One could ascribe to Rav Kook what the sages ascribed to Queen Esther, namely, that he had a special appeal for each group present. Members of Mizrahi, Agudat Yisrael, Hasidim, Zionists and others, all felt that Rav Kook's remarks supported their particular philosophy.A similar comment could be made about the esteemed author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh and Da Es Atzmecha, Rav Itamar Schwartz. In a relatively short time, the until recently anonymous author reached out through his deceptively simple books into the hearts and souls of Jews everywhere and ignited a new passion for a close, emotional relationship with God. Rav Schwartz has worked tirelessly and written extensively about our inherent need to nurture our own personal relationship with the Holy One, drawing from the vast collection of Torah sources (most notably the Mesillat Yesharim) to develop a clear, methodical path of life that can help one attain this level of avodat HaShem.
Today I had the special z'chus to witness this tzaddik in person; as impressed as I was by his books, I was more impressed (although not surprised) with the man himself. A diminutive figure, Rav Schwartz does not waste a single movement; one senses that nearly every gesture, every glance is carefully measured. He sits still as he speaks, only making emphatic hand motions when he wants to stress an important point. What impressed me most was the utter lack of dead silence or hemming and hawing; the Rav never hesitated or stumbled in his words, as if he had carefully weighed everything that he wanted to say to an exacting level before proceeding with it.
His talk itself was wonderful; as I wrote earlier, the concepts that Rav Schwartz brought forth on the topic of proper preparation for kaballat haTorah drew from a wide range of conceptualizations in the various sifrei machshava, ranging from the Rishonim through to contemporary chassidus. There were no major novelties, per se, but rather the Rav's way of bringing these ideas into a perspective that we can relate to in our day-to-day living that really got me excited. Understanding how to truly achieve tranquility, and recognizing the nature of what gets between us and our authentic relationship with God were the main points of his speech. The way he brought seemingly disparate ideas and wedded them together - not only do you appreciate the breadth of the man's ability, but you gain a deeper appreciation for the overarching truth that is Judaism.
I recorded the speech, which was spoken in Hebrew and translated by a fine man who did a good job. Enjoy!