Rav Menachem Froman will be laid to rest in a few hours.
One of my strongest memories of R’ Menachem is from a class in Tekoa I attended about a year ago. Between segments of Torah thought, a musician performed, which Rav Menachem believed to be the “wings” to Torah study, a way to open hearts. The performer sang a poem by Zelda, in which she writes: “All night I wept – Sovereign of the Universe, / perhaps there is death /without violence, /death that resembles a flower….” Rav Menachem rose, turned to face the Aron Kodesh, stretched his hands upward and began to cry, his tears filling the room, though I scarcely remember if he even evoked a sound. We cried with him, for him. He was begging for his life. There was no room for shame, for words unspoken. We lived his experience, storming the heavens alongside him. His desire to live was so plaintive.
Moments later, R’ Menachem asked us all to do what he so often asked his students to do: to take the left hand and the right hand, chessed and gevurah, kindness/love and strength/discipline, and bring them together, saying the word “Chay! Life!,” over and over, until the claps merged into a unified voice, louder and louder, reaching a crescendo that scattered in every direction, plunging into our souls, tearing down walls of sadness, impossibility, regret, self-pity. The room filled with clapping and chanting, echoing between us, and channeled directly into Rav Menachem, illuminating his heart and mind, burning through the cancer that ravaged his body. Rav Menachem, too, clapped and shouted, “Chay! Chay! Chay!” with vigor, majesty and joy. His smile was immense, his face alight, verging on laughter and complete surrender. We were giving him life, and he gave us the same. This exercise took place at nearly every shiur, and each experience was just as magical.
There is so much to say about him, and I know I’m not the person to do it. I know now what it means to lose a Rebbe, a leader, to feel a hole in my being that didn’t exist yesterday. I know that few people in America knew much about him, if at all, so I wanted to share a small piece of my experience with him.
Rav Menachem Froman taught me that light comes in many shades, gradations and colors. He surpassed us, and took us with him on a journey that we could never embark on, or even contemplate, alone. He taught us to weep during periods of sadness or grief, to make demands of God, to allow complexity and paradox – and maybe even laugh at it, to smile broadly despite the pain, to see goodness even in the folds of darkness. He taught us to sing, to clap our way to the door of Heaven. He spoke love, and reflected truth. The world is dimmer now.