We were listening to the eulogies at the funeral of the Rosh Yeshiva in the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood of Jerusalem. It was a very large crowd, growing by the minute. I saw a lot of familiar faces, some going back over 20 years and more. Then a thought came to mind. The Rosh Yeshiva was always uncomfortable in crowds. It made him feel uneasy. But when he would go up to the podium to speak, he would always deliver his message loud and clear.
Now here he was, the one causing the big crowd. I wondered what he would tell us if he could speak now.
When I was a student in the yeshiva, for me, the highlight of the week was when the Rosh Yeshiva would walk into the Beis Midrash to give the Thursday evening shmooze. The entire Yeshiva was there. There was electricity in the air, you could feel it. There was nothing like it. Powerful, meaningful, energizing.
The talk would be peppered with phrases like, "You are all sleeping. You are all dreaming. Get in touch with reality. What have you been learning all week? Wake up! You want to change the world? You know you have a Father in Heaven, who is richer than a multi-zillionare, just ask! You know we are right! Grow up already! Come on. We taught the world. What are you afraid of? Together we can do it. We can't lose. Humanity depends on us."
The Rosh Yeshiva cared for us and wasn't going to let us get off the hook. He wanted to wake us up. What a precious job he was trying to entrust in us, to fight for Klal Yisroel. He so loved the Jewish people. He was so focused. I felt so fortunate to be a student of his.
Carrying the Rosh Yeshiva
He always carried us, now we were carrying him.
After the eulogies I was one of the many who took turns carrying the Rosh Yeshiva to his burial place. We walked rather quickly as we had the sunset to beat, while carrying him the entire three miles through the streets of Jerusalem until the Har Menuchot cemetery. He always carried us, now we were carrying him.
Rush hour traffic at the exit from Jerusalem stopped for us as we poured onto the main artery leaving the city. Hundreds of cars if not more stood idling as we carried our Rosh Yeshiva. I will never forget it. I was thankful that I was able to do that last chesed shel emet – that last unconditional kindness for him, after he had done so much for us.
The first time I grabbed the stretcher to carry the Rosh Yeshiva I had a flashback which sent me back over 30 years. In the army one of the toughest drills we had was carrying a stretcher with a person on it. We would walk for miles, in the rain, in the mud, up hills, in water while never putting the stretcher down. This was training us to work together. It sounds easy but try doing this running and with only five people per stretcher. That means only one person can rest from carrying at a time. You learn very quickly how to work together as a team. Who holds better on the right, the left, who leads and pulls the team best up front and who pushes everyone best from the back. Everyone had their strong point but only together could we get the job done.
Our Rosh Yeshiva drilled home this message of unity every Thursday night into our souls. He drilled and grilled us every time we'd speak with him. He never gave up on us. He was fighting for the Almighty, for sanity, for world peace, for the Jewish people, but he didn't want to lead alone. He wanted each and every one of us to take on responsibility. He would always remind us of the utmost importance of the team, of the yeshiva, of Klal Yisrael. He knew how great that power was. The power of unity. The power of really being one.
As I was carrying the stretcher, I was getting this message from the Rosh Yeshiva again... but for the last time.
"Remember that you will succeed only by working together. Today you are carrying me but tomorrow you will continue working for the Jewish people. You will succeed. I know you will. Together you will do it. Just wake up, believe in yourselves, and together, unified – with the Almighty's help -- you can change the world. You know He loves you so much... so do I."
I think that's what he would have said to us if he could.
Just like in those unforgettable Thursday evening shmoozes.