Words of Recollection – Dr. Nahum Newman – Rabbi Simes’ brother in law

Thanks for the honor and achsania,

I got to know Yehuda, the kid brother of my young bride, before my wedding, more or less the same time that he started a romance with Chofetz Chaim. Chofetz Chaim became more important in his life as events that singled him out as someone special early on with the illness and ultimate untimely early deaths of his parents. The Yeshiva served as a beacon of stability and a warm home for him both spiritually and physically. Yehuda the boy, and the grown man always showed a keen desire to learn from all around him. Often he turned to me to ask how I felt about this or that- with the utmost  respect and desire to understand. The same was true I am sure toward his teachers in Chofetz Chaim who showed him the way to a moral upright life of Kedusha and Chesed.

Just last week I learned of a story from my friend and neighbour Dr Ary Teitelbaum who lived and worked here as an optometrist. He told the story of the recently passed on Rosh Yeshiva after whom Yehuda’s youngest son, Nochi, is named….( RABBI ALTER CHANOCH HENOCH LEIBOWITZ)….

My friend and neighbour, Ary Teitelbaum, used to live and work as an optometrist in this area. He told me this story of his dealings with the Rosh Yeshiva Leibowitz who came to him to get new glasses. He did the deal and fitted it to the Rabbi’s satisfaction. He asked how much he has to pay. Ary answered “No nothing”

No that’s unacceptable answered the Rav. “If you want to give a donation to the Yeshiva do so, but I have to pay, so tell me how much it cost”
“OK,” says Ary “pay $75
The astute Rabbi says ” I see from your eyes that that is only about half of the real price, so I shall write out $150” and so he did.
This is a simple story that tells all about the moral integrity of this yeshiva and its teachers. For this we thank you. We can only call upon you all to continue this great work , and for the honour you do the Simes family -our zechut is yours and we shall be forever bound to you by a common strong bond

So to come back…

We come to studyand commemorate the life and memory of Yehuda, the sweet boy in our wedding pictures who danced with his kippa flying in the air (crocheted ). A lover of life and of American football.  And in memory of a talmid chacham, and a great soul who reached heights of kedushah–ish Kadosh- in a shortened life span. Heights that most do not reach at all. How do  we match these two images?

Well to say “Kadosh” we have to know what we are talking about. The Torah says to us קדושים תהיו and we wonder what that means.

Rashi says פרושים מן העברה “free from sin”. The problem that modern man has with this translation is its negative connotation–you are holy if you keep from from transgressing the מצוות לא תעשה. What is the positive command to be Kedoshim?

The Pasuk in Parshat Kedoshim seems to indicate that to be Kadosh is a way of life in which one emulates הקב”ה walks in His footsteps.

This week’s Parsha tells us of the most amazing miracle of all in the history of the Jewish people– Kriyat Yam Suf. I want to suggest we see this Parsha and next week’s of Matan Torah as mirror images of each other. Two forms of revelation of Hashem-In Yitro we learn of Hashem the Teacher whose  gift to the Jewish people of the Torah–learn this, work out Halacha, and this will carry you through the generations in the path of Kedusha.

Beshalach gives us the experience, the emotional vision and understanding of Hashem’s mastery over the universe and special connection to the Jewish people

The Mechilta tells us–ראתה שפחה בים מה שלא ראה יחזקאל בן בוזי

Indicating that the simplest person  experiencing this event reached greater heights of Kedusha than the most sophisticated of prophets, who had visions of  Hashem himself and כסא הכבוד.

We still do not have a clear understanding of that elusive concept of Kedusha.

Rav Soleveitchik * speaks of being at one – in the presence of the Almighty in time and space–seeing Hashem in history and in your own world- similar to the שפחה בים experiencing Hashem in a very real way.One who can see and experience Hashem in his own life in that way must be our example of Kadosh.

Rav Kook writes in Orot Hakodesh  of the achdut  that is Hashem. To reach heights of holiness is to see each object, person, theory and understanding of the world  as a part of the whole with its own integrity  in the scheme of things.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave me a key to understanding all these different ideas by linking all these ideas under one Kabbalistic idea. He writes in an essay on Kedusha and Kehuna about Shabbat. A holy day. In what way?

A common widespread concept today originating in Kabbala is that of Tzimtzom. HKB”H reduced his holiness in the physical world in order to create the secular the physical the material world as we know it.

 

Shabbat is the cessation of work -empty time-Kedushat Hazman

Shabbat is also Kedushat hHamakom– emptiness of man’s doing in space given to him.

As in the Mishkan-where the sanctuary is empty-and holy

We seem to be talking of Tzimtsum- reduction of man and his acitivity in order to make space for Kedusha.

