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Beit Midrash Series Chemdat Yamim

A Eulogy for Rav Lichtenstein zt"l

Chapter 4

Of Human Dignity and the Man who Avoided Honor

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In place of a standard eulogy, let me tell a personal story that expresses Rav Lichtenstein’s unique way of life: the greatness of a giant in Torah with immense modesty and sensitivity for human dignity. Along with this, his care for the honor of others, specifically, and human dignity, in general, stood out throughout his life.
Chemdat Yamim (2120)
Rabbi Yossef Carmel
1 - An Individual Who is a Community
2 - Giving More Than You Have?
3 - You Always Need to Pray
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Before the story, let us give some halachic background. The Rabbis (Berachot 19b) established the rule: "Great is human dignity, which pushes off a negative commandment of the Torah." The Rabbis disputed the extent of this rule. Some say it applies even to explicit Torah negative commandments, although the gemara concludes that it applies only to pushing off Rabbinic negative commandments. The matter might be the subject of a machloket between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. In the case where the Torah law is violated by omission (e.g., refraining from a brit mila or from bringing a Korban Pesach), all agree it is overridden in order to maintain human dignity (e.g., by burying one who has no one else to bury him). (We cannot address all the principles of this halachic phenomenon in this limited space.)
The rule of kavod haberiyot (human dignity) pushing off halachotis, in some ways, more powerful than the rule of aseh docheh lo ta’aseh (a positive mitzva pushes off a negative one). The latter rule applies only at the exact time the positive mitzva is performed. In contrast, kavod haberiyot pushes off violations even when the envisioned disgrace has not yet "come into the world." Therefore, it is permitted to move stones (old equivalent of toilet paper) on Shabbat, even before the need to use them to maintain human dignity exists. This applies when carrying in a karmelit (a Rabbinic-level public domain) or in violation of a techumin (not moving things beyond the radius of approximately a kilometer).
Now, the story. On Yom Kippur of the Yom Kippur War, a truck (high enough to reduce techumin issues to a Rabbinic level) arrived at the Hesder Yeshiva of Kiryat Arba, where I was a student, at 2 PM, to take us to the front. The next stop was Yeshivat Har Etzion, where some members of our tank unit were studying. As we pulled out, we saw an older man running after us with a big bundle. We yelled to the driver to stop and then recognized the sprinter – the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon.
Rav Aharon caught up with us and quickly explained. "When I realized you were being enlisted, I realized that, being Yom Kippur, you would not be able to bring along any personal items but the tallitoton your back. So I ran to the apartment to bring you toilet paper. You will be able to take that with you to various places based on the rule that kavod haberiyot pushes off a negative commandment."
I will always remember that moment. At that time, we understood what a "Man of Halacha" is, a man who thinks of halacha in a most practical way. This was a person whose Torah was not just in his head but became one with his life and personality. Even in the midst of the passion of Yom Kippur (and students of Rav Lichtenstein know its great significance to him), kavod haberiyot was an inseparable part of him. The beautiful interplay between service of Hashem with the intellect and constant Torah study along with service of the heart – prayer and deep human sensitivity – appeared before us in its full glory.
Fortunate are students who merited to take leave of their rabbi in this way as they embarked to fight the war of Hashem, protecting His nation and land. Fortunate is the rabbi who leaves the world in sanctity and purity in all ways, after a full life of service of Hashem and producing many students. Let us pray that we will merit to march in his footsteps, even a little bit, and, thereby, sanctify the Name of Heaven every day in all our paths.

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