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"A long life is not good enough,
but a good life is long enough."
A Committed Life
My husband was a paradigm of commitment in public as in private life, in war as in peace, in health as in illness, in life as in death. His dedication never faltered. In forty years of marriage I never heard him utter an unkind word, raise his voice, or lose his temper. He was a true reflection of his name, Meshulem, which in Hebrew means "complete," and indeed, he was a complete man.
The Mishna teaches that there are things in life that have no prescribed measure, things to which we must commit ourselves with a full heart, without reservation, without holding back. They include gifts for the poor and offerings to G-d, acts of loving-kindness, and study of the Torah, all of which make for a committed life.
Unfortunately, this threefold formula eludes most people because we live in a world in which our priorities have become skewed. We indulge in excess where we should be disciplined (materialism and physical pleasure), and we stint where we should be openhanded. We fail to recognize our responsibilities to the poor, our obligation to be generous and kind, and our imperative to study the Torah, and because of that, we do not understand the challenges of a committed life.
My husband understood. He lived by these precepts. He gave of himself above and beyond. To him, each and every person was holy. He reached out to one and all with generosity and love.
Every Friday, before the Sabbath, he would empty my freezer and take little gifts of cake and challah to the widows and widowers and those in need. You might, of course, wonder how it can be that people were inneed of challah and cake in a Long Island community. Thank G-d, such abject poverty was rare, but there are many forms of need. My husband heard the silent cries of lonely, broken hearts, and he responded to them. When he visited hospitals, it wasn't just a matter of discharging his rabbinic duties, and the story of little Yaffa is a case in point.
Yaffa, a kindergartner, fell from the monkey bars in her school playground. She was rushed to the hospital and needed major surgery. Every morning, before going to services, my husband would visit at her bedside, tell her stories to cheer her up, and then would call her parents to let them know that all was well. And this very same kindness was extended not only to Yaffa but to all those who were sick and hurting.
As for all rabbis, the High Holidays were an especially taxing season for my husband. He would return from synagogue exhausted, but he didn't permit himself to rest until he had visited every sick congregant so that they might hear the sound of the shofar. Remarkably, despite the overwhelming holiday turnout, he always knew who was missing from the services.
There are some people who extend kindness and consideration to strangers but for some reason fail to understand that acts of kindness must be offered to the members of one's family as well. My husband was the perfect father and grandfather. When the children were babies and would awaken in the middle of the night, he would say to me, "The reason why babies cry at night is so that their fathers should get up and learn Torah." With that, he would pick up the baby, put him or her in the carriage, and with one hand rock the baby back to sleep while with the other he turned the pages of the Talmud.
He was there to tell them stories and to show them how to draw and paint. He taught them the word of G-d, showed them the wonders of nature and made them marvel at the beautiful world that G-d created. When they started school, he was right there with them so that he might ease their way on that first traumatic day.
He would take the children to a pond near our house to feed the ducks. Years later, he did the same for our grandchildren. On the day of my husband's funeral, something incredible happenedthe ducks crossed the road and stood at attention as the large procession, which included the Nassau County Police, passed. The police department came out in full force since my husband was their beloved chaplain. This was a sight that I had never seen in my thirty-two years of residence in the community.
My husband's pockets were always well stocked with candy so that whenever and wherever he met children, he would have something to offer them. He had infinite patience with every child, whether his own or those of a stranger. During the shiva period after his passing (the seven days of mourning for the passing of a spouse or blood relative), a little girl whose father was disabled cried to me, "The Rabbi helped me with my homework every night. Who will help me now?"
When I close my eyes, I see him with a baby on his big broad shoulders, but truth be told, he didn't only carry babies, he carried all of us, for such is the power of a man who lives a committed life. Even now I can hear his powerful yet gentle voice saying, "Worry? Negative thoughts? You have to banish them from your mind. Put a smile on your face even if there is no reason to smile, and G-d will give you every reason to smile."