I remember asking you, a few years ago, if you liked being famous. With your characteristic wit, you replied: "No, I'd much prefer chocolate." I also recall how a dear friend once asked you, "how it feels to be so wise?" With such humility, you responded: "I don't know - but when I get there, I'll let you know."Rabbi Allouche on Rabbi Steinsaltz
Dear Rav Adin,
I wonder how you reacted this week, from your heavenly abode, as you witnessed thousands of people — presidents, prime ministers, Nobel prize laureates, world-scientists, acclaimed entertainers, and simple folks like me — eulogize your superhuman life-achievements.
Some addressed your genius and how you were the “Rashi” of our generation who made the canon of the Jewish library accessible to all. Others spoke about the schools that you established and the many students that you groomed with unconditional love and dedication. And some others described your extensive travels across the world to reach as many people as you could and “infect” them with a yearning to know, a thirst to grow, and a duty to glow.
As you heard them all, you must have cringed. After all, you loathed honor and fame.
I remember asking you, a few years ago, if you liked being famous. With your characteristic wit, you replied: “No, I’d much prefer chocolate.” I also recall how a dear friend once asked you, “how it feels to be so wise?” With such humility, you responded: “I don’t know – but when I get there, I’ll let you know.” And, in yet another instance, I asked you if you ever read what people write about you in newspapers. “Why should I?” you retorted. “If their opinion is true – I probably know it already; and if not, why read a lie?” It was thus no wonder to me that you did not want anyone to recite any eulogies during your funeral last Friday, as I learned this past week.
The words “pretentiousness” and “haughtiness” never belonged to your life’s dictionary. Once, you even gave a piercing analogy for all those who possess those traits. “I once saw a peacock without feathers,” you said. “It looks like an ugly chicken. Sadly, I know a lot of people like that…”
Still, we mourn your passing greatly. The world seems so dim as if a good portion of light and joy has been sucked out of its streets and alleys. The void you left us is immeasurable. And the pain we sense is profound.
The words of the prophet (Lamentations 1:16) are left ringing in our ears: “My eyes, my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.” You were our solid rock on whom we relied, our beloved mentor on whom we depended. Oy, we miss you so…
Yet, amidst the tears drenched with countless memories, your gentle voice emerges with a whisper: “Pinny, stop crying. It’s enough. And it does no good. It’s time to act.”
This evoked a precious memory from my teen years, when you called me aside after noticing my despondence, to tell me that I should “stop feeling so much.” “Remember,” you said, “only your mother truly cares about your feelings, but seven billion people will care about your actions – so focus more on your good deeds, each and every day.”
Of course, you weren’t just preaching. You were a living embodiment of those words. In our 30+ year relationship, I don’t ever recall seeing you inactive. During one of your visits to our community in Arizona, you confessed to me that, like Socrates, you saw yourself as a “gadfly” that keeps buzzing to keep yourself and others awake, vigilant, and geared toward more and more action.
You also rarely slept. I would oftentimes call your office at 3am, to seek your advice on life’s many questions, and you were always there working into the wee hours of the morning, answering me with patience and care.
Yesterday, your sister-in-law in Los Angeles reached out to me, and we remembered when you came to her daughter’s wedding a few years ago. As you entered the hall, she asked you, with great excitement: “Adin, how are you feeling?” To which you countered: “Feel? Who has time to feel…”
In 2010, we traveled together to San Francisco, where you expressed the same idea. After one of your lectures at the local JCC, a lady stood up and asked you: “But Rabbi, how can I feel to G-d? How can I come close to G-d?” Your answer was epic: “You are asking two separate questions. If you want to feel G-d, possibly a few milligrams of LSD will help you… But if you want to come close to G-d, you have 613 ways of doing so (referring to the 613 commandments of the Torah.) So pick one, and do it.”
And so, I promise you, my beloved Rav Adin, that I will throw myself into doing all that I can, to further your mission, to “let my people know,” as was your slogan, and to “infect” more and more people so that we, together with them, grow and grow and grow, and make our world a better place, each in our own day.
I just beg you: as you so deeply cared for all of us, here below, please continue to so deeply care for us, there above. And as you so selflessly dedicated yourself to guiding us, here below, please continue to guide us, at every step of our lives, there above. And as you so fervently prayed for us here below, please do the same, there above. Cry out to G-d on our behalf. Shake the heavens. Beseech God to bring healing to our land, deliverance to our people, and redemption to our world. For, as you would so often said, “the time has come!”
Finally, Rav Adin, in case I did not say it enough during your lifetime, know that… “Ani kol kach ohev otcha.” I love you so. From the depths of my soul. Today. Tomorrow. And forever.
With endless gratitude for thirty years of bringing your heaven down to my earth,
Your student, Pinny