Hashem created the world of matter and secular by Tzimtzum, man is required to reciprocate by Tzimtzum of his physical needs and desires to create holiness around him. For modern man this message is difficult. We are used to our creature comforts. we even think of them as being elevating sometimes implying Kedusha.

If we are right that this is the meaning of Kedusha that  would certainly be a good and apt description of the man Rabbi Yehuda Pinchas who was always modest, unassuming, giving space to others…and this was given greater emphasis and clarity when his functional body was restricted, and his physical needs converted totally out of recognition to that of the normal human being. But this was not enough for the soul of Rabbi Yehuda Pinchas. He agonised continuously  with the question of what it is that HKB”H wants of me? If this is holiness what do I do with it?

I see the second message of his life and striving for holiness and perfection of the soul also in today”s parsha, that comes from Parshat Haman.

The Mann is a challenge  למען אנסנו הילך בתורתי אם לא. What could be easier than collecting your food off the ground every morning and eating it? It tasted good. No work involved. What is the ניסיון?

Am Yisrael are given 3 commandments regarding the Manna- to collect only what they are budgeted, to collect exactly double on Fridays, and to not leave any over. There are several explanations given in the Meforshim. I quote Rav Meidan a great teacher in Israel, head of Yeshivat Har Etzion

This was an exercise in restraint, making do with less,and not hoarding.  This is a test in faith in Hashem that runs in direct conflict with man’s nature. But only when man realises his dependance on Hashem can he be truely aware of the Chessed with which the world and he were created. That is man’s key to doing Chessed for others- in the knowledge that everything I have is His.

Rabbi Yehuda Pinchas Simes was one man whose life and essence were focussed on these two points. Of the Kedusha we have spoken.

But his Chessed was uncountable.

His love of children, and ability to contact with them all. His utmost respect to everyone, with an earnest desire to learn from you,whover you are, was ever present in him.

In his talks and blogs written after his accident Rabbi Simes talked frequently about how we should learn from his experience as he himself did –of the great Gemilut Chessed of so many simple tasks that we perform without thinking or noticing let alone stopping to say Thank you . His prime example was breathing. Do you think about the miracle of taking a breath?

This is the basis for doing Chessed. If you do not feel blessed how can you bless others? He enjoyed doing mitzvot with others especially. This is the basis for his  desire to have Tefillin put on him in spite of his not being Metzuve. This was a Chessed he did.  And that Chessed had its immediate rewards for him by giving him the joy of having brought one person closer to Mitzvot, to loving them and doing them knowing this was the Chessed He gave us.

Doing Chessed for others, loving every child and helpless other beings in this  world, sharing with us all, his innocence and his lack of  cynicism that unfortunately is so common in the modern world was his way in life before and after the accident. His humility and warmth were felt and appreciated by all who met him .

And secondly his untiring search for Kedusha. Before his accident you could easily have missed it. Quiet, soft spoken, with a millon dollar smile that made you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The children he taught sensed it. They ran to meet him and accompany him on the walk from his car to the school, from what? Perhaps a preternatural  sense of his proximity to Hashem.

But if we had any doubt of his holiness, the life of sincere search for G-d’s will in his premature leave taking of his functional body that he lead after the accident was intensified and occupied a lot of his energy. He had a  singular ability to concentrate his abilities left to  him, toward the dual goals  of understanding what Hashem wants of me in this human state of limitation and estrangement from His mitzvot , as well as bringing goodwill and love of Torah to all who met him after that cataclysmic event. These unparalleled abilities in such an apparently handicapped person have etched him in the  memory of all who knew him as an example of all these basic tenets that make up a jewish life. We all are called upon to emulate and learn from this Ish Kadosh, all of us must strive to be true to  these dual goals of our lives– to learn from our teachers younger and older than us.

Rabbi Yehuda Simes  is today one of my principle teachers of life’s goals and how to implement them. He calls upon all of us to realise our potential, Ivdu Et Hashem Besimcha, go for broke and we can all do it. What a legacy is left to us all. Remember Lo Bashamyim He-בפיך ובלבך לעשותו

One word remains to be said to Shaindel and  the children. These are people like Yehuda, who hide their Tzidkut in a cheeky love of life, and enthusiasm for the current fad whatever it might be.

Join me in wishing them success and happiness, and in the fervent prayer that no more sorrow will come their way. They have been tested fully and come out on top

 

2 comments

  1. Rabbi Baruch Lederman · · Reply

    Very apt and uplifting words. Yehuda used to speak lovingly of his sister, your Aishet Chayil.

  2. Esther Hertz · · Reply

    Amen

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