Let Our Father Live On!
Today we stood up from Shiva.
Our loss is tremendous. Our father was our leader and advisor, our inspiration and mainstay, our role-model and guide to life. He was a source of happiness and a plateau of peace. His loss is irreplaceable. Our family shall never be the same.
Nevertheless, we are most grateful for the many words of consolations and hundreds of visits we received. Somehow, the endless consolations cover over for the endless loss. When I stood up today, I felt a certain degree of solace, and that we were really standing up and recovering.
But one thought gives me no rest.
Our father did not live for himself. If he did, the consolations would indeed be all that was required to comfort for the loss of the deceased. But our father did not live for himself. He lived for his values, for his ideals, for action and accomplishment. He was taken at age 65, but he was not ready to retire. He wanted to do more, to continue with his rabbinical Kiruv in Israel. But Hashem decided that his life had come to its end. Still, our father planned on so much more. And he left us here, his family, and others he influenced.
When we reach 120 and ascend to heaven, our father will be waiting for us. He will ask us, “What did you do with what I implanted in you? I could do no more. What did you do onwards?”
Please, let us contemplate these values of our father, so we can continue them. What I say now will be abbreviated, given the time constraint, and it will be limited to my own perspective. Everyone can do their own evaluation. I will share mine.
My father was a great man of rare talent, deep wisdom, principle, and accomplishment. Yet he was also a real person, of warm emotion, down-to-earth affection, kindness, and peace.
He loved Hashem. Truly. He gave his whole life for Him.
And he loved Hashem’s Torah. He studied it, spoke of it, taught it, and lived it in his most beautiful way, and taught others to do so, too.
He loved life. He was always positive, upbeat, happy. Everyone who knew him from his young Yeshiva days all the way until his final months, remembers him with his unforgettable smile. His humor accompanied him throughout life, all the way to the end. A not-yet-religious salesman in South Africa once told him that if more religious Jews would be like him, he, too, would become religious. He was a walking Kiddush Hashem.
He loved people. Not for reciprocation. He genuinely loved them and cared for them. Congregants who visited us in the Shiva house and were asked to tell about their rabbi, corrected us, “He was not just my rabbi, he was my friend.” When two of his congregants were killed in a tragic car-accident, he wailed for a long time on the couch before going to his room to calm down. Then he returned recomposed. He didn’t allow his many involvements to bring down his general demeanor – that of peace and of natural happiness. Similarly, although involved with many project and communal responsibilities, he maintained a pleasant demeanor at home. And he almost never missed the family supper.
He loved peace. I personally witnessed how he once compromised matters the hurt him in order to maintain a peaceful relationship. This peace reigned his home, too. His personality was different to that of my mother, Tibadel Lchaim, yet they lived in perfect harmony. Our family itself is composed of wide array of personalities, yet we are indivisibly united. All who visit his community feel a warmth of acceptance. A large part of this comes from my father’s love and acceptance of people. When people saw that the rabbi loved them just the way they were, even if they hardly kept any of the precepts of the Torah, they were comfortable to consider themselves Torah Jews. They wanted “more of that Judaism” to be like the rabbi who loved them and opened his home and heart to them and who was terrifically happy with his own beautiful Judaism. He tried to make the Shul and its garden as pleasant as possible for people. We have no conception as to just how many people were brought closer to the Creator through my father and his pleasantness.
He loved accomplishment. Throughout his adult life he worked on Kiruv. What bothered him in the last month was not so much his pain and weakness. Rather it was more his inactivity. At 65, after serving in rabbinical posts in more than six cities around the world, he was ready to take on a seventh. But alas, it was not meant to be. His seventh post is in the World to Come where remains a beacon of light and merit for all that knew him.
His name was Ze’ev Shlomo. Ze’ev means “wolf”. Like a wolf he always grabbed opportunities. After undertaking to do something, he would then contemplate exactly how to go about doing so. As a young assistant rabbi he undertook to be the reader of the Torah. Then he sat down and learned how. He went on to teach many a Bar-Mitzva boy that same skill, together with the other fundamentals of Judaism that he packaged along with it. He applied for the position of a school rabbi in Mexico and then took a university crash course to learn the language. He wasn’t scared of the unbeaten path. That is why he was able to achieve so much in his life. But for all of his busyness, he was Shlomo, a man of peace. At home, he had time and love for each individual child. His family was his priority. Each supper we all sat together, no books, and with the telephone off the hook. At the end of his life, we asked him if he would like to have a family reunion so he could see his children all together, settled. We had not been together since almost 18 years ago. That’s about a whole generation of not enjoying his family in a complete way. But he preferred that we visit one by one to spend time with each. He was more interested in the actual relationship that the pleasure of having us all together.
