There are moments in our lives when we recognize greatness. Sometimes these voices are loud, and other times, they are reminiscent of the kol dmama daka, the still small voice where we find God.
This week, the world mourns the passing of Rabbi David Weiss Halivni, one of the greatest Talmudic minds of our generation. He was a contemporary of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, a hero in our midst who never gave up on the will to continue to learn Torah, regardless of what the world challenged him with.
While I never had the opportunity to sit in his classroom, I frequented the synagogue that he led, Kehilat Orach Eliezer, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His voice was soft and gentle, yet his words of Torah were strong and direct.
Rabbi Weiss Halivni influenced generations of students from across the denominations, teaching first at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, then at Columbia University, and finally at Hebrew University.
While his Torah no longer emanates from his mouth, so much of our Torah originates from his soul.
The kaddish derabanan is recited after we study a piece of Torah. It is in our daily service to ensure that we make Torah study an ongoing practice in our lives.
The middle paragraph reads, “On behalf of the Jews, the teachers, the students, their students’ students, and all those who engage in the study of Torah.”
This kaddish is recited after completion of study and at a funeral. While these may appear to be distinct events, the common refrain is that with Torah study, the world will be renewed, and with he study of those who have left this world, the students and loved ones who come after have the opportunity to participate in this renewal. For while the body has left us, the eternal soul comprised of the Torah taught accompanies us along our journey.
So this Shabbat, we recite the mourner’s kaddish for a teacher, a gadol, a great Rabbi whose presence will never be replaced. And we recite the Rabbi’s kaddish, for we pray that Rabbi Weiss Halivni’s students, and his students’ students will bring the light of Torah to our houses of study, enlightening us with wisdom, with knowledge, a soft voice, and a strong heart.
Yhi Zichro Baruch, may Rabbi David Weiss Halivni’s life be an eternal blessing.