The Rosh Yeshiva was not just the leader of a movement -- he was the inspiration for many movements. Rabbi Weinberg's belief in the power of the individual empowered thousands. Many of his students have used the confidence and conviction with which he imbued them to create movements of their own: campaigns of outreach to non-religious Jews through the Aish HaTorah branches, Project Inspire and others; education and re-education of Jewish fundamentals through programs like Discovery and Project Chazon; the harnessing of technology to bring Jewish messages to a wide audience through Aish.com and Imaginaishions Productions.
While varied in their means and goals, each movement was united by a single principle: the Jewish people have a responsibility to be a light unto the nations and, nowadays, a light unto ourselves.
I was fortunate to be an early beneficiary of a movement created by a student of the Rosh Yeshiva, the Hasbara Fellowships. In the fall of 2001, when violence erupted after the Palestinian abandonment of the Oslo peace process, Israel found itself facing a terror war at home and a propaganda war abroad. The front lines of this vicious battle for the public mind were, in many instances, university campuses. Witnessing firsthand the violence on the Temple Mount from the Aish HaTorah yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Rosh Yeshiva urged his students to put aside a portion of time each day to think about what they could do to help Israel and the Jewish people.
This was the inspiration for the creation of the Hasbara Fellowships, an Israel activism training program for North American university students, started in 2001 by Rabbi Elliot Mathias, a student of the Rosh Yeshiva.
From its inception, the Hasbara Fellowships was not simply an organization, but a movement. While the stated goal of Hasbara is to train students to stand up for Israel on campus, the fundamental principle upon which we have always operated is the power of individual responsibility. The Rosh Yeshiva believed deeply and fundamentally in the mission of Hasbara Fellowships, not only because of his commitment to the defense of Israel. Rabbi Weinberg knew the potential of young people who care enough about something to fight for it.
He was the first man in a black hat that I ever heard speak.
As a student on the first Hasbara Fellowships training program in Israel, I was given many tools – education, resources, ideas for implementation. But the most important lesson I learned came directly from the Rosh Yeshiva himself. On the last day of our program, the Rosh Yeshiva spoke to us; he was the first man in a black hat that I ever heard speak.
The Rosh Yeshiva explained to us the difference between ‘believing' in something and ‘knowing' something -- his famous teaching on ‘five-finger clarity.' After two weeks of training and encouragement, the responsibility was now on each of our shoulders to return to our campuses and make a difference on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. We would not be able to sustain our energy, to accomplish this tall task on our own, for a cause that we merely ‘believed in;' we had to know with absolute certainty our fundamental right to the land of Israel, and to keep clear in our mind always the fundamental desire of the Jewish people for peace.
When you transmute your beliefs into absolute knowledge, you are compelled to act upon that knowledge and make a difference.
With this message, we were sent back to campus, each with the conviction that we could make a difference and the knowledge that the responsibility was ours. And with this knowledge hundreds of Hasbara Fellows have shaped a positive perception of Israel on their campuses, stood up to anti-Israel propaganda, and rallied pride in their fellow Jewish students. This is the legacy of the Rosh Yeshiva.
Living with Joy
After studying for a few years in Israel, my husband and I decided to return to the United States. My husband would continue his yeshiva studies in New York and I would come back to work for Hasbara Fellowships even though I was expecting my first child. My husband and I were excited for the opportunity, but we were anxious about the stress our arrangement might cause.
God's deepest desire is not merely for you to serve Him, but to live your life doing so with genuine happiness.
The Rosh Yeshiva lovingly explained to us that we were serving God and the Jewish people on a very high level, but that the highest level we could attain would be to live this life with great happiness. When you are making the right decisions, he said, the only obstacle the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) can put in front of you is lack of happiness. God's deepest desire is not merely for you to serve Him, but to live your life doing so with genuine happiness.
The Rosh Yeshiva was able to say this from the heart -- he imbued each moment of his work on behalf of the Jewish people with pure joy.
The Rosh Yeshiva had a way of making you feel very proud of what you were doing while at the same time realizing there was much more that you could and should be doing. He did this mostly by example. During the past few years I had the honor to interact with and be inspired by the Rosh Yeshiva during his frequent visits to New York. The Rosh Yeshiva, in his late ‘70s and ill health, worked harder than most people do in their prime. The welfare of the Jewish people and the state of the world were on his mind, in his heart and the motivation behind his labors on a constant basis. In his last months, as his personal health deteriorated, his drive and his sense of urgency only increased. And as a result, so have ours.
The Rosh Yeshiva often referenced the Holocaust to remind his students of the power of a single individual to make a difference. He would say, "If one individual is capable of killing six million, how much more so are each of us capable of changing the world?"
The Hasbara Fellows and the thousands of other college students who are being impacted by Aish HaTorah today hear this powerful message of individual responsibility. May the spirit of the Rosh Yeshiva live on, as each of us that met him strive to create a movement of our own.