This past Tuesday, April 28th, Ma’ayanot hosted a moving azkara (memorial service) in commemoration of the recent passing of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zekher tzaddik liverakha. Students, faculty, parents, alumnae and the Board of Directors were invited to attend.
The azkara program began with a short introduction by Mrs. Rivka Kahan, Ma’ayanot’s principal, in which she highlighted the fact that Rav Lichtenstein served as the school’s posek (halakhic authority) from its inception. She fondly recalled how “Rav Lichtenstein personally answered his own phone,” and she expressed gratitude for the nuanced and thoughtful guidance Rav Aharon provided on a wide range of halakhic and ethical questions.
Mrs. Esther Krauss, Ma’ayanot’s founding principal, further elaborated upon Rav Lichtenstein’s significant connection to Ma’ayanot, explaining that he was involved with the school even before its doors were open to students in 1995: “When the Teaneck community was thinking about opening a school for girls here, they formulated a vision for the school that included teaching Gemara as one of the central pillars of the Judaic studies curriculum....and they invited Rav Aharon (as he was fondly known) to speak at a meeting in a private home about his halakhic and personal opinion on the subject of women learning Gemara.” She further explained that Rav Lichtenstein not only voiced support for this educational vision, but he subsequently delivered a speech at Ma’ayanot’s Hanukat Habayit (dedication ceremony) in which he stated that “Gemara is a requirement for women today because it inculcates commitment to yirat shamayim, Torah and mitzvot.”
In addition to highlighting Rav Aharon’s significant contributions to Ma’ayanot, Mrs. Krauss endeavored to convey to the students “who Rav Aharon was and what he stood for.” To accomplish this, Mrs. Krauss explored some of the many ways in which Rav Aharon was both “an adam chashuv meod, a teacher and leader par excellence, but also a very real, fully human person.” She explained, for example, that Rav Aharon was both “an Ish chessed,” a man who insisted on carrying his guests’ luggage, and “an Ish Torah, intellectually and ethically;” that he was an “Ish Emet,” a man of great integrity who taught his talmidim to pursue truth at any cost, but also an “Ish shalom” who did not seek to impose his views on other valid interpretations.
Rabbi Gedalyah Berger, a long-time talmid of Rav Lichtenstein and current Rabbi of Fleetwood Synagogue in New York, Ra”M in the Graduate Program of Advanced Talmudic Studies at Yeshiva University, and maggid shiur at Nishmat’s Yo’etzet Halakhah Program, demonstrated the “subtlety and deep analysis” that characterized Rav Aharon’s teachings by sharing some of Rav Aharon’s Torah insights. The lesson gleaned from these shared insights, that one must continually strive for purity and perfection in one’s relationship with Hashem, is a familiar message to the literally thousands of talmidim who were privileged to learn from Rav Aharon throughout his many years as a revered rosh yeshiva.
Finally, Ma’ayanot faculty member Rabbi Benzion Scheinfeld, a close talmid of Rav Aharon and a ben bayit of the Lichetenstein family, closed the program with a moving explanation of why he felt compelled, at great expense and inconvenience, to travel to Rav Aharon’s funeral last week: “My initial encounter with Rav Lichtenstein [as a young man] literally altered my reality and changed the focus of my avodat Hashem; it reoriented my soul in a way that would influence every decision I’ve ever made since.... I went to the funeral to acknowledge the amazing debt I owe to the man who forever changed my life.”
Rabbi Scheinfeld was certainly not alone in feeling the profound effect that Rav Aharon had on his life; those in attendance at the azkara were literally moved to tears as Rabbi Scheinfeld described how hundreds of older talmidim tore keriya at Rav Aharon’s funeral as a way of demonstrating the degree to which Rav Aharon equally “shaped all of their perspectives” as well.
Video of all three hespeidim can be found on Ma’ayanot’s website: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6UwH2wIbfxHTwyC9q9SIsA
A transcript of Rav Lichtenstein’s Hanukat Habayit address (from 1996) can be found on Ma’ayanot’s website: http://www.maayanot.org/files/MaayanotChanukatHaBayit%20%281%29.pdf