As we approach the end of shloshim, the Jewish 30-day period of mourning after a burial, I cannot stop thinking about how the Jewish people can go forward without HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, z’l, who passed away on December 12th. It difficult to imagine a world without the light that he provided. During this time of shloshim, I have been able to reflect on all he did in his life and on the positive effect he had on those still living, who will hopefully emulate the Rav in their thoughts, actions and beliefs.
Rav Shteinman, z’l, was a righteous and learned man, whose compassion and kindness only heightened his holiness. He was an untiring leader of the Jewish people — even up to his death at age 104 — and he consistently worked to support and spread education of Torah and Jewish law. He also had the capacity to bear the burden of countless individuals who came to him for comfort, guidance and strength. In addition to leading a yeshiva, he embraced many efforts to revitalize Jewish education. I was especially heartened to see him embrace the work of Dirshu, the Jewish educational organization I founded. Although I was not previously known to him, nor to any of his inner circle, and was ‘cut from a different cloth’ than them, he personally extended himself on many occasions on Dirshu’s behalf.
Following the death of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in 2012, Rav Shteinman was widely regarded as the Gadol HaDor, or leader of the generation, of the Lithuanian, non-chasidic ultra-Orthodox world. He was known for his modest lifestyle, living without wealth or comfort, and his fervid work to eradicate the sin of gossip. He lived a life of unimaginable self-sacrifice and devotion to the Jewish people. He certainly was one of holiest men of our generation.
These days there are many perceived partitions keeping klal Yisroel, the Jewish people, divided. In addition to geographical and social divisions, we see many religious, political and cultural divisions. Despite these disagreements, Rav Shteinman, z’l, refused to see the Jewish people as anything but one people. He brought people together, encouraging religious study and understanding across the globe for Jews. As a result, he was respected and admired across klal Yisroel.
His greatest contribution may have been his ability to inspire others. Following his example, Jews across the world were inspired to study Torah and become more in touch with their Jewish roots.
He inspired all of us to strive to be more righteous. I was especially moved when the he attended Dirshu’s 10th anniversary celebration in Tel Aviv. I have rarely seen so many people so engaged with one speaker. Each attendee sat on the edge of his seat paying rapt attention to the Rav and his holy words. He explained how Torah learning is a gift that requires continuing and amplified gratitude to God.
He stressed that the more Torah you learn, the greater your expression of gratitude should be. Rav Shteinman, z’l, knew so much and yet he always strove to learn more so that he could praise God even more.
“How does one cultivate love of Torah and the ability to taste the sweetness of Torah? By learning more and more Torah,” Rav Shteinman, z’l, said. “The more one learns, the sweeter it becomes.”
I doubt there are many more tzadikim in the world like Rav Shteinman, z’l, and that grieves me. It grieves me because I may never again meet such a bright soul. It grieves me because while he was of this earth he made the world a better place. If there were more people like him in the world, I truly believe our world would be different; it would be more peaceful, more compassionate and more virtuous.
I am therefore so grateful and feel so blessed to have been able to learn from Rav Shteinman’s example. I know that he inspired many generations and that his teachings will continue to inspire generations to come.
Though he is now gone, his teachings and our blessed memory of him will live on. I draw strength from that and know that I will continue to live and lead by his example for all the days of my life.
Rabbi Hofstedter is founder of the Jewish educational organization Dirshu.