Divrei Hesped for R. Yedaya HaCohen
Translated by Rabbi Jonathan Snowbell
Fifty three years ago, Tammuz 5728 (July 1968), the first group of talmidim of Yeshivat Har Etzion arrived at Kfar Etzion, where Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amital prepared them for their upcoming service in the IDF. He taught them various Torah topics that related to their service, such as Kashrut, Shabbat, Eiruvin and others. Yedaya HaCohen stood at his side that day.
From then till today, Yedaya HaCohen has accompanied the Yeshiva. He identified with the Yeshiva with all of his heart and soul and he was present and active in its establishment and development. He was at the side of the Rashei Yeshiva who established the Yeshiva – Rav Amital and Rav Lichtenstein – and of Moshko both with ideas and implementation. He did this at a time when the idea of Yeshivat Har Etzion was new and the physical conditions were at a bare minimum. At a time where there were hardly any Yeshivot Hesder, as they were in their infant stage, it was necessary to create and develop the system in dealing with the government and their officials. It was in these relationships and challenges that Yedaya excelled. In situations that help was needed, someone to listen to other people's troubles or to help a worker – Yedaya was there with his sensitive heart.
The Rashei Yeshiva, the Ramim and the Talmidim owe an infinite debt of gratitude to Yedaya.
As part of the ideology of the Yeshiva and with the establishment of the Hesder track, visits to the soldiers in the army took place frequently. I remember Rav Amital and Yedaya's visits before, during and after the Yom Kippur War. I personally remember visits in Sinai, with long drives in which Rav Amital and Yedaya drove together while they developed the connection and relationship between the IDF and its leadership with the Torah world of the talmidim. This was how the foundations of trust were established between the army and the Yeshiva. In order to accomplish this one had to be present at training exercises and even to sleep at army bases. The one who took Rav Amital to all of these places, the one who took him to the soldiers was Yedaya who was an expert with regard to all the roads and paths across the country.
With regard to the Mitzvah of lighting the Menora in the Mikdash the Rambam writes:
"The cleaning of the Menora and the preparation of the lights in the morning and in the afternoon is a positive commandment…
What does cleaning involve? Every light that was extinguished he takes out the wick and the oil and wipes it, and places there a new wick and the appropriate amount of oil…" (Temidim u'Mussafim 3, 10-12)
The Mitzvah is not the lighting of the light. The Mitzvah that is incumbent on the Kohanim is the preparation and cleaning of the lights.
How many wicks did Yedaya prepare? How many times did he clean the Menora of Yeshiva every morning and evening? How much time did he invest to ensure that the oil would come? How many lights did he establish in Yeshivat Har Etzion? Everyone knew that the light of Torah that shown brightly from the Etzion and Southern Hebron mountains and other places in our country were from the investment and good will of Yedaya HaCohen who prepared the lights.
Yedaya was an Ish Yerushalayim in every fiber of his being. I question if there was another person like him who was an Ish Yerushalayim of Zionism, Bnei Akiva and an IDF officer and at the same time connected to Sha'arei Hesed of the old Yishuv. I know no other person who wore on Yamim Nora'im the unique Yerushalmi kittel and was a dedicated member of Bnei Akiva who attended all of its conferences.
I remember the Yom Yerushalayim parties that Yedaya would host at his home with his family. In the early years of the Yeshiva, Yedaya would host a Yom Yerushalayim meal in his yard, to which the Rabbis and Talmidim of the Yeshiva would be invited along with other Anshei Yerushalayim, like him. It is for this reason that the Yeshiva's long standing custom is to hear Yedaya telling with great excitement stories about Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim. This happened just three months ago, but sadly it will never happen again.
How will we replace him?