The 18th of Nissan marked the 15th yartzeit of The Rav. I, like countless others, never learned directly from him, but was told d’vrai Torah and stories in his name by various rabbeim I have known. This oral tradition, if you will, along with the published works (both before and after he was nifter) help to give those who are interested a small understanding of who he was. I have always found the following passage from his essay Community (available in a summary form as part one and part two) to be very meaningful to me:
Quite often a man find himself in a crowd among strangers. He feels loney. No one knows him…suddenly someone taps him on the shoulder and says, “Aren’t you Mr. So and So? I have heard so much about you.” An alien turned into a fellow member of an existenial community. What brought about the change? The recoginition by someone, the word!
To recognize a person is not just to identify him physically. It is more than that: it is an act of identifying him existencially as a person who has a job to do that only he can do properly. To recognize a person means to affirm that he is irreplaceable. To hurt a person means to tell him that he is expendable, that there is no need for him.
The Halakhah equated the act of publicly embarrasing a person with murder? Why? Because humiliation is tantamount to destroying an existential community and driving the individual into solitude.
It’s this ability to look at relationships within the framework of Halacha (yes, spelled differently than above) that amazes me. For all the “Halachikness” that is associated with the Rav, it was his written words that first opened my eyes to a living, breathing image of Halacha. It was his written words that first exposed me to concept that the shoresh of Halacha (halach) means “to walk”. Halacha isn’t just about laws that govern our actions, or what we can or cannot do, it is a whole path of existence that touches on all aspects of life that we navigate through.