Mourning for a Man I Never Knew

Since the recent death of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a man whom I had never met, I have fallen into depression which has led me into mourning for a man I never knew.

I had heard of this great man for many years. I had followed his life events. I have tried to learn from his Hebrew translation of the Aramaic Babylonian Talmud in my poor efforts to be one of his followers, not only one of his millions of admirers.

Upon the very sad news of his sudden death, I recited the kaddish prayer without knowing the Hebrew name of his father. I asked Hashem to accept my tears in memory of the greatest gaon and scholar since the great ones of the 10th and 11th centuries.

I had earlier written a published article in praise of the greatest rabbinic scholar of our century but my writing paled in comparison with the magnificent eulogy written and published by his loving and loyal follower, the esteemed Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, renowned spiritual leader of Beth Tefillah in the American western state of Arizona.

Rabbi Allouche’s tribute to Rabbi Steinsaltz was a work of genius. As I wept bitterly upon learning of the Jerusalem scholar’s death, I wept even more tears after reading the Allouchean testimony of the brilliance of the man who, he like me, had so much admired. It is worthy of a Nobel Prize for Love.

Rabbi Steinsaltz had lived for 83 years. I have lived for 87 years. We were contemporaries in our ages.

He, like me, was a follower of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the beloved leader and guide of the international Chabad Chassidic movement and I had the opportunity of meeting with the Rebbe three times.

He was revered as God’s noblest servants, a man of deep humility and genuine love for all people, Jews and non-Jews. He respected people for what they did, what they had accomplished.

And after his death, his millions of chassidim heralded him as the messiah promised by God.

I could not allow myself to be one of them. And I was offended every time I made a telephone call to one of his shlichim (emissaries) to hear a voice responding with “Beit Chabad, yechi Melech ha Moshiach”. Chabad center, Long live the King Messiah.

This admiration for one of the rabbinic geniuses of all time appeared to me as “avodah zara”,a form of idolatry which is not acceptable to me. We worship God, not His messengers.

I shed tears of respect upon his death. But none were like the abundance of tears which flowed almost without an end upon my learning of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s death from pneumonia in a Jerusalem hospital.

He was a man whom I never met, whose hands I never kissed but he was for me like the zaideh, the grandfather who, though he died in 1942 when I was a nine year old child, was the first great love of my life. My future wife was my second greatest love. Four years after her death I continue to mourn for her.

The flame of the light which she kindled was extinguished when her life ended and I go on living in pain and emptiness.

Rabbi Pinchas Allouche, in his magnificent tribute to Rabbi Steinsaltz, added a quotation from remarks made by his beloved mentor. I have printed out a copy of it and have sent it to my own rabbi requesting him to recite the Steinsaltz quotation at my funeral.

The words of the greatest Talmudic scholar of the past ten centuries reflect volumes in the life of this humble man. He wrote:

“After I die, I really don’t care whether I will go to heaven or to hell. I also do not care at all about what will be written on my tombstone. All I care about is whether I have been able to touch people throughout my lifetime and cause them to grow more and more each day in thought, speech and action, each in their own way”.

Are there any words in all languages more indicative of a great man’s humility.?

Perhaps, on second thought, I should not request my rabbi to quote the words of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz at my funeral.

Those precious words are reserved for the greatest and most humble among us.

Sadly, I am not one among them.

My gratitude to Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Arizona for sharing the quotation with us in his tribute.

I will continue to mourn for the greatest man I never met. And my tears will continue to fall.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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