Rabbi Feinstein and Rabbi Hutner zts"l
Rabbi Feinstein and Rabbi Hutner zts"lRudomin

Part 1: From Adam to Mount Sinai and Beyond

See previous articles: Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Legacy (Sep 20, 2022); Yom Tov With Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Sep 24, 2023); Rav Yitzchok Hutner's Yom Tov Customs (Sep 28, 2023)

Note: The following is the way I understood and applied Rav Yitzchok Hutner's words and ideas, it is not meant as a translation or definition of his works.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906–1980) produced a multi volume master work called פַחַד יִצְחָק "Pachad Yitzchok" ("Fear of Isaac" or "Isaac's Fear") meaning the way God is referred to in the Torah in Genesis 31:42 and symbolizing Rav Hutner's own first name in relation to God.

He delivered the original lectures in a classical Yiddish and then over many years he transcribed them into beautiful Seforim (books) written in poetic Hebrew. This work of brilliant Torah scholarship was based on the formal discourses known as "Ma'amarim" (discourses) that he gave to his students as the Rosh HaYeshiva in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York, USA. It is written mostly in an elegant and very complex Hebrew although there are some sections that were taken from his notes posthumously and published in Yiddish.

In truth, out of his many thousands of students over the course of his Torah teaching career spanning nearly half a century, it was only a minority that fully grasped, understood and could repeat exactly what Rav Hutner actually said and meant.

First, one needed to be a master of Yiddish and its nuances to grasp what he said and meant in the first place, and then later one had to have a high degree of fluency in reading and understanding intellectual highly advanced rabbinic Hebrew to read the finished Pachad Yitzchok works. Everyone else garnered various degrees of understanding according to their intellectual, cognitive and spiritual abilities.

Most listeners and avid students of both Rav Hutner's formal discourses as well as those who were close to him and heard him express his ideas informally gained from him and absorbed his way of thinking and his thought system which was always complicated but even if one didn't get everything he was trying to get across yet somehow his words were so attractive that just hearing them made a deep impression due to their resonant tone and its beautiful force of expression.

For his students, this experience was akin to being at Mount Sinai when Hashem spoke to the Jewish People, an experience of Kabbolas HaTorah, the transmission and acceptance of the Torah, which was electrifying and supra-rational, even scary, and somehow made a soul connection with its listeners and did something on whatever spiritual level they were at to everyone present. If this sounds too "mystical" and even far-fetched, then you never had the opportunity to be entranced by Rav Yitzchok Hutner's words of Torah and the way he delivered them and the way they were received by the listeners in his presence.

Rav Hutner's Ma'amorim were: Electrifying! Spellbinding! Enthralling! Grand! Larger than life! Magnificent! Works of art! He was a master storyteller, rabbi, Maggid (preacher), and a supreme teacher at work! A gift from Heaven! The words were originally all in Mama Loshen ("mother tongue" meaning Yiddish)! And later one needed a virtual Phd. in Hebrew Literature plus a top high Semicha to understand his written works written in a complex Hebrew seemingly inspired by Rav A.Y. Kook (1865–1935) as one famous Chaim Berliner once told me!

There was always something for everyone. The experience of attending his Torah discourses or "Ma'amorim" as they were known was like that of a vast varied audience at an elaborate multi-tiered feast. Each person present was able to absorb what his capacities allowed him to ingest and digest and then reproduce to the best of his abilities. There was always something for everyone, even if for some people it meant enjoying the singing and dancing only and latching on to some important ideas. While some may have learned volumes from every Ma'amar, others may have only garnered a few informational and intellectual morsels or crumbs but they were so vital and life giving that even from a few tiny pieces of thought derived from Rav Hutner's mind and intellect it was enough to excite and nourish them for a very long time.

Attending Rav Hutner's Ma'amorim year round and then continuing for many more years, for some it was literally a lifetime, there were general themes that emerged that were constants like axioms and premises in the vast Torah intellectual structure that Rav Hutner taught and built.

I was but a very minor person in the greater scheme of things in the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin which I attended from 1976 to 1986, but my first four years in the yeshiva coincided with Rav Hutner's last four years in this world as the Rosh HaYeshiva and I was fortunate and blessed enough to enter into Rav Hutner's world such as when I attended the Sedarim and enjoyed Pesach and Chol HaMoed in his company for four years, two years on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos when he was in America, the other two years he was away in Israel building his Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchok in Jerusalem. I enjoyed three Purim celebrations with him and a number of other times I was there when he delivered his Ma'amorim.

I was never able to fully master all of Rav Hutner's ideas and writings, that was a job for giants in Torah far greater than I am, but I was able to perceive the outlines of many central core ideas and themes that were interwoven and repeated by Rav Hutner many times over until they became beacons of guiding light in my own Torah Hashkofa (outlook).

I would like to briefly present some of Rav Hutner's foundational ideas that he constantly tried to hammer home to his listeners - his students and disciples, of course.

