Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) leaders, passed away yesterday at the age of 100. I remember after the great Rabbi Steinman passed away (at the age of 103), a meeting was held in which Rabbi Edelstein was supposed to give his first address as Rabbi Steinman's successor. There was enormous anticipation as to what Rabbi Edelstein's goals and mission would be.
In his usual manner, he unfolded a small piece of paper and proceeded to give his list of priorities. He said we needed to fight our enemies but did not mention politics or laws before the Knesset. Instead, he saw the utmost urgency in curbing anger, eliminating lashon hara (insulting speech) and envy, and increasing acts of kindness. The audience was surprised, although whoever was acquainted with Rabbi Edelstein knew that his primary goal for all of us was to improve our character traits. Our enemies, first and foremost, are not external but lie within. And with those enemies he did battle for a hundred years.
The man who was born in Lithuania in 1923 was present for all of the high and low moments of the last century. He saw regimes rise and fall, witnessed how nations were swept up by communism, Nazism, and fascism before these ideologies were swept away. He was there for the outbreak of a world war and saw the nation of Israel return to its land. His era was one of profound cultural changes and technological advances. So what about him? He remained bent over the Gemara, passing down the Torah from one generation to the next. He learned and taught, counseled and reassured, answered and guided. A hundred years of steadiness and pleasantness.
The feeling I had whenever I saw him was that here was a piece of eternity, an ambassador from the revelation at Mount Sinai living among us, yet he would not have wanted such a grandiose eulogy. He would simply tell us to do good things, however small and without any pressure, in his name. To be more conciliatory, to learn something every day that would strengthen and improve us, to give a little more respect to family members and friends. The man who was called "leader of the haredi public" reminded us that a person, first of all, must know how to be a leader to himself.
In his memory.