I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Rabbi Mickey Rosen.
Rabbi Rosen was the founder of Yakar, an institution that was one of the influences that helped me fall in love with living in Jerusalem. When I first arrived in Jerusalem in the summer of 2000, Yakar was THE in place for the "observant hip Anglo" crowd. Rabbis like David Hartman, Danny Gordis, Levi Lauer, were all regulars. It was the first of the many "Carlebach minyans" in the English speaking regions of south Jerusalem. The Friday night service, with a room packed with hundreds of people singing Carlebach tunes in harmony, moved my soul in a way nothing else had until then. The focus of Yakar was, and is, learning. On Saturday morning, they take a break in the middle of the service, after the Torah reading and before Musaf, and break into a couple of different groups to study the weekly Torah reading — to study, not just to sit and listen to a sermon. It’s a great model.
I was in Jerusalem to study at Machon Schechter in the summer of 2000. We arrived in the summer, but classes didn’t start until after the High Holidays. So I started out by studying in the month of Elul program at Yakar, where I had the zchut to study with Rav Mickey. A couple of times a week for the month of Elul, we studied Rambam’s (Maimonides) famous teachings about teshuva, repentance. Rambam teaches that repentance involves first admitting to the sin, fixing any damage you did, and then asking for forgiveness from the other person. Rav Mickey’s central thesis — which I very much agree with, and which has stayed with me 8 years later — was that Rambam’s model is inadequate. It doesn’t go far enough. If your spiritual preparations for the High Holidays consists of doing teshuvah ala Rambam, all you do is fix bad stuff you did, but you have not made any real improvement in yourself. I wasn’t very familar with the teachings of Mussar at the time, but he was really teaching us a very Mussar lesson — that you need to work on improving your middot, your character traits, not just fixing any damage you had done.
Mickey had certainly done his work on his character traits. He created an institution that in many ways was at the forefront of a whole movement of liberal Orthodox institutions in Jerusalem. He was a dedicated campaigner for peace and human rights. He challenged people to think, to learn, to grow, and to be decent and moral.
On the one hand, the amount of Torah going forth from Zion — coming out of Jerusalem — is diminished with the passing of Rabbi Mickey Rosen. On the other hand, the amount of Torah coming from his students and those whose lives he touched continues to grow, and is the greatest legacy a rabbi could hope for.
May his memory be a blessing, and may his family, friends, and students take comfort in knowing the world is better place for his having been with us.