From time to time - all too infrequently it seems - a great personality rises in our midst and impacts a generation. The kind of person with the capacity to enrich our lives, touch our souls and forever lift our spirits. The past thirteen years brought such a rare individual into the life of our community.
As Rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, it is fair to say that Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb forever changed the face of Baltimore's Jewish community. His work also resonated throughout the Jewish world, leading him to a position of even greater influence for Klal Yisroel.
In Baltimore, Rabbi Weinreb shaped a community in his own unique image, which will serve as a precious and enduring legacy for all that he preached. The lessons that he taught are well worth noting.
First and foremost, Rabbi Weinreb taught that Torah must be the foundation of a Jewish life. With an unwavering personal commitment to the truth and centrality of Torah, he demonstrated that Torah is not merely a text to be studied, but a Toras Chaim, a "living Torah," with relevance, value and application to every aspect of life. "We must study Torah," Rabbi Weinreb urged, "in a way that is meaningful, and which affects our lives, in a way where we do not just go through the Torah, but where the Torah goes through us."
His personal example undoubtedly helped many confront the challenges of a Torah Jew in modern society. Rabbi Weinreb urged people to take pride in that role and to be an Ohr LaGoyim, "a light unto the Nations." He demonstrated that one who is sincere in his purpose will be secure in his ways. As one congregant put it, "Rabbi Weinreb can stare the modern world in the eye without blinking because of how firmly he is rooted in our tradition."
Indeed, the depth of Rabbi Weinreb's scholarship and the breadth of his knowledge are together virtually unparalleled. Deeply immersed in the traditional sources and teachings of the Torah world and committed to spreading those timeless gems, Rabbi Weinreb never hesitated to draw from the works of a Greek philosopher, a German theologian, an American patriot, a Protestant poet, a Catholic priest, or a contemporary intellectual when appropriate to more effectively make a point.
These teachings framed an important message that one but had to appreciate listening regularly to this marvelous man: that wisdom can be found in so many different places, and that no person, party or segment of society has a monopoly on virtue. For Rabbi Weinreb, there was no uniform model with which to pursue G-d.
Rabbi Weinreb demonstrated that guidance can be drawn from every aspect of life. Even on the evening of September 11, 2001, Rabbi Weinreb mined from the acts of evil itself a lesson in commitment to a cause. Certainly every Jew, he understood, has something to offer.
Truly, Rabbi Weinreb's respect for all of his fellow Jews (and non-Jews as well) is one of a kind. Rabbi Weinreb taught the concept of Ahavas Yisroel in the most effective way, preaching it not only in his words but in every aspect of his deeds. He regularly reached across all types of otherwise confounding lines to pursue peace whenever necessary.
Rabbi Weinreb also kindled in his community a passion for Eretz Yisroel, which will burn forever inside those who regularly came to hear him. He nurtured an appreciation - a basic sense of Hakaras HaTov, simple gratitude - for Medinat Yisroel, the State of Israel, and all those who defend it. Few who listened to his message will ever again take these for granted.
Most important, Rabbi Weinreb understood how great people go about changing the world. Quoting, as he loved to do, from the writings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisroel (and one of Rabbi Weinreb's personal heroes), Rabbi Weinreb once observed: "The purely righteous don't complain about evil, they just increase justice. They don't complain about atheism, they just increase faith. They don't even complain about stupidity, they just increase wisdom."
Rabbi Weinreb's unique wisdom, creativity, sensitivity, scholarship, indefatigable commitment, and sterling personal example indelibly influenced and enriched our community.
As a most eloquent and admired ambassador for Torah values, and as a living example of the finest qualities that Orthodox Judaism truly represents, it is difficult to think of any person who can more capably craft and carry to the world the important messages that Orthodox Jewry has to tell.
As the new leader of the Orthodox Union, this will be Rabbi Weinreb's mission in the years ahead. His admirers in Baltimore, all the more richer for the time that he shared with them, will watch with a wealth of personal pride as he embarks upon that task.
May his teachings be a source of inspiration and blessing for all of us.