Yesterday, the Jewish world sustained another big loss with the sudden death of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Having had no personal connection to him, I cannot possibly do justice to speaking about such a great individual, so please take my words with a grain of salt.
Vos iz neias has a good synopsis of his life and the impact he had on the world of Jewish learning. The Yeshiva World has some amazing pictures and coverage from the funeral that was attended by an estimated 100, 000 people. Someone even created an entry for him on Wikipedia....I wonder if that is the true measure of someone being important- kidding!
When trying to think of any way to make this loss more personal, I realized that my brother and brothers in law learned in the Mir Yeshiva. My husband spent time learning in a kollel that was an off-shoot of the Mir, so we have all been affected by his vision. I also remembered that Rav Finkel had actually officiated at my sister's wedding a few years ago. It was Lag Ba'Omer, a busy day for weddings on the Jewish calendar and we were told that the wedding ceremony had to start on time because Rav Finkel had four other weddings to attend that evening.
When it was time for the chuppah to begin, I have to say I was a bit taken aback. It was my first time seeing someone with severe Parkinson's perform a wedding and it was not an easy thing to watch. His body was shaking uncontrollably and he struggled to say the words. At the time, I felt badly for him. I wondered how someone could ask somebody so obviously ill to inconvenience himself and officiate at a wedding when he was struggling so much. I could not believe that this man was planning to perform this feat four more times that same evening. It seemed like an unfair imposition and request on behalf of the wedding couples.
But the more I read about Rav Finkel over the last day and a half, the more I started to understand. Even though Rabbi Finkel was a sick man, he did not let this define him. He refused to take pain medication so that his mind would be lucid and he could learn. His door was always open to students of the yeshiva and he made it his business to know as many of them personally as he could. Unbelievably, he traveled all over the world to raise funds for the Yeshiva. And he did all this with a smile on his face, always looking for ways to give to others.
I realize now (two years too late but better late than never) that the discomfort was all mine, that I was projecting my feelings onto him. Though it may be hard for me to comprehend this level of selflessness, there was nothing the Rosh Yeshiva wanted more on that day than to bring joy to all these brides and grooms by giving them the honor of officiating at their weddings (well maybe to learn Torah, but that is a different discussion). He was willing to travel all around Jerusalem and go through this process several times, all for the benefit of others. It is a humbling thought.
In our "Me"-generation we cannot even fathom that someone could be so focused on others. With the loss of so many of our great leaders over the past few months, one cannot help but wonder if this generation is even capable of producing amazing leaders of that same caliber.
If the answer is no, the loss is truly staggering. Yehi Zichro Baruch.