There were many powerful eulogies delivered today in memory of Moreinu V’Rabbeinu HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zatza”l, hareini kaparat mishkavo, this morning. I want to share one thought from Rabbi Ezra Bick, a Ram in Yeshiva and a student of R. Lichtenstein’s for 50 years. He delivered a combination of a eulogy from the perspective of a student and a charge to R. Lichtenstein’s students moving forward. I hope I capture the basic sentiment, but if some of my own thoughts seep in or I miss some nuances of his presentation, you will have to forgive me (a transcript of sorts is available here). R. Bick was the last of eight speakers, all of which were moving but contributed to total emotional drain by the end of the day.
R. Bick noted that we find two moments at which Elisha’s role is transformed, both involving the aderet Eliyahu, the mantle of Eliyahu. The first (Melachim 1 Chapter 19) is when Elisha is first chosen to be the disciple of Eliyahu. Eliyahu finds Elisha plowing and thrusts his mantle on Elisha’s shoulders, essentially forcing him to follow him. This represents the first stage of becoming a student. Being a true student comes with commitment and dedication and creates obligations and responsibilities. At some level it is even forced upon us. However, there is also some comfort in knowing that there is a figure who will guide us through. It makes our effort and input important, but supplements our exertion with that of our teachers. Our teachers can drag us along a bit, as it were.
The second time (Melachim 2 Chapter 2) that we find the aderet, however, is when Eliyahu leaves the world. Elisha sees him fly to heaven in fiery chariots, and sees his mantle fall. Elisha picks it up, and with that takes his place. The next moment we see the students flocking towards Elisha, seeing that Eliyahu’s spirit rested on him. When a student has been dependent on his teacher for spiritual guidance, and then the teacher is gone, all the burden falls on the student. If he does not pick up the mantle, no one is going to do it for him. However, there is more than that. Elisha asks that he get double Eliyahu’s spirit (the meaning of pi shenayim here is a bit unclear, but R. Bick followed Chazal’s understanding cited by Rashi). Eliyahu tells him that if he can see Eliyahu leave the world, he will be granted this request. R. Bick suggested that one way of understanding this notion is that a true student, when the time comes for him to pick up the mantle, must take everything good he has learned from his teacher and fuse that with everything good in his own personality. At some level, that allows him to carry a double burden.
And what burden must we pick up? At one level, R. Bick suggested picking one thing that we were moved by in our interactions with R. Lichtenstein and taking in upon ourselves. However, he suggested, if you wanted to boil R. Lichtenstein’s legacy down, one could say that his personality was defined by an overriding sense of avdut to God. So many people noted that what was unique about R. Lichtenstein was the completeness of his personality – he excelled in Torah, in tefillah, in chesed, in middot, in his family life, and so on. R. Bick suggested that this was all an expression of that dominant sense of slavery to God – slavery which by its very definition demands total devotion and perfection in all areas of life. I have often suggested that the charge of Atignos Ish Socho in Avot to not serve God as servants who want reward, but rather serve not for the sake of reward (or for the sake of not getting reward), should be translated into English as “don’t be a servant, be a slave.” Don’t view your service of God as a series of actions you are expected to do, each of which you take piecemeal. Instead, commit yourself to a live of absolute dedication, and then everything you do will flow from that.
None of us may be capable of the total commitment Moreinu V’Rabbeinu expressed, but there is no doubt that we can do nothing greater for his legacy than seeing that mantle lying on the floor and doing everything we can pick it up. Yehi Zichro Baruch