For even if we couldn’t explain it, we felt that as long as he was with us, even in failing health, the Torah was also with us. But now the crown of Torah has been removed. The shield that has protected us, as a community and as a people, is gone.
A stranger to our society cannot understand this feeling; it belongs to us alone. A stranger would not understand the masses of people who came to escort Rav Elyashiv on his final journey, masses who never spent even a moment in his presence, yet felt that some part of them has been ripped away and taken to its eternal rest.
Gallons of ink will yet flow about his unmatched hasmadah, about his clarity in issuing halachic rulings. Those who were privileged enough to be close to him will write about his greatness. I did not have the privilege of witnessing any of these things.
But one incident, a tiny anecdote through which we can glean an idea of the inner power that gave rise to this incredible giant of Torah, shoots to the surface of my memory.
I was conversing at a wedding with the chief psychologist of the Israeli Air Force, who had become religious shortly before this wedding, when Rav Elyashiv entered the hall. The rabbanim’s table was still empty, and Rav Elyashiv sat there by himself.
My psychologist friend interrupted our conversation and turned his head toward Rav Elyashiv. He gazed at him for a few long minutes, studying him with intense focus. Suddenly, he turned to me and asked, “Who is that?”
“That’s Rav Elyashiv,” I replied. “Why are you looking at him so intently?”
The experienced psychologist told me, “I am focusing on his radiant face, and I see such perfect self-control. In my entire life, I have never met a man with such incredible self-control.”
At that moment, I felt that I gained some understanding of the secret of Rav Elyashiv. I had caught a glimpse of the power within him that had carried him to such incredible heights of Torah greatness.
His daily schedule, which, through iron self-control, went virtually unchanged throughout his entire life, and the regularity that resulted from his own consistency, were the keys to his awesome greatness.
When Rav Elyashiv was already well into his nineties, a minister in the Israeli government came to speak to him about a burning issue. That night, Rav Elyashiv rose half an hour before his usual time. The grandson who spent the night with him asked, “Saba, why are you getting up? You have another half hour to sleep.”
“So-and-so took half an hour of my learning time,” Rav Elyashiv replied.
So precise was his schedule that every half-hour was accounted for, and if it was “stolen,” he repaid it – at the cost of his already minimal sleep. And that was the utter perfection that my friend the air-force psychologist was able to perceive from afar.
We are engaged today in a struggle for the future of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. When those who seek to belittle it (“What are you studying there so much?”) fail to understand that it is far more than the study of a profession, they would do well to take some time to examine the phenomenon that has just left the world. Let them see what Torah can do to a person. From the day he was born, Rav Elyashiv never involved himself in anything other than the Torah. Every day and every night was Torah. He learned for twenty hours a day, day after day, month after month, and year after year, for ninety years. Ninety years of pure, unadulterated Torah study, without any “core curriculums.” He never sought anything for himself, and still all of chareidi Jewry hung on to every word that came out of his mouth.
This was the greatness that the Torah produced before all of our eyes, and we looked at this giant among men in wonder. The Tana says in Pirkei Avos, “Anyone who engages in Torah study for its own sake will earn many things.… It makes him great and it elevates him over all other creations.” As Tiferes Yisrael explains, this means that the Torah “makes him great” by giving him great political power and influence, and it “elevates him” by increasing the power of his soul, “over all other creations” — over everything else under the sun.
And now we are left with only our tears, knowing that the void he has left behind can never be filled.