The funeral procession of Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman.
(photo credit: JEREMY SHARON)
There are many bright souls in our world, but few shone brighter than that of HaGaon HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman.
I wept upon learning of the death of this righteous, learned, compassionate, holy man.
Up until his death at age 104, Rav Shteinman was an indefatigable leader of the Jewish people, unendingly advocating for increased Jewish education of Torah and halacha. As a rosh yeshiva, the Rav ensured that thousands of Jewish youth were able to fully connect with their Jewish heritage and with God’s laws. He helped to preserve our people.
Following the death of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in 2012, Rav Shteinman was widely regarded as the Gadol HaDor, or leader of the generation, of the Lithuanian, non-hassidic Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world. He was known for his modest lifestyle, living without wealth or comfort, and his fervid work to eradicate the sin of gossip.
Simply put, Rav Shteinman was a tzadik.
Many leaders – both Jewish and not – seem unable to stay away from scandal; there are brazen conflicts of interest, bribery and corruption. But Rav Shteinman, z’l was an exception. He was completely selfless, dedicating himself wholly to the Jewish people. He lived in a small, cramped apartment and worked to improve the lives of others rather than that of himself. You will not find his name on any buildings, but you will find his soul in the actions and thoughts of all those whom he taught and helped – especially through education.
“A person must strengthen himself in learning halacha every day, because the yetzer hara (evil inclination) comes every day,” he said.
“Countless times each day the yetzer hara tried to pull a person away from HaShem, and the only antidote is to strengthen limud (learning) Torah and limud halacha,” said Rav Shteinman.
He also recognized study as a Kiddush Hashem (to sanctify God’s name). Not only does study benefit the learner, but it also sanctifies God’s name.
“Torah is the greatest manifestation of shira (song) to Hashem in the world,” Rav Shteinman said in 2008 at Torah organization Dirshu’s 10th anniversary celebration.
“Nevertheless, every new understanding that a Jew gains into the greatness of Hashem requires a new, higher level of shira, a higher level of thanks to HaShem.”
Without the continued work of Rav Shteinman and men like him, organizations like Dirshu would not exist. For these reasons, it was such an honor when the Rav spoke at a Dirshu gathering in Israel to more than 850 students who were preparing to continue their education, moving from yeshiva ketana (Jewish religious education) to yeshiva gedolah (higher instruction in Jewish learning), a more rigorous and mature education.
“Every young man must understand that, before each new stage in his life, he faces something akin to a Yom HaDin, a Day of Judgment,” Rav Shteinman told the students. “He requires such rachamei shamayim (divine mercy) to succeed. Now that all of you are entering a new stage in your lives, progressing from yeshiva ketana to yeshiva gedola, you need to intensely pray for success and growth.”
Although I was not at the time celebrating my ascension to yeshiva gedola, these words touched and inspired me. It is all too easy to move too quickly, without appreciating all that HaShem has done for us. But we must always remember that our successes only come after our devotion to HaShem.
As Rav Shteinman’s holy, eternal soul moves into Olam Haba (the world to come) I know his soul will remain as in its lifetime, totally devoted to the Jewish people and a righteous interceder on our behalf.
I pray that we will all strive to live more like Rav Shteinman and continue his work.The author is the leader of Dirshu, the largest Torah organization in the world.