My beloved teacher Rabbi Dovid Silver, who taught me Talmud when I was before bar mitzva age, passed away last week. He lived a long and productive life and in his latter years was a well known and respected neighbor in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bayit Vegan. I loved Rabbi Silver because he loved me.
One often gives credit to the great teachers that one is privileged to have in high school or college. I was fortunate to have many great teachers in the 11 years I spent in yeshiva. They taught me about Jews and Judaism (the two are not synonymous) about Torah and Talmud and about life and its vicissitudes. I am eternally indebted to them for their guidance and efforts on my behalf.
But one oftentimes thereby neglects the appreciation that one owes to those who taught him when he was yet a child. Rabbi Silver taught me hat'halat Gemara - the beginnings of the study of Talmud, the simple (nothing about Talmud is really simple) ABCs of how to start to navigate through the sea of the Talmud. But he did it with so much care and love and concern for my welfare that well over a half century later I cannot open a volume of the Talmud without feeling his warm presence and concern for me hovering over the book.
Other rabbis in the yeshiva took the limelight and were well known in the Jewish world. He was a great scholar but a self-effacing personality. All of the hundreds of students he taught how to embark upon talmudic studies owe him a great debt of appreciation and gratitude. Unfortunately, not all of us do so when the person is still alive.
It is said that the great Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, one of the most creative teachers of Torah and Talmud over the past few centuries, would rise to honor the teacher who taught him alef bet. He stated that though he had many great teachers, his alef-bet teacher taught him pure truth - an alef has always remained an alef and a bet has always remained a bet - while he came to realize that much that he was taught later in intricate interpretations of the Talmud was not always true and hence was subject to revision and modification.
I came to realize after many years of study that Rabbi Dovid Silver taught me truth. The rules and ideas of the Talmud he explained so nobly and simply, the complicated issues he so deftly and effortlessly guided me through, all of this has retained its simple truth. Only later in life did I realize the exactitude of his teachings and the depth of his explanations that appeared to me as a child to be so simple and direct. He was a master teacher and many of the fine Torah scholars of our generation were fortunate enough to pass through his class and hands.
Rabbi Silver was a warm human being. He had an infectious smile that was always there. The difference between a teacher who smiles and one who scowls and frowns is enormous, especially to students in their young and formative years. And Rabbi Silver remained a friend, a trusted confidant and adviser to his students when they matured and left the yeshiva to pursue their careers. I knew that he was always there for me in all of my various positions in the Jewish life.
He was an outstanding ba'al koreh - a public reader of the Torah. It was not only his powerful voice and his exactitude in reading the words and notes of the Torah that made him so. It was the sweetness of Torah that flowed from him as he read from the scroll. I remember that I almost looked forward to the fast days that we commemorated in the yeshiva, for on those days Rabbi Silver would be the reader of the Torah. When King Solomon stated that "honey and myrrh are on your tongue," he certainly could have had Rabbi Silver's Torah reading in mind.
With his passing, as far as I can reckon, all of my generation of teachers in the yeshiva are gone. I am therefore lonely in a way that I have not known before. King Solomon also said: "A generation must leave and a new generation comes." But the influence and memory of the generation that goes is unending. Rabbi Dovid Silver, of blessed memory, proves that point beyond dispute.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator. www.rabbiwein.com