Some people are blessed with a broad perspective on life, acquired through a combination of wisdom and experience. They can see things not only in the perspective of years or decades but even centuries. They can revive ancient texts and make them beat with life. They can feel the pulse of history, while remaining sensitive to the present moment. And if they are very gifted, they can convey this to others, and especially to young people.
One such person, a truly wise man, was Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l (1924–2010), founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, whose tenth yahrzeit we observe today (July 19). His wisdom came to expression not only in his broad perspective and his ability to communicate at all levels, but also in his consummate understanding of people; in his ability to distinguish between the authentic and the fake; in having his values in order and his head on straight; and in taking life seriously while still finding humor in it. Furthermore, his wisdom was not of the armchair variety; rather, grasping the big picture allowed him to act with boldness tempered by humility.
Those who want to understand Rav Amital, his thought and his contributions have access to much more material than was available when my eulogy for him appeared in TRADITION ten years ago. Many articles and videos have been posted online; his derashot on the High Holidays have been published; a second volume of his shiurim has appeared; and more is forthcoming. One can now consult a full-length English biography, as well as a fascinating and unconventional memorial volume that offers – reflecting his multi-faceted persona – a composite portrait drawn not just by colleagues, students and family members, but also by his ideological opponents, his neighbor in shul, his office manager, a novelist, a president of Israel, and others (see the eclectic table of contents here). A reviewer perceptively characterized this book as a “sefer emuna” that can inspire readers to deeper faith and morality. Finally, a number of studies of Rav Amital’s thought have appeared, reflecting an increasing recognition of his historical and religious significance; for example, when Yeshiva University’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought published a volume on ten recent Torah luminaries who bridged the worlds of tradition and modernity, it included a 40-page essay on Rav Amital.
Yet despite the wealth of primary and secondary sources, in some ways Rav Amital remains a mystery, even to those blessed to have known him. How could one person have been so simple and so complex, so normal and so extraordinary, so contradictory and so harmonious? After many years, I still have no explanation. He was – as he encouraged his students to be – an utterly unique personality. But I remain convinced that, even if we cannot fully grasp him, we still have much to learn from his teachings and his example. Yehi zikhro barukh.
Reuven Ziegler, a member of TRADITION’s editorial committee, is Chairman of the Editorial Board at Koren Publishers.
[Published July 19, 2020]