Friday, July 9, 2010

Rav Yehuda Amital, of blessed memory

I have just returned from a family trip. You can read about it in the 18 previous blogs. Unfortunately upon returning, I just found out that Rav Amital of Yeshivat Har Etzion has passed away. Baruch dayan ha'emet. My next door neighbor Alan Yaniger was a student of Rav Amital, ztz'l, and so, I asked him to write a few words about his Rosh Yeshiva. May Hashem comfort Rav Amital's family and students among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Rav Yehuda Amital was the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut. He survived the Holocaust, escaped to Israel, and after continuing his yeshiva studies at the Hebron yeshiva, eventually became a Rosh Yeshiva himself. Besides being a talmid chacham, he fought in the War of Independence, and participated in the battle of Latrun. After the Six Say War, he became the first Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, later joined by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.
I was privileged to study at Har Etzion for four years, and Rav Amital left an indelible imprint on my personality and direction in life. He was a great talmid chacham, but I had met other great talmidei chachimim before. What struck me about Rav Amital was not just his erudition, but his personality.
Rav Amital had a passionate love for every Jew. He would frequently warn his Yeshiva students not to be arrogant, and to appreciate what a treasure we have in “baalei batim,” regular simple Jews. He would give of his time to have private conversations with me, discussing basic issues of faith and my personal goals. I always left those conversations feeling important and wiser . Part of his connection with all of Am Yisrael is reflected in the high rank he achieved in the IDF. He impressed on us the extraordinary sacrifices so many in the IDF were making. Talk about rebuilding the temple with “undeserved love” always irritated him – there are plenty of good reasons that Jews of all stripes deserve love, not just those who look like “anshei shlomenu”. He would never put on airs, and could not tolerate any kind of posturing in what was supposed to be the service of Hashem.
He never ceased to be amazed at the rise of the State of Israel, a massive act of “Kiddush Hashem”, after the Chilul Hashem of the Holocaust. He instilled in us the sense that we were in a pivotal moment in history, and that we have to live up to the challenge and participate in the revival of the Jewish nation. The power of his message would send shivers down my spine, particularly during his talks on Yom Haatzmaut. He himself was a symbol of what that revival could be, having gone through the Nazi camps, and building a life, a family, a yeshiva, and a community of disciples who bring his message of Torah and community action to the Jewish people worldwide.
Until I experienced the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers at Har Etzion, with Rav Amital as the Shaliach Tzibur, I did not know what those holidays could be. The passion that he put in to the prayers, combined with utter honesty and humility before G-d, and presence with the community – this all resurfaces in my mind every year during Yamim Noraim, and provides me with the model of what davening really should be.
He often related a story of the Baal Hatanya, in which the Baal Tanya said, that if someone is so involved in learning that he doesn't hear a baby crying in the next room, his learning is “off” (“pagum” in Hebrew). He told his students that their learning must be of uncompromising quality – yet at the same time, they have to hear the baby crying. They have to relate to the Jewish people, and provide them with what is needed.
Those who knew Rav Amital will never forget his scholarship and action, his passion and his common sense, his love of the whole people and his love of every person. May his memory continue to inspire us.

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