HaRav Elyashiv: The Passing of a Tzaddik is an Atonement
By Rabbi Meir Rabi
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv has passed away. He has moved on to the next stage, the loftier stage of existence. I have heard it estimated that almost half a million people attended his levaya, his funeral procession.
We are left with but memories and stories, mind images of his noble and holy life.
Is it not amazing though, that these mind images can be so dramatically different? Is it not amazing that the one personality can be and is so differently portrayed and projected? HaRav Elyashiv was a very great man. It is no wonder that everyone and every group seeks to claim him as personifying their own set of ideals and aspirations.
But there is an enormous difference between what various groups see in and wish to project from HaRav Elyashiv’s life. And this prompts me to ponder: are we in fact, when enshrining the memory of HaRav Elyashiv, doing so in order to learn from HaRav Elyashiv? Perhaps we are seeking to justify, to use this memory as a device to reinforce our own formulations and our own philosophies about Judaism and Torah? I think most of us will agree that this is a very serious question of substance.
And this leads me to reflect and ask, did HaRav Elyashiv accomplish something in his death that he did not accomplish during his life? Between the multitudes of people that came to pay their last respects, there were no mechitzos, no barriers. Were the divisions that usually separate people and groups eclipsed by a united awareness of communal mourning and a profound sense of loss?
And I ruefully reflect upon the observation of our Sages, that the death a tzaddik, the death of a righteous person, is an atonement for the people. What greater atonement can there be than having brought disparate religious community groups together? But I fear that perhaps they are united only in location. Perhaps they are mostly thinking of themselves and their philosophy.
I have enjoyed a faint connection to HaRav Elyashiv via the soft matza that is produced under my supervision. The Rav of Israel’s largest dairy corporation, HaRav Weitman, had a sample of this soft matza shown to R’ Elyashiv. According to R’ Weitman’s email R’ Elyashiv examined the soft matza and said that he sees no problem with it, and R’ Elyashiv meant to include even for use by Ashkenasim. When this became known through publication on RealMatza.com, strenuous efforts were made to negate these claims resulting in a statement in the name of R’ Elyashiv by one of his close aides.
So, as I stand in respectful silence and recite tehillim at a gathering to honour HaRav Elyashiv, I contemplate that I might well be standing alongside a colleague who exerted much effort to negate HaRav Elyashiv’s observations about the suitability of soft matza.
Are we united?
Perhaps what we might glean from HaRav Elyashiv’s life, where those who sought his counsel came from the entire spectrum of Jewish observance and colour; and his passing, where no mechitzos not even notional mechitzos separated Jews from one another: is that we must be able to respect and dignify one another notwithstanding our differences.