Today marks the 8th Yartzeit of Rav Ahron Soloveichik z”tl.
In the fall of 1989, I was a freshmen at YU. As I recall classes had been barely going on for even a week and I saw a flyer in my dorm about a shiur on Lecture about “Hilchos Teshuva”.
I was fresh out of public school and had been observant for just over two years, at the time. Through my high school involvement with NCSY I had heard the name “Soloveichik” (although usually in reference to the Rav, who spelled it “Soloveitchik) quite a bit and had even read an article written by Rav Ahron regarding a Jew’s place in non-Jewish socieity. I was curious what this “Rabbi Ahron Soloveichk” was like and figured it would be cool thing to hear him lecture (the term “shiur” wasn’t in my vocabulary back then).
I showed up a few minutes early, which was easy since the lecture took place in the “shul” in my dorm building, and took a front row seat. Slowly the chairs filled up. I recall seeing a lot of older YU guys, probably semicha students. Slowly, I heard mumbling and some commotion from the back of the room, as two gentlemen escorted an elderly man who was using a walker, the Rav Ahron Soloveichik.
To me he looked frail and I remember being inpressed that he was able to use a walker, despite having had a stroke in 1983. Slowly he made his way to the table in the front of ths shul. The two men who accompanied him helped Rav Ahron transition from the walker to the seat at the table. Again, the one word that came mind was “frail”.
It is commonly know that even if one doesn’t understand a language, it is very possible that you can get an idea of what a speaker is talking about by emotions that come through in the spoken word. Rav Ahron’s shiur on “Hilchos Teshuva” was given in English, my native language, but I really didn’t understand much of it, I sadly admit. Based on my background at the time, most of the quotes from the Rambam and, what must have been, the brilliant analysis on the part of Rav Ahron were really lost on me. I did, however, take away something just as meaningful and memorable.
When Rav Ahron Soloveichik sat down at that table to begin his shiur, he was hunched down with head just about at the height of the table. As he started speaking his voice was soft, but as he continued his voice got stronger. Almost in sync with the strength of his voice, with each word of Torah that came from his lips, he seemed to start sitting more and more upright. He started moving his arms as he spoke and became animated. By the middle of the shiur his voice was booming and he seem to be sitting fully erect. It was almost like a different person was speaking. As I’ve looked back over the years at this incident, I realized that what I had witnessed was the true Koach of Torah.
Learning Torah and being able to teach Torah changes a person. For Rav Ahron Soloveichik Torah was a lifeline, I saw that with my own eyes! It connected him and gave him incredible strength. I was zoche to see that evening that the Torah wasn’t simply something that we took out three times a week from the Aron Kodesh, nor was a collection of stories, teachings, or laws. The term, “Toras Chaim” comes to mind. The Torah is a living Torah and Rav Ahron both received strength from it and used that strength to give over the Torah to future generations.
May his neshma have an aliyah.