The first thing to know is that Rav Hutner taught about the beginning of everything in this world as starting from the first man or "Adam HaRishon" as Rav Hutner put it, (Adam, the first man created by God according to the Book of Genesis). That might seem obvious to some people, but consider the audience Rav Hutner was speaking to: Jewish boys in America coming from all sorts of homes and mostly influenced by the outside secular culture through no fault of their own.

For them to hear from someone as intellectually powerful and great in Torah and secular knowledge, as Rav Hutner was, that the start of everything begins with Adam HaRishon was not such a simple foundation to lay down and convince his listeners, many of whom were attending college at the same time that they were also coming to Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin which allowed college attendance.

Rav Hutner hammered home that there is Adam HaRishon BEFORE the Chet, meaning Adam's great condition before the sin of eating from the Etz Hada'as Tov Vara, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and that of Adam HaRishon AFTER he ate from Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Turns out this is a central point in Kabbalistic thought but the genius of Rav Hutner was that while he was undoubtedly or reputedly steeped in the Kabbalah he NEVER openly admitted to it or spoke about it, he just smoothly incorporated important points from the Kabbalah into his Ma'amorim without skipping a beat.

The greatest of his disciples would know where he was coming from, and the lesser disciples would absorb the information as coming from a Ma'amar by Rav Hutner without knowing exactly how his ideas fit exactly into a broader, let alone specific, Kabbalistic argument, school of thought or point of view.

That was only a starting point that had to be established and understood. The Torah's narrative of Creation and the creation of Adam and Eve was definitely not a fable or a poetic tale as sometimes dismissed by pure rationalists but for Rav Hutner it was crucial to know that there was an elevated Adam HaRishon before the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the downfall of Adam HaRishon after he ate from that tree that produced consequences that still resound through the ages and affects us all directly to this day and into the future and will only be stopped by the Acharis HaYomim (End of Days) and the Geulah Acharonah (Final Redemption [of the Jewish People and of the World]).

The next point was that Klal Yisroel, or as Rav Rav Hutner would often say Knesset Yisroel meaning the totality of the Jewish People came into this world to fix what Adam HaRishon had broken. When the Bnei Yisroel (Children of Israel) received the Torah at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) they reached the level of Adam HaRishon BEFORE he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

At this point Rav Hutner would love to repeat the statement of the Jewish sages: "Atem Keruyim Adam" (you [the Jewish People] are called Adam") since in a number of places, the Talmud says, “You are called Adam, but the nations of the world are not called Adam” (Yevamos 61a; Bava Metzia 114b; Kerisus 6b). The Jewish People everywhere, even the ones living in far away America are called "Adam" because they are still working on rectifying the sin of Adam HaRishon in the world at large through the practice of studying Torah and doing the Mitzvos of the Torah.

After all, the Torah is the Etz HaChaim, the Tree of Life connected to the original one in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) that Adam was banished from at the time of Creation.

Rav Hutner emphasized the tragedy of the sin of the Children of Israel after the Exodus worshipping the Golden Calf (Chet Ha'egel), the Egel HaZahav, that was the equivalent sin of Adam eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but because the Children of Israel had Moshe Rabbeinu to intervene with God and smashing the first set of Ten Commandment (Luchos Rishonos) then asking for God's mercy and forgiveness and then receiving the second set of Ten Commandments (Luchos Shniyos) when God then forgave the Bnei Yisroel for their sin.

So while Adam's sin had to wait for the Children of Israel to come and fix it and they thereby got the title of "Adam", the Children of Israel's sin of the Golden Calf was forgiven and they still retained the name of Adam but with a caveat: The rest of Jewish and world history from the time of both the Sin of the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Ten Spies (Chet Hameraglim) who slandered the Land of Israel and caused the people to cry in the Wilderness and be punished by wondering there for Forty Years:

In spite of the Sin of the "Chet HaEgel" of the Golden Calf and in spite of the "Chet HaMeraglim" the Sin of the Spies, the Jewish People lives on as the true "Adam" until the end of times to bring the Era of the Mashiach, the true Jewish Messiah and Techias HaMeisim, the Revival of the Dead, at which point events will transpire that will bring the Jewish People back to the level of Adam HaRishom before the Chet (sin) when he ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Imagine an audience of Jewish yeshiva boys in Brooklyn from all sorts of backgrounds, mostly from nice traditional "Balebatish" (laymen) but not extremely religious homes, in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s hearing this kind of elevated talk from Rav Hutner that draws from Kabbalistic masters and Torah giants such as the RAMBAN (1194–1270), MAHARAL of Prague (1512–1609), the ARI (1534–1572), the RAMCHAL (1707–1746), the GRA (1720–1797), the BAAL HATANYA (1745–1812), the SFAS EMES (1847–1905), and many other sources that Rav Hutner sometimes mentioned by name and sometimes not by name but just incorporated their ideas and beliefs into his own unique Ma'amorim, it was literally magical and spellbounding for them, as if a modern-day "Navi" (prophet) had appeared to teach them Sisrei Torah (secrets of the Torah) in Brooklyn.

This is just an extremely minute example of a tiny droplet in the vast ocean of Rav Hutner's complicated thought system.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudominwas born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at [email protected]