Yom HaZicharon & Rav Lichtenstein ע׳ה

A reflection at the nexus of Yom HaZicharon and the death of Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein. 

The human response to suffering is to break down. We fall apart. We crumble to pieces. Witness the reaction of Iyov to the news that his world had been destroyed:

And Iyov got up and tore his coat and he plucked the hair of his head and he fell upon the ground (Iyov 1:20).

But more than breaking our person, suffering blows up the ideas that we had of the world. Like an exploded balloon, our comfort in the world is blown apart. Witness the descent of Iyov into the madness of grief and confusion. It makes us crazy, this suffering. Nothing makes sense. How could it?

And then we try to find a new normal. For some, it becomes easier to see the pieces as separate, detached from each other. We choose sides. We hurry into identities and ideologies and then pull them tight around ourselves. ‘At least we know what we are’, we tell ourselves. The world becomes smaller and predictable. Or so we hope. 

There are those however who refuse to give up on the human destiny, to see the universe in all of it’s complexities and heart breaking beauty. Rav Lichtenstein was such a person. A sometimes student of his, I was always impressed by the depth and breadth of his ideas. Not that I always understood them but that’s my bad; not his. He thought nothing of introducing Chaucer or someone else into a lecture on Teshuva (Repentance) on or in a riff on chazaka (ownership). Not because he wished to make a statement but simply because Chaucer said it better. The Lubavitcher Rebbe a’h once said that those who keep their religious books separate from the secular books don’t understand either. Rav Lichtenstein got that; he saw a world as one. 

יהי זכרו ברוך