Audio Roundup: 20th Yahrtzeit Special Edition
by Joel Rich
Warning: If you are of a certain age and spent time late in the evening with the night bird (hamechunah Alison Steele may she rest in peace) rather than with the little songbird (translation of Soloveitchik), be prepared with tissues for the “tears of the clown” and towels for the “blood on the tracks” from the old wounds that reopen.
I miss Daniel Patrick Moynihan for many reasons. “Defining deviancy down”, an essay of his was subtitled “How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Crime and Destructive Behavior.” I find this a paradigm for many changes in society. IMHO in our society we’ve seen “Defining gadlus down” “How We’ve Become Accustomed to alarming levels of every rabbi/leader is a gadol and they are all basically the same”. I have a lot in my heart on this topic but I will just say that IMHO The Rav was sui generis and leave it at that.
Introduction and Multiple Faces of the Rav
I liked R’J Berman’s intro – very touching from one who was close.
Dr. Atarah Twersky was outstanding in painting a picture of how the Rav’s unwavering emunah (faith) allowed him to succeed in the parched Jewish sands of Boston and in the besieged orthodoxy of YU. While in retrospect his success seemed inevitable, when he was doing it, it took an iron will and unwavering faith to see “meirachok” (what could be down the road). Money quote from the Rav to an individual describing the success of his local Jewish community, “There is one problem, the people in your community don’t know they are in Galus” (R’IH – this one stands the test of changing times).
R’HS talks of the excitement of The Rav’s shiurim and his love song to the TSB”P and his strong tradition in learning, psak (law), Hashkafa (philosophy) and attitudes (e.g. gotta know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em – oops – I mean when to be stringent and when not). He could use his halachic intuition because he was one of the yichidei segulah (chosen ones?).
Dr. Shatz discusses the place of the Rav’s philosophical words in the general philosophical community. His ability to intersect traditional halachic analysis with philosophy at the highest level made him unique and timely. His uncompromising fealty to truth and faith made religion the ultimate encounter with reality and he was not afraid to deal with “inconvenient facts” head on.
Rabbi Brander reflects on the Rav’s mesorah of chesed (loving-kindness) from his grandfather (R’Chaim) as well as his acknowledged (by other gedolim) brilliance. He tells personal shamash (assistant) stories in order to demonstrate The Rav’s dedication to truth, teaching and chesed. He brought Torah to the community and to general society.
Then they played the famous symposium of generations clip (always worth listening to!).
Rabbi Twersky then recounts the brilliant Brisker shiurim as part of The Rav’s rare holistic view of all knowledge which to him was a seamless web – because there was no one at his level, he gave over to each audience what he felt that the audience could receive. Examples are provided. The bottom line was he was confident in the mesorah, no apologies needed. (me – no need to be afraid when you know you have the real deal)
Derech Halimud of The Rav
R’HS spoke about The Rav’s dedication to transmitting Torah to all at the level they could understand it. His ability to explain with clarity made you wonder why you didn’t see it that way to start with. (me – I always use the lightning strike analogy).
By focusing on what various opinions agreed on, you can get a clearer view of the basis of disagreements. Other themes that were applied to multiple cases were tartei dsatrei by bein hashmashot (dusk has elements of day and night) and kol dtakun rabbannan (rabbinic ordinances follow a pattern set by Torah).
Rabbi Genack discussed the Brisker construct methodology and understanding that HKB”H’s will is self-justifying with its own internal logic. One needs a breadth of knowledge (i.e. cover ground) in order to have an opinion. Great analogies between Einstein (me – better example would have been Newton) and Brisker thought experiments/visualization. Also includes my favorite Sam Danishefsky story (I knew Francis Crick, he was no Rabbi Soloveitchik).
The Importance of the Rav’s Teachings in Modern Society
The themes that R’JJ Schacter still finds helpful –
*Centrality of halacha and Torah (example – no change to the text of Nacheim because Jerusalem is still “charuv” if no beit hamikdash).
*One needs a living, emotional romance with HKB”H in addition to an intellectual one.
*Be aware of the frailty of majesty and the majesty frailty (self-awareness of failure).
*Use multiple perspectives (e.g. Rambam for some purposes, Kuzari for others)
*Pain and suffering – ask what do I do? (what does HKB”H want from me?) rather than why did it happen?
*We need to interact with the outside world.
Rav Soloveitchick on Interfaith Relations
Dr. Shatz starts out with an introduction to non-extreme pluralism (extreme is you’re ok, I’m ok and who cares anyway) and some basic questions: 1) Do other religions have some truth mine doesn’t have?; 2) Is my religion the only path to salvation for all?; 3) What does eschatology (end of days) look like for me? For you?; 4) What does social interaction look like? (converts, interfaith dialog, proselytizing (?) ….). Then on to possible reasons for interaction. Practically, with globalization, interaction is far fallen and can lead to amicable relations and solidarity and working together for mutual public policy goals. On a theological basis, it can help you learn about “the other” as well as yourself and your religion. OTOH the slope can be slippery and the plane can crash(platitudes provided by me).
Dr. Berger (interesting on the flyer how some are Rabbi, some are Dr. and some are Rabbi Dr.) points out that most of these ends can be attained (although some not as much) without interfaith theological dialog and one must analyze the costs vs. the benefits. Then onto a review of The Rav’s concerns in “Confrontation” and analysis that they still exist, if not as obvious and severe.
Relating to Non-Orthodox
Rabbi Schoenfeld discusses The Rav’s classic “Confrontation” differentiation between klappei pnim (intra-Jewish relations) vs. klappei chutz (relations with the outside world). The Rav was strong in his opposition to non-Orthodox movements, but it was never personal.
Rabbi Berman gave some fascinating background to the whole SCA imbroglio and R’Moshe’s and The Rav’s practical/political direction. Lesson learned from The Rav – 1) If you have a problem, deal with it; 2) Go through the front door (me – it’s usually easier to tell the truth – you don’t have to keep track of all the lies you told!).
Prayer: Privilege and Practice
Rabbi Carmy focused on focus (as we say in the shop – if you focus on everything, you focus on nothing) – pay attention to what you are saying and what you are (me – be “mindful”). The Rav would (and so should you!) show how the words and the halachot surrounding prayer help you understand what prayer is all about (examples from psukei dzimra, birchat hamazon and Yom Kippur prayers). People too often focus on the Rav’s insights to petitional prayer in the “real world” of crisis (which he certainly did focus on) and forget about the joy/thanksgiving which The Rav also discussed. The main thing is to think! (me – good general rule; not as Ira Miller used to tell me “the main thing is not to worry)
Rabbi Taubes recounts how the Rav would look the text of the Siddur as a text to be eplicated . He spent much effort justifying minhagim – they all need to be based on a kiyum of halacha and he would explain each this way.
Examples in prayer include when we stand/sit, what’s left out if we are late? required intent, Shofar blowing and duchening. The Rav on tfilat hatzibbur as a tfila of the whole tzibbur. My favorite was aleinu as a matir to leave shul!
If you can only listen to one, go with Dr. Atarah Twersky!
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