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Book of Life

Eytan Kobre

"Promising” doesn’t begin to capture the trajectory of Eitam Henkin’s Hy”d, nascent career in Torah; “destined for greatness” is more like it. The loss, and the memories.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

book

Here he was coming from a yishuv called Dolev, and I'm a yeshivahman from Lakewood. We were from such vastly different parts of the Jewish world, yet he made sure we were immediately in the same world.

Lakewood yungerman Rabbi Daniel Osher Kleinman was on a mission to retrieve the Torah of great American posek Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, when he discovered that across the ocean, Rav Henkin’s great-grandson, a promising young dati-leumi Torah scholar, was equally eager to restore his zeide’s neglected legacy. But the bond of friendship they formed was severed last Succos in a hail of bullets on a darkened road.

Everything he touched, he was able to master. With Rabbi Eitam Henkin's murder, Rabbi Kleinman lost an invaluable partner and precious chaver.

It was the day after Succos, a time when most people are readjusting to life as usual after a busy, simchah-filled Yom Tov. But not Rabbi Daniel Kleinman. What had begun as zeman simchaseinu had midway through turned suddenly dark and foreboding, and now, on Isru Chag, as he boarded a plane in New York, he was still dazed, crying silently within. 

He was bound for Jerusalem, focused on visiting just one home there, the one in which the families of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin Hy”d sat mourning their loved ones. Hate-crazed murderers had viciously ripped husband and wife from their four young children — from life itself — on the third night of Chol Hamoed. 

As the day he spent at the shivah wore on, Reb Daniel saw the elaborate, multi-hued tapestry of his dear friend’s life unfold before him. Here was Reb Eitam’s brother Yagil, a military historian, and here was Rabbi Yechiel Sternberg, editor of a respected Torah journal, who’d come to say that Reb Eitam’s writings for it were those of a seasoned elder scholar. The room filled with Jews from all sectors, from all facets of Eitam Henkin’s achievement-filled life, who had come to speak of his sweetness, his dedication, his brilliance.

Three years ago, an article in these pages described the efforts of a young Lakewood talmid chacham, Rabbi Daniel Osher Kleinman, to reclaim for the Torah world the lost halachic writings of Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin ztz”l. Rav Henkin was one of 20th century America’s towering poskim, whom Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv called the “Mara D’asra of America.” With two volumes now in print and several more yet to come, Rabbi Kleinman’s mission is an ongoing tale of miraculous finds and disappointing dead ends, and ultimately, the redemption of a precious Torah legacy from musty basements and little-known archives around the world. 

One of the story’s most inspiring, yet little-known, chapters is the close friendship that blossomed between Reb Daniel, who now serves as the rav of K’hal Nachlas Dovid in Brooklyn, and Reb Eitam Henkin, a great-grandson of Rav Henkin. The two forged a deep bond built upon their shared love for Rav Henkin and his brilliant Torah, and Rabbi Kleinman’s quest to find and publish Rav Henkin’s writings merged with that of the gadol’s own einekel. 

Last Chol Hamoed Succos, that brief chapter, so full of promise, came to a sudden end on a lonely road near Elon Moreh, its last lines written in blood. Driving home from a Simchas Beis Hashoeivah, Reb Eitam and his wife Naama were cut down in a hail of bullets, as their four young sons in the back seat looked on in horror.

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