May G-d’s name be magnified and sanctified… This is what Jews say in the kaddish prayer after a person’s death. After a person has died G-d’s name is diminished a little bit. That’s how important every person is, even a simple person.
Rabbi Yehuda Amital, may his memory be for a blessing, who passed away this past Friday, related to even the simplest person with utmost respect and love. On the other hand he wasn’t concerned with his own honor. He requested that no more than three people should eulogize him and it should not exceed half an hour. (I’m sure he also knew that he had to at least allow them to at least say something.) To read more see here. See also here and here.
When necessary we are commanded to die sanctifying G-d’s name. We are equally commanded to live in a way that will sanctify G-d’s name. This is what Rav Amital did after surviving the holocaust. He showed the way to live a life that is utterly normal. For example, it is normal to be passionate. It is normal to be involved with people. – This is sanctification of G-d’s name! Because of his perspective of sanctifying the name of G-d, he was an integrated, whole person. This perspective gave him the rare ability to integrate intellect and emotion, scholarship and action, passion and common sense. He knew how to take God’s law, an absolute truth, and turn it into a way of life – with true love for every person, vibrant and harmonious, sweet and fragrant and joyful! He was silent in the face of criticism because all that mattered to him was fear of G-d and standing before Him with a clear conscience. He always quoted the rabbinic dictum, Be among those who are insulted and do not insult in return...
Those who eulogized him quoted the verse (Psalms 133:3) Like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the mountains of Zion, there the L-rd ordained blessing, everlasting life. This is the dew of the Jewish nation’s revival after the holocaust. His name, Ami-tal signifies life-giving dew for my people. Rabbi Amital was full of life and he revived everyone around him with life-giving dew.
Last year my husband and I decided to pray at Rav Amital’s yeshiva, Yeshivat Har Etzion for the high holiday services for the first time in many years. At the end of the Yom Kippur service Rav Amital, together with the whole congregation sang From out of the straits I called out to God: Answer me in the broad expanses, dear God! (Psalms 118:5). Their voices pierced the heavens. Something very deep stirred in me. I recalled that Viktor Frankl wrote about falling to the ground and saying this same verse repeatedly when he came out of the camps.
What did the holocaust say to them? What should it say to us?
The holocaust was a call to not just survive but to be fully alive. In the words of Dr. Teria Shantall one of Viktor Frankl’s students, “Nothing and no-one, no force on earth, can stop us from fulfilling our unique mission in life, can prevent us from taking possession of the place in this world set aside for us and for us only!
“Our place in this world is a calling, something we must heed and fulfill. It is also a place of contention. Many false claims have been and are still laid to it. Failure to be ourselves is what made us lose what is rightfully ours in the first place. That is what allowed alien forces to occupy what was promised to us. Driven out of our land, we were made to wander and search for a way back to the only place of happiness and fulfillment we can ever know: home, where we are able to be fully ourselves. Only when we are secure within our own boundaries are we no longer at the mercy of those who want to rule over us.
“This is the lesson of Jewish dispersion. Contrary to the contention that our dispersion was meant as a curse it was ordained to be a blessing! It is because we were hated and despised, oppressed and persecuted, that the will for the meaning of our lives, a place of our own in a better world, was evoked….
“…The onslaught was on the human spirit, the very essence of godliness that was breathed into man and that was to earmark the Jew as God’s chosen. He was to bear this light to the world…”
And it occurs to me now that this response to the holocaust of revival and aliveness, is the legacy that both Rav Amital and Viktor Frankl inherited from Rabbi Akiva. It is what allowed them to survive the holocaust with their values not only intact but deepened and more profound.
Upon seeing the destruction of the Temple by the Romans Rabbi Akiva simply laughed. He saw destruction as a call to rebuild, desecration of God’s name as a demand to sanctify God’s name. His optimism and faith in a loving G-d guiding the world towards redemption is a model for the Jewish people as a whole and for every individual.
The optimistic therapeutic approach called logotherapy was born out of Frankl’s experience. It challenges the individual to see that G-d did not put you there to just crush you underfoot but to rise up again. Rav Amital was a spiritual leader who said that our response to the huge desecration of G-d’s name is to sanctify G-d’s name.
Both drew from this same legacy of Rabbi Akiva. Let us, too take up this legacy.