I would like to say a few words in memory of Rav Yehudah Amital, master educator and founding Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, where I studied for a number of years.
Much can and will be written about Rav Amital who succeeded in living a life of apparent contradictions, largely because he did not consider them to be contradictory at all.
- A Holocaust survivor, he was an eternal optimist.
- A student of Rav Kook and founder of Yeshivat Har Eztion in the West Bank, he was a political moderate.
- A staunch traditionalist in the Talmudic mode, he was open to modern movements and spearheaded contemporary Bible study from a literary perspective in the Orthodox world.
- Having succeeded as an Israeli educator he founded of a yeshiva in the Judean Hills in the wake of the Six-day War. Soon after, he invited an American to join him at the helm of the yeshiva where the two different personalities worked harmoniously to build one of the most significant Hesder Yeshivot in Israel.
While others have already been writing about his life and work, I would like to share a story that I heard him tell about himself as an educator:
Once, when his daughter was in fourth grade, Rav Amital was asked by her teacher to speak to the class. Rav Amital, described how he was unsure what to do, as he had no experience in elementary school education. So he entered the room and asked a simple question:
What do you find is the most difficult mitzvah to fulfill?
The girls in the class enthusiastically raised their hands and made suggestions. After a time they agreed that the most "difficult mitzvah" was how to deal with a situation where they were on a tiyul – a hike – and there was no water with which to wash their hands before eating their sandwiches.
Rav Amital agreed that that was, indeed, a difficult situation, and then proceeded to tell the girls what he found to be the most difficult mitzvah to keep.
"Sometimes," he said, "I am in a group and everyone is talking. I hear someone say something and I know that I have a really good response. If I say it, everyone will think that I am really sharp, and will laugh at the other person. But I hold myself back and don't say it, since it will embarrass him."
The girls' looked at him. "But that isn't a mitzvah!" they said.
"But it is," Rav Amital responded. "A very difficult one."
יהי זכרו ברוך