This really feels like the best of times and the worst of times.
The terrible news of death after death is too big, to overwhelmingly painful to ignore. Last week one day left the world so much emptier than it was the day before. The Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk, Rav Dovid Soloveitchik was once a neighbor of sorts. We lived on Ovadia, and he lived on Amos the street that ran perpendicular to mine. His first-floor apartment faced the street, and because of the crowding in his living room, I sometimes saw the inside of his shiur room when the porch door opened because of the crowding. It’s intensity and feel for torah was what I envisioned when I see another world, a world that is no more. He would walk back and forth with his sons, who were young at the time, between minchah and maariv. I found myself back there when I heard his will read at the funeral, appointing his oldest son as the new Rosh Yeshiva.
I didn’t know Rav SHeiner, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenetz. I heard more than once of his mixture of erudition and warmth. Imagining this coming out of Pittsburg of close to a century ago is mind boggling. There was nothing there; no yeshivas or Bais Yaakov’s and it would have been very easy for him to settle into the complacency and comfort of being the biggest fish in the small fish tank just by keeping Shabbos and kosher in a world that was still taken up with the American dream. He blossomed, and became something no one could have predicted.
The third loss was that of Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski. Did you ever read any of his books? You must have. There were about 60 of them. He is reputed to have once said, “I really only wrote one book. It’s about helping people find the place within themselves that can be held in high esteem.” There are limitless versions of the way self esteem changes lives, and there are many ways in which you can pull yourself out of the mire that is caused by low self-esteem/ Rabbi Twerski came from a home that was a virtual oasis-his father was a Rebbe in Milwaukee of last century. Instead of becoming a Rebbe, he decided to make a move that in many ways was also like the kind of Chassidic master of 200 years ago. He learned psychiatry and reached out to addicts, people who had nowhere to go in their endless desire to escape themselves. He opened Gateways, and was deeply involved in promoting the 12 step programs in the frum community for those who needed the support and structure of this method. Oh right. He did this while authoring the 90 books. He had tremendous presence and dignity. His white beard, Chassidic clothes and compassionate eyes gave him the look of a tzadik and could easily have scared off those of us who would feel small in his presence. He compensated by wearing a tie with Charlie Brown characters on them. How afraid can you be of a man who wears Snoopy?
The Kabbalists tell you that what makes you human is your mind, your heart, and your liver. Rav Soloveitchik was the mind of a generation of yeshiva students. He was the only member of the Brisk dynasty to write books, and by doing so to leave something of the sharp analysis of his ancestors to those who will only know them in print. Rav Sheiner brought his heart with him wherever he went, his warmth, lack of pretension, and genuine caring. Rabbi Twerski spent his life helping countless people learn to do what the liver does-reject what is toxic and harmful, and learn to nourish themselves.
Their passing made the world somewhat less human in the deepest sense. Having this all take place in one day was overwhelming. Then this morning, my dear friend Dina sent me a clip. It showed the picture of beautiful dates. What makes them unique is that the tree from which they were harvested is the “daughter” of a tree that was planted from a seed that was found in Masada. Yigal Yadin, a famous political leader and general was also an accomplished archeologist and was very involved in excavating Masada. He found a handful of seeds. He gave them to be studied and then planted. Their approximate age, according to the scientists involved is 2,500 years. That means that they were from the time of the second temple. The particular kind of seed became wide spread even earlier. They planted the seeds and
And grew into a tree
That declares the message of hope with its every leaf
And tells us
That there are always