Today, 20 Kislev marks the 25th Yahrzeit of one of the towering architects of post-war Jewry, The Chaim Berlin Rosh HaYeshiva and author of Pachad Yitzchok, Rav Yitzchok Hutner Z”TL.
Rav Hutner practiced kiruv and inclusivety before they were catchwords and slogans. He created an ambience in Chaim Berlin whereby one gets ahead by yearning and striving in Torah and Avodah (service) irrespective of yichus (pedigree) or background. He opened the tent wide, welcoming boys from limited backgrounds and refugees from post-Holocaust Europe, the former Soviet Union, Iran and anti-Semite buffeted France.
There has been much talk on the blog regarding individuality. All of us can learn from Rav Hutner’s disdain for cookie cutter approaches to education. With Rav Hutner, everyone was treated as a unique individual requiring customized chinuch and approaches in order to grow and realize their potential.
Before we had the nomenclature for what we call Kiruv today he was doing it and, leading by example, teaching his students to do it. He set the tone for the Kiruv movement by declaring “im totsee yokor mizolal” (extracting treasures from the devalued) as being the calling for this generation of Torah educators and by grappling with the tension of post war Yeshivas evolving into both elitist and populist institutions.
His students included many of the pioneers of the modern day kiruv movement including Rav Shlomo Freifeld, Rav Yaakov Weinberg and Rav Nota Schiller.
Rav Hutner’s “Torah” achieves that elusive goal of the Ba’al T’shuva. It is at once and by turns, authentic-with perfect fidelity to the Mesorah-yet unique and revolutionary, it reforms by reaffirming.
Rav Hutner taught that Tsadik (one who never sinned) and Ba’al T’shuva (one who did but repaired) are not mere archetypes describing separate categories of individuals. They are characteristics and middos within each and every one of us. This is unquestionably a message relevant to BTs and FFBs alike.
(Adapted from a essay written by a student in Chaim Berlin)