(Photo: Howie Mischel)
Rabbi Chanan Porat: An Eretz Yisrael Torah Scholar
BY RABBI SHLOMO AVINER
Because of the great humility of my beloved friend Rabbi Chanan Porat zt”l, because of his simple clothing and his lack of airs, many did not realize that a true Torah scholar stood before them, one of the most brilliant students who flourished at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav. And they certainly didn’t realize that was ordained as a rabbi! Rav Chanan did not desire to make the Torah “a spade with which to dig”, but rather made himself into a spade to dig into the depths of Israel’s soul. All who knew him cannot but admit that this noble Jew lived what he preached.
This brave paratrooper was chosen by Divine Providence to be among the fighters of the Six-Day War and the liberators of Jerusalem, for he understood that the inner holiness of the nation is the supreme guarantee of its existence. But the Land of Israel must not only be conquered but also settled, and so he left the beit midrash and was moser nefesh to reestablish Kfar Etzion. More precisely, he invested his nefesh, his soul, his spiritual and Torah life, in the settlement of the land.
He also literally gave his body and life to his people. In the Yom Kippur War, he was very seriously wounded on the southern front, and was saved only by the grace of G-d. When he recovered he became one of the founders of Gush Emunim and the settlements in Yehudah and Shomron.
But he was not only interested in the Torah and the Land; he was also interested in people. Through his Gesher seminars he brought together religious and so-called “secular” Jews; though in truth, no Jew is truly secular, for every Jew has a holy soul.
These three passions of Rav Chanan are not really separate matters. Rav Chanan liked to talk about a discussion he and his friends once had at Merkaz HaRav. “What is more important – the Torah, the people or the land?” They turned to Rav Tzvi Yehudah with this question, who replied with a smile: “We are concerned with shleimut, with wholeness.” This was Rav Chanan’s guiding principle, that everything is one. And so even as he was very busy with his public activities, Rav Chanan did not stop studying and teaching Torah. In particular, he illuminated paths for those in search of faith; his book אַחַי אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ, “In Search of my Brothers”, clarifies the deepest foundations of our faith in a language and style that find a way to the hearts and minds of all thinking people.
But Rav Chanan’s greatest sacrifice for Am Yisrael was his decision to enter the Knesset. That difficult and dark place can wear down even the noblest people! But though he spent many years in that complicated maze, he remained holy and pure, never falling in love with his position. Indeed, he twice resigned his seat in the Knesset to allow others to take his place. Rav Chanan served in the Knesset for the sake of Heaven, working tirelessly for the people of Israel in whatever way he could.
After retiring from politics, he was one of the founders of Herzog College, teaching there, at Yeshivat Beit Orot, Machon Meir and many other yeshivot. That is when it became clear to all that he was truly a great and profound Torah scholar. He also humbly edited a Torah newsletter, מְעַט מִן הָאוֹר, “A Little of the Light” [later published as a popular set of books on the weekly parasha], a work that contains much light – though it is not a blinding light, but rather a gentle and illuminating light.
What did Rav Chanan not do? He had a regular radio show on Galei Yisrael Radio, and was one of the founders and heads of the Orot HaChessed association that provides food and electrical products and clothes to the underprivileged.
He was the epitome of the “Eretz Yisrael Torah scholar”, a man of redemption whose spirit pulsates among us and in all our works, and will illuminate them forever.
“We must always look ahead.” “What can I do to bring new spiritual strength to the nation?” “How can we ensure the light of our people will not dim?” These thoughts never left Rav Chanan. Indeed, Torah scholars have no rest, neither in this world nor in the next.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the Nasi of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim (formerly known as Ateret Cohanim) in Jerusalem, former rabbi of Bet El and one of Religious Zionism’s leading thinkers.