Rarely does an individual make a profound impact on their generation. Especially as a teacher in modern times.
Knowledge, as opposed to information, is not highly sought after in this digital age. Yet the world which we inhabit is desperately in need of it.
One individual almost single handedly sought to change that. I refer to Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) who passed away last week in Jerusalem at the age of 83.
He was a towering scholar, he wrote more then 60 books, but his most outstanding achievement was his monumental translation and distillation of the Talmud.
He dedicated his entire life, in his words, to “let my people know”. He distilled both the complex world of the Talmud and the profound wisdom of Kabbalah in uniquely simple form. Never have these ancient text been as accessible to the masses.
His ability to process, internalise and distill complex subjects was staggering. His breadth and depth of understanding was unique.
He was one of the greatest scholars of our time. He was also a fearless leader. He spoke his mind, notwithstanding the repercussions. He challenged the status quo, whoever the audience. He lived to share the wisdom of Torah with all mankind.
At an award ceremony in Paris in the presence of President François Mitterrand, Rabbi Steinsaltz concluded his acceptance speech by saying “Paris is a beautiful city, I bless you all that one day she will be as beautiful as Jerusalem”.
I had the privilege of leading many leadership development trips to Israel for groups of young adults. We met a wide range of prominent inspirational leaders from government, military, business and the spiritual worlds.
The highlight of the trip for most of our groups, was a spontaneous interactive discussion we were were privileged to have with Rabbi Steinsaltz, on Saturday afternoon, at the Chabad Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Many dazzling insights were exchanged between this wise man and a wide range of international successful young professionals and entrepreneurs. He listened attentively to each of their questions. His answers were simple and direct. Always challenging and inspiring.
At one point someone asked a seemingly innocent question about Jerusalem. His response was an eye opener for all of us, one which we will never forget.
Rabbi Steinsaltz remarked simply, “your question should not be, what ‘you’ think of ‘Jerusalem’, but, what does ‘Jerusalem’ think of ‘you’.
Many years later, and that comment continues to profoundly challenge all those present. This was no simple response. It was a paradigm shift.
The problem with most of us today is that we place ourselves at the centre of the universe, trying to slot everything neatly into our lives. The world must revolve around our own reality, replete with all our ulterior motives.
Rabbi Steinsaltz sought to challenge the world to reverse that centre of gravity. We are not at the centre of the world. Jerusalem is the epicentre of the universe and the world must revolve around it. In the same way that the Torah is at the centre of the universe, and all of us must strive to align ourselves with its timeless wisdom.
No doubt, His teachings and inspiration will continue to reverberate throughout the world.