at the time to avoid offending this person. It was obvious that he felt he was protecting his children by making sure they knew “he is not from our camp.” However, now klal Yisroel is living in a time of danger (see today’s headlines: “Biden Says the US Will Not Supply Israel With Weapons To Attack Rafah”)—I feel the need to set the record (as I see it) straight as unity and togetherness is what we need. And exclusion and dividing into “camps” is the last thing we need.

For the last 60 years, I have been privileged to spend most of my waking days learning, teaching or helping spread the Torah, whether as a talmid, a rebbe or a rav. As my entire life has revolved around Torah learning and teaching, I have had the merit of meeting and learning from the greatest Torah teachers of the last half-century. I do not consider myself the talmid of this Torah great or that Torah great. I am not presumptuous enough to think of myself as having earned the title of “talmid.” However, I have had conversations, listened to shiurim and been privileged to speak privately with many world-renowned Torah giants.

If there are three common denominators that all of these Torah greats share, irrespective of their various degrees of embracing the world around them—they are:

  1. An almost compulsive desire to learn Torah at all times
  2. Meticulous observance of halacha.
  3. The possession of sterling middos tovos.

I have met many gedolei Yisroel, and they all possessed the three traits enumerated above.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein was no exception. I recall many times approaching Rav Aharon at this table in front of the beis hamedrash. He would be engrossed in a sugya (topic). Sometimes, I would stand there for 20 minutes or more until he noticed another person had entered his space. His concentration and his hasmada were legendary. His adherence to halacha was unquestioned by all. Yet, perhaps above all, was his middos tovos.

A man who was shy by nature and avoided the spotlight at all costs—his concern and care for his fellow human beings were the culmination and epitome of a true man of Torah. I will speak at length about this on Shabbos. Yet, one incident will suffice.

He was once on a bus heading to the north of Israel. Back then (I think it has changed since then), the bus companies allowed people to stand (even on intercity buses), and the bus could be filled to “standing room only.” He entered the bus, sat and ostensibly would have continued to sit for the four-hour trip to the north. He sat there for two hours, learning the Torah diligently.

Exactly two hours into the ride, he rose and said to the young non-religious woman standing near him, “Please sit down.” She refused by saying, “Kavod HaRav, this is your seat.”

He responded, “We both paid the same fair. The only difference is that I entered the bus first. However, that doesn’t grant me rights to the seat for the entire trip. The Torah teaches us to pursue tzedek (fairness). It is only fair that you now sit for the remaining two hours of the trip.”

When I think of Rav Aharon, there is one thing I can say with all my heart and soul. If membership in “our camp” depends on Torah learning, mitzvah observance and middos tovos, then Rav Aharon Lichtenstein was certainly a member of our camp. Yehi zichro baruch.


Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is the rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic.

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