12 Jan REMEMBERING RABBI YEHUDA KELEMER ZT”L
When HaRav Yitzchak Asher Twersky ztl gave a eulogy for Rav Soloveitchik ztl, he began with a Gemara recounting how Rebi told his students, אל תספדוני בעיירות , “do not eulogize me in small towns.” Rav Twersky noted how when it comes to someone whose greatness was as broad as Rav Soloveitchik’s, one must scrupulously avoid mourning him with ‘small-mindedness’. I feel this is doubly true of Rabbeinu Yehudah Kelemer, for whom any memorial requires not only broad-mindedness, but “broad-heartedness.” There is thus little I can or should say about Rabbi Kelemer, but I just felt the need to at least share something that I heard from him on more than one occasion, to channel some of my current emotions into a way to spread some of his Torah. Rabbi Kelemer’s extraordinarily deep and broad knowledge of Torah was expressed in so many unique ways, from his familiarity with any Gemara such that he would recite passages by heart simply in conversation, to his ability to come up with brilliant Gematrias or roshei teivos on the fly, but one of his most unique talents was to recognize a gem of mussar or inspiration from (often obscure) halakhic sources. There is a halakha that if a person is guilty of accidental manslaughter, he is to be exiled to a ‘city of refuge,’ where he will remain safe from the victim’s relatives. (There are many details and disputes regarding the parameters of the law, covering many pages of Shas, which are not essential in this context.) Certain people are exempt from having to be exiled in such circumstances, and in a teshuva of Radbaz (no. 772), the Radbaz wonders about the status of a king: if a king causes someone’s death, would he be forced to go to a city of refuge? The Radbaz believes that the answer is no, because if the king would be forced into exile, not only his entourage and ministers – but the entire Jewish people would be required to live in the city with him, which is an impossibility. Rabbi Kelemer understood from this Radvaz that a prerequisite of being a king is that the king must be accessible to his people, he must be able to dwell among them and vice versa. In the coming weeks, we will read the parshiyos detailing Israel’s exile in Egypt and how Hashem redeemed His people through Moshe Rabbeinu. Several times in the pesukim, especially regarding the exile itself, there are hints picked up by Chazal, Rashi and others showing how Hashem dwells amongst His people – that He sits in a thornbush when they are in pain, and His very name (E-H-Y-H) according to Rashi means “I will be with them.” Extending this further, Rabbi Kelemer applied his insight from Radvaz idea to explain a line in the Pesach Haggadah: we say that in Egypt, there was a גילוי שכינה , a divine revelation, and the prooftext which is brought is הנסה אלקים לבא לקחת לו גוי מקרב גוי במסת באתת ובמופתים ובמלחמה… ככל אשר עשה לכם ה’ אלקיכם במצרים לעיניך – the pasuk from Parashas VaEschanan describing how Hashem extricated our nation from Egypt with great miracles. Many commentators on the Haggadah see the proof as coming from the final half of the pasuk, as it describes how G-d did miracles “before your eyes,” a reference to divine revelation. But Rabbi Kelemer believed, based on the Radvaz, that the proof is from the first half of the pasuk- Hashem was coming to take us as His nation, and if we are to be His nation and He is our king, then it must be the case that He was among us and became accessible to us once we became His subjects. (For more on this theme, see Pachad Yitzchak Rosh Hashanah no. 11) There is so, so much that can be added to this dvar Torah from Rabbi Kelemer’s own example. He was a “mara d’asra” in the truest sense, a “master of the place” (of West Hempstead) who, like a proper Jewish king, was deeply and intimately among his people. This was his style of leadership, just like his style of talmud Torah – his Torah was always a Toras Chesed, his chiddushim in Torah (such as the one above) almost invariably led to some lesson in loving kindness, comradery, and respect for others. These past ten months have been so, so difficult for our community, our nation, and the entire world, and among the tragedies of this past year, we are aching for leadership in so many realms, for leaders who are embedded within their nation. For me, Rabbi Kelemer’s passing feels like more than a personal and communal tragedy; klal yisrael and the whole world has been exiled from a king, someone who deeply loved (and was loved by) every single person he encountered, no matter where they came from, Jew or gentile. He will surely be remembered for blessings, and I hope and daven that we share from his teachings, both in Torah and in kindness. Hoping for much better news in the future. Yehi zichro baruch.