On the 30th day of his passing, I feel that part of his memory has been misrepresented already by various well-meaning people. Many beautiful words have been spoken which are all good and sweet. But I miss an accent on something beyond his books, his writings, his teachings.
So many have said he was a once-in-a-millennium scholar, the Rashi of our time. Heaven forbid for equating the two! We know Rashi only through his super holy commentaries. Rav Steinsaltz walked among us. We saw him. We heard him. We said hello to him and saw the twinkle in his eyes.
Any human being is so much greater than a storehouse of knowledge or any specific message. Even more so, a saintly, humble person.
We should not just learn from books. We need life teachers. He was that to us. Let’s not reduce him to a text. Let’s remember the person he was. The personality he was. The greatness he rose to with exactly the same organs as our body has. It should humble us in comparison. It should obligate us to try harder. To accomplish more of our own life’s goals.
Yes, his mind was phenomenal. His commentaries will outlive us all. But his person should live on in us too. And we should pass on to others not just his words but also who we perceived he was. The master teacher who stayed a schoolboy. The conservative who was progressive. The skeptic who could never be outdone by any skeptic. The man who would always surprise you; not because again he had studied a new act, but because his authenticity made him alive and always a source of a fresh perspective. That’s how great a man can be. That’s an example to follow as much as we can. An inspiration and a rebuke at the same time. As we say: May his memory (not just his message) be a source of goodness (blessing).
This viewpoint isn’t only crucial for taking the Rav’s legacy into the future. It’s also essential for understanding what Jewish learning is about. It is not about acquiring knowledge or even skill. It’s about transforming ourselves. Not to become someone else. Rather, to more turn into ourselves. Not to proudly master Jewish teachings but to humbly let them master us.