Eulogy by Dr. Yagil Henkin, Military Historian and Lecturer at the IDF Command and Staff College, for his brother Rabbi Eitam Henkin
I want to tell you a little bit about Eitam.
Eitam was a jokester.
I know it's surprising to say this at a funeral, and all the more so, about a rabbi and scholar who was headed for greatness, but he was a jokester, and that's a good thing. If you want to be serious, you should also be able from time to time to make fun of yourself. A rabbi who doesn't take himself too seriously is of great benefit to himself but also for others. The Torah warns us regarding a king “that his heart shall not be raised [above his brethren]”. This is the trap that awaits the rabbi too, the greater he is, the greater the trap. Eitam’s ability not to take himself too seriously, to make fun of himself and his world, was very important.
However, Eitam was also extremely serious. For years I insisted that in our family we have alternating generations: one generation of rabbis, then one of PhD's, and so on. Then came Eitam and ruined my joke since he decided to be both a rabbi and a PhD, and he excelled in both fields. He didn't write in order to be promoted, but because he couldn’t stop writing: since he had what to say and it was important for him to say it. Moreover, Eitam had the intellectual and moral integrity that a serious rabbi must have. This is the integrity needed at the moment when the rabbi wishes to reach a particular (Halakhic) conclusion; and he knows that, if he will manipulate the texts for his purposes, he can reach his desired conclusion, and perhaps even receive rounds of applause. But then, the small voice of his conscience intervenes and tells him, “But that isn't the truth.” And since he knows the truth, he sticks to it. This isn't easy, but that was Eitam’s integrity.
He was only thirty one when he was murdered; In his too few years he managed to write two halakhic works and one historical work; and if not for his murder he would have added many more books in both fields. And when that would have happened, I would have had to deal not only with people correcting me when I say “Eitam” to call him instead “Rabbi Eitam,” but with people who would have directed me to call him “Harav HaGaon Professor Eitam.” If on top of that, we were to add that he also played guitar better than me, the situation would have been dire indeed. Well, I wish these would be my problems today and not what we have to deal with today.
I am sure during the shivah [The Jewish traditional mourning period of one week after the funeral] I will hear many stories about Eitam. Some will be familiar, some will sound familiar, and some will probably fit someone else (yes, media reporters, you who moved him to a different residence, gave him an additional two children, and recruited him retroactively to an elite army unit, I am speaking also about you). At a shivah you always tell the positive stories, minus a few embarrassing events like for example a fire following which Eitam was expelled from some high school. But I don't need the shiva to know that he was the most talented of us brothers, an extremely talented individual in general. He was full of knowledge but not full of himself. He was a phenomenal father and husband, who knew how to balance his family and his learning and his various occupations.
The Torah world lost one of the great rabbis and leaders of the next generation, and the academic world lost an excellent researcher. And I lost a brother, which you can imagine, isn’t less important for me.
However, this is not the only reason you all came here [today]. The many people who are here, and the reason we eulogize