Sunday April 14, I was privileged to attend Yeshiva University’s commemoration of the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l.
The program commenced in Lamport Auditorium on the YU campus, at the very same podium upon which the Rav graced his talmidim with many shiurim in memory of his own father. Many of the presenters noted that they had strong emotional ties to the room and could see no better place to acknowledge the Rav’s love of Torah and learning. (As an aside, I could not stop admiring the unique architecture of this room, with Jewish stars adorning the ceiling, walls, and chandeliers.)
Among the speakers were his daughter, Atarah Twersky, his shamash, Rabbi Kenny Brander, prominent students and renowned poskim Rav Hershel Scahchter and Rabbi Menachem Genack. For a full list or program participants click here.
Each and every presenter was influenced by the Rav in a different manner. A few alluded to his kindness, wit, and strength of character. I was particularly moved by an audio file of the Rav as an older man talking to the young boys in his class. He marveled at his age and told his students that all generations were learning together in his class. He said that as he began to teach each day, he would see his (late) father join the discussion followed by his (late) grandfather, the Brisker Rav, then the Rambam and Rashi would join in, followed by the many commentators throughout the generations. The Rav pointed out that each opinion worked into the topic at hand as he wove the colorful and complex tapestry of halachic discourse. When all generations learned together, the Rav said, the class he taught would transform him back into a young man, full of vitality and without ailments or physical pain.
Another key theme that arose was the Rav’s approach to Torah and philosophy and his holistic view of the world as a part of Torah. He was familiar with science, philosophy, mathematics, and all creative thought and would fit it into Torah and halacha. The Rav’s grandson, Rabbi Mayer Twersky, explained that his grandfather strove to be a “melamed,” or Torah teacher, and asked to be known as such. Rabbi Twersky explained that this was his credo and goal– to represent Torah teaching to all Jews.
The Rav was really instrumental in rebuilding orthodoxy, keeping it safe from the compromises that
I was truly impressed with the presentations, which gave listeners a glimpse into the Rav’s personal life, philosophical approach, halachic genius, and hashkafic strength.
I would like to mention a few more messages that resonated: the Rav related to all Jews with love and concern. He focused on guiding Orthodox Jews to relate with those who were less observant. He fought for women’s Jewish education and higher learning. He never compromised on Jewish law and guided his students with personal attention and greatness. Even in his later years, he greeted visitors with a smile and warmth as only a true melamed could.
As I davened mincha the women’s section of the fairly new Yeshiva University beit midrash, I found solace in that space. The room was full of honest servants of G-d. There was silence throughout the service, where moments before there echoed the sounds of Torah learning. There are some who write off YU and its Torah u’maddah approach, but all I saw in that room was a group of Jewish men and women who were following in the Rav’s footsteps…striving to be honest ovdei Hashem…using Torah to understand the outside world…exploring the sciences to appreciate G-d’s wisdom…opening their hearts to the lessons of their rabbi, mentor and “melamed.”