Harav Yehuda Amital: The Pioneer of the Equal Partnership

Today marks the 3rd anniversary (Yahrtzeit) of Harav Yehuda Amital זצ”ל, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion and a man who had a tremendous impact on the arc of my life. This week marked the closing of Aleph, a new venture capital fund that I started with my equal partner Eden Shochat. As I reflected this morning, again from afar, on the life of Rav Amital and his messages, I realized that Rav Amital and his equal partner, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (יבדל לחיים טובים וארוכים) were the true pioneers of the equal partnership and we have a lot to learn from them.

Utilizing the metaphor of a necessarily setting sun before the next sun rises, the Talmud, in numerous places, explains that it is difficult to share leadership. Not so in the case of Rav Amital.

HaRav Yehuda Amital founded Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1967 and set it on a growing path to greatness. As Rav Lichtenstein described in detail just 6 weeks ago, a few years after starting the Yeshiva, Rav Amital turned to Rav Lichtenstein, then a younger Rabbi in America, and offered him the keys to the entire castle. That selfless act by Rav Amital was the spark of an equal partnership between the two that lasted for 40 years. Moreover, that equal partnership accomplished one of the most seamless generational transitions ever in Yeshiva history, as Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein easily passed the baton to 3 new heads of the Yeshiva.

This morning I reflected on the lessons we can learn from Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein that made their equal partnership so special. I wanted to share some of them.

Selflessness: As I mentioned above, Rav Amital’s offer to step down is an act of self-abnegation that set the stage for others to thrive. It created space for someone else to step into, interact and cross pollinate. That truly makes 1+1 worth more than 2.

Disagree but with respect: Partnerships, like marriage, are not about consensus. Ironically, frequently the worst decisions are made through consensus because compromise is often not the right answer. Every equal partnership should enable debate, dissent and disagreement, provided it is done with intellectual and emotional respect. When we were students, you knew that Rav Lichtenstein and Rav Amital did not agree on everything but you also knew and saw that they sat and listened to each other with respect and considered the other’s opinion.

Ego: Everyone has an ego. It is human nature. The question is whether you humbly subjugate your ego for the greater good and put we before me. In an equal partnership, subjugating your ego is the key to success. It has to be about the “we” and even better it should be about them, the students, or the beneficiaries of the equal partnership.

It does not have to be my way: Rav Amital was famous for saying that “I do not want to create more Amitals.” He wanted his students and others to disagree. He wanted people to find their own path, to be creative and daring. Rav Amital fostered creativity in who he was and encouraged others to do what they are good at. This is the equal partnership as a platform. When done correctly, dialogue, debate and deference create a platform for others to excel. Rav Amital’s and Rav Lichtenstein’s equal partnership flourished between themselves and allowed their students to become leaders in many walks of life. That is not obvious when you have two towering personalities and intellects like them. The equal partnership enabled to others to absorb their foundations and made us all better people, listeners, thinkers and learners.

Here is the eulogy I wrote 3 years ago.

יהי זכרו ברוך

May Rav Amital’s Memory be a lesson and blessing for us all.

[Originally published on 5th July 2013 by MIchael Eisenberg]