His well-known modesty would probably cause him a slight bit of embarrassment by our words.
On Monday, the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox worldwide community lost one of its true gedolim.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, 81, died last Monday. He is irreplaceable. He was the dean of the Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Gush Etzion; tens of thousands of his students are hurting from feelings of loss. And how could they not be. Over 40 years ago, he moved to Israel where he became known as a teacher of the highest regard when it came to Talmud, Halacha and philosophy.
He was a former English literature professor and taught that it was important for students to have a commitment to the defense of Israel, an openness and curiosity for intellectual knowledge with an equally firm commitment to Torah study and Halacha. This is how Lichtenstein, the son-in-law of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, a giant figure in centrist Orthodoxy and religious Zionism, saw the world.
There is a world given to us by Hashem that offers opportunities to learn and practice social justice and a frum Jew’s full involvement in society while standing true to the values and teachings of Torah.
This was a teacher who gave value to secular literature as long as it was viewed through a Jewish religious lens. Religious-secular relations were not off-base; the discussion of women’s roles in Torah study was part of his discussion; Zionism as seen through a religious perspective. Bible, Talmud, Kabbalah; opinions on Israel’s security and settlement were a mere part of his thought and teachings.
It was his faith, patience and humble personality that many will also remember.
As we shed our tears at our feelings of pain at this time, we know that Rav Lichtenstein would want us to continue moving forward. He’d want for us to take our Torah learning to higher levels, to bring that knowledge to every Jew. He’d want us to read a good selection of literature, understand advancements in science. He’d be proud of our students who learn Torah and serve in the IDF.
He helped shape the societal and religious place of Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox Jews in our world today.
Now it’s up to us to take his example and move forward while honoring his name and his legacy.
We miss him already.