He merited to assist hundreds to come closer to Hashem. We, his family, included.
But, personally, the way I most remember my father is from his weekly blessing to me. Every single week of my life until now. Every Shabbos evening he would give us each the customary Brachos. He would then bend down and whisper in our ears one more sentence. Guests probably wondered what that sentence was. Why was it so important as to make them wait for him to say it 12 times over before the meal. It was “Be a big Talmid Chacham and make me proud.” A shall never forget that whisper. It concluded with a heartfelt kiss. I knew that the only thing that would really make him proud would be if became a Talmid Chacham. No matter how I was doing scholastically, it was obvious to me that I would eventually become one. That is what would make my father proud. This is deeply symbolic for me of my father’s relationship with me. The expectation of where he was guiding me, but, at the same time, the unconditional love.
Parenthetically, he later changed that weekly blessing to be “Be a Ben-Torah and make me proud.” That was because of his educational ingenuity. He realized that not everyone is going to become a Talmid Chacham, but every Jew should be a Ben-Torah. The slogan of his Shul was “Jewish pride through knowledge.” He was a man of heart, but of sophistication. Every year he spent a lot of his income on plane tickets for my siblings and myself to continue our studies in the great Yeshivos abroad. At times this was very difficult for him, yet he didn’t complain. He was a wholly dedicated father. If a child needed to come home more than once a year, he would squeeze his bank account yet more to pay for it. Money was not one of his values. It was merely a practical consideration.
When He guided me in getting settled down in Eretz Yisrael. He gave me pointers in raising my children. I can therefore hope to raise them as well as my parents did theirs. He guided me with my Perek Shira project. I know I would have been able to receive so much guidance from him if only he lived longer. For this, too, I mourn. I owe everything to him. He started life on ground zero. He discovered Hashem and became a true Talmid Chacham with deep insight into life and the beauty of Judaism. How many people merit to what we merited? How many have a happy, tranquil, and proud family, a solid Torah education, a positive attitude to life and to people, a feeling of importance and the drive to make one’s own change in the world? My siblings and I have all of this. And it was from our father Hareni Kaparas Mishkavo. Very little I ever do can I attribute to myself. It comes mostly all from him. He gave me everything. And it was not always easy for him. May Hashem repay him for all he gave us.
His friends told us that he was one of the first to join the Teshuva movement and at that point it was not yet known how far a Baal Teshuva could go. My father, in his rapid rise to greatness, raised the bar for them. There is no way of knowing the extent of the impact my father has made in the world. He helped so many. He truly cared.
I will end with some consolation. That’s the way my father would want it. He never wanted people to feel bad. He would want me to speak only of the positive and the strengthen the spirits of the forlorn.
There was clear providence whereby Hashem showed that my father’s life was not halted, but rather completed. Shortly before his passing, he had his wife settled in Eretz Yisrael near family, his youngest son enter Yeshiva, and his youngest daughter, who was dependent upon him for counsel in Shiduchim, got engaged to an excellent and capable young man, with our father’S firm approval. We danced with uncompromised joy, still with hope of his survival. He also published his Sefer, witnessed the Siyum Hashas of some of his sons, bought burial plots right next to his parents-in-law, which “somehow” were only available through a recent cancellation, and was visited one by one by the members of his family. He was in an isolated chamber in the hospital, and we were able to gather around him and talk with and sing to him the songs he loved to sing with us. In his heart was the joy of his daughter’s engagement, his family’s contentment, and his life’s legendary success. And so, his soul returned home. May his memory be a blessing.
All I have said is only some of my own perspective. Much more can be said. But what is the point of mere words? We need to take in these values that our father lived with. They are too scarce in this world. Our father stood for so much and now we must continue after him. Please, let our father live on!