Although I met the Rebbetzin (and her predecessor Rebbetzin Jackie Wein) only very briefly, I was deeply impressed. All the more so given the difficulty of being a zivug sheni (Second marriage spouse). I hope that Rav Wein will take solace in knowing how much he means not only to his family, his direct talmidim and congregants, regular readers of his columns, books and essays, listeners to his shiurim, tapes, and lectures, but to many thousands of others who see him as a unique and special voice that represents -- more than anything else -- "common sense" (in Hebrew -- sechel hayashar) in the Torah world. This quality is one that to this writer seems to have grown increasingly rare, in inverse proportion to the sheer vast amount of knowledge that is growing ever more prevalent.
This may seem counter-intuitive. After all, clearly, the quantity, and even quantity, of learning and knowledge available in our world is unprecedented and growing at exponential levels. In the secular world, the openness of society and tools such as the internet have made incredible amounts of knowledge available and useful to untold millions the world over, knowledge previously available -- if at all -- only to academics and experts. Young children are knowledgeable about matters that seasoned adults could not fathom a generation ago; students have unbelievable resources with which to challenge their mentors.
In the Torah world, as well, although in many quarters the use of modern information technology is frowned upon, the amount and quality of learning is at levels not heard of for millennia. While in our parent's generation there were less than two thousand yeshiva students in the entire world, there are now several Yeshivas that alone boast more than twice that amount; the total number of full time learners is closing in on 100,000. The tens of thousands making a Siyum on Shas, the explosion of seforim being published, the unbelievable assortment of thousands of shiurim available for and by men and women of the highest levels of learning and scholarship, simply boggles the mind.
The primary reason that a person can attain great vast amounts of knowledge -- even Torah knowledge -- and yet not exhibit wisdom is that they lack one crucial ingredient -- common sense.
And yet -- something is missing. Without going into any specifics here, I am not alone in bemoaning that with all of this incredible knowledge, we are still too often confronted by far too many instances of statements of questionable wisdom, even as expounded by very informed individuals. Although this is certainly not true of most of Jewish leadership, on some extreme occasions I am reminded of the Even Ezra quote I heard from Rav Wein regarding the phenomenon of a chamor noseh seforim (a donkey carrying books) -- a reference to someone with a great deal of knowledge, who remains -- a donkey. I would venture that the primary reason that a person can attain great vast amounts of knowledge -- even Torah knowledge -- and yet not exhibit wisdom is that they lack one crucial ingredient -- common sense.
Although this sounds harsh, Victor Hugo said that in fact all too often, "common sense is in spite of, not as the result of education". All of this knowledge may, in fact, be a mixed blessing. Keeping one's moorings in the face of lightning speed shattering changes, in which values and "facts" unchallenged for millennia are being overturned, denied and uprooted, while the sheer volume data constantly streaming into our consciousness, is daunting. Add to this the incredible pressures in the Orthodox world to conform to certain views and norms, which sometimes are the result of rulings by great Sages, but all too often are based on dubious reports regarding "Daas Torah" circulated by various self-appointed activists, or by people resistant to any type of change of views or practice, no matter how innocuous or necessary, simply because "that is the way we do things". A great deal of wisdom is required to sort through all of this and to hold up the light of Truth and of the real call of our Mesorah, wisdom that is needed and all too rare.
Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls Wisdom
It is said that "Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls Wisdom" (Samuel T. Coleridge). There is certainly more to it than that, but there is no question that this quality is at the core of what we celebrate as chochmah. It is an exceptional quality, in addition to saintliness, erudition, diligence, and incredible concern for others, that a special few of our greatest Gedolim had in abundance. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, Rav Mordechai Eliahu and the Pnei Menachem of Ger, were examples par excellence of this quality. I daresay that the outpouring of grief and sadness at the very recent passing of Rav Shteinman zt"l was not so much because of the tragedy of his passing -- we did have the incredible gift of having him fully with us with all of his faculties intact until the age of 104, what more could one ask? -- but rather due to the fact that he possessed this quality of common sense wisdom, which is so often lacking. It is this wisdom, which as Emerson put it: "Common sense in genius dressed in its working clothes", that we need so much, and which Rav Wein has been a grand source of for all these years.
As a Rav and Rosh Yeshiva and lehavdil as an attorney, historian and astute observer of world events, Rav Wein has accumulated a great deal of yedios and bekius in Torah and much knowledge regarding the world and the highs and lows of human foibles. But it his "common sense" wisdom that comes through in all of his amazing teaching and accomplishments, inspiring us to look beyond the often foolish and small minded statements and issues that so many get caught up with, to focus on the ultimate issues that matter, and to strive to make a positive difference in the world. To enjoy and celebrate the beauty that Hashem has so bountifully placed in this world; to know and appreciate the timely lessons and wisdom that we should draw from knowing our history and the lives of great people; to recognize the good in ALL sections of the Jewish world -- these are some lessons that Rav Wein has taught me and so many others, and which has given us the chizuk to continue striving for sanity in this often crazy world.
May Rav Wein find comfort among the mourners of Zion, mourners who were so often inspired by him to appreciate what mourning for Zion truly means.