Last month, when the Jewish community was shaken by news of the passing of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt’l, speeches were heard in countless shuls and yeshivos about the impact that this Torah giant had on so many. Hespedim from Har Etzion were streamed and viewed by thousands of people. At Rambam Mesivta, Rabbi Friedman and Rabbi Eliach assembled the talmidim and attempted to impart some notion of Rav Lichtenstein’s greatness and what he stood for.
As the shloshim approached, talmidim gathered again to hear perspectives from Rabbi Billet. After Shacharis, Rabbi Friedman mentioned that the greatness of a person is not measured by externals, but rather by the way he lives his life, his knowledge, and his actions. “While we are certainly incapable of recognizing the greatness of Rav Lichtenstein and unworthy of eulogizing him, it is clear that he was a true gadol whose sensitivity towards others emanated from his vast scope of chochmas haTorah. Listening to one of his recorded shiurim and learning his writings will give one a glimpse of Rav Lichtenstein’s chiddushei Torah. However, learning about the greatness of his personality so that we can improve ourselves and become inspired can only take place by hearing from someone who was very close with him. We have asked Rabbi Billet to join us today and speak davka about the human side of Rav Lichtenstein,” said Rabbi Friedman.
Rabbi Billet, who studied under Rav Lichtenstein in Yeshiva University for two formative years, had recently returned from paying a shivah call to the family. He said that he was charged by his rebbe, Rav Lichtenstein, with a mission to “do something on behalf of Klal Yisrael.” Rabbi Billet spoke about his rebbe’s honesty, integrity, and compassion for all human beings. He vividly recalled one winter day when Rav Lichtenstein summoned his boys to get up early, daven k’vasikin, prepare for early shiur, and, after learning for a few hours, participate in a rally on behalf of the Ibos people being murdered in Biafra. He explained that everything Rav Lichtenstein did stemmed from his Torah outlook; Rav Lichtenstein did not believe in synthesis in the sense that the secular world is an addition to Torah, which implies Torah is lacking. He believed that secular knowledge can be used to elucidate and explain certain Torah concepts, but it was very clear that his every decision and outlook on life was based on Torah.
Rabbi Billet also shared many stories that shed light on his rebbe’s way of life and personal conduct. He said that his rebbe would never make believe he was trying hard in a game with his grandchildren, lest he do something that was not 100% emes. Rav Lichtenstein always challenged his talmidim to do their best, to strive for the next level, to challenge themselves and act properly. Rav Lichtenstein once warned students not to cut the line when they anticipate a long wait, telling them that they have to always act in accordance with the golden standard of kiddush Hashem.
It was clear to all that Klal Yisrael lost a true Torah giant.