I learned a few things from my phone conversations this week:
I called an old acquaintance of mine to offer condolence upon the passing of his father, Rabbi Avrohom Simcha Steinberg. I didn’t know his father personally but would see him from time to time and his ever present smile stood out along with a ray of goodness and kindness that he radiated.
His son Eli told me that many years ago his father ran a Hebrew school for primary grades in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn that catered to a parent body that was not affiliated. The school charged an affordable tuition which hardly met the budget. He felt that each family should cover this nominal amount and he would raise the rest from other sources.
Eli shared the following fascinating anecdote: One day a parent who wished to enroll his child entered Rabbi Steinberg’s office and became irate when he heard of the few hundred dollar yearly tuition cost. He went on a tirade of grievances he had with religion and blamed Rabbi Steinberg’s insistence on charging tuition for his giving up on any connection with G-d and Judaism!
Rabbi Steinberg listened to the entire rant and when the person was done, he got up from his chair and put his arm over the man’s shoulder. With his kind smile and twinkle in his eye he said, “You know, something tells me, that G-d is not about to lose a big customer!” Upon hearing this, the man burst out laughing and wrote out a check in the full amount!
With the right dose of humor and wit one gets the point across far more effectively than any argument.
I was also on the phone with a retired judge, and in the middle of the conversation he told me he never used the gavel. “The way I effectively dealt with my court proceedings in my eighteen years on the bench was by having a sign that faced only me with only two words: “Be Kind!”
I heard that Sam, a young man who I met a few times through a common friend, had lost his father to the virus. I gave him a call and he told me the following. His father became ill and was taken into the hospital Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on the night before Pesach. The next day, Wednesday which was Erev Pesach, at 2:15 pm they got a call that he had passed away and it would take a few hours for the body to be released. At 5:10 p.m. they got a call that the paperwork was done and the body was cleared to be released. At 6:30 p.m. the grave in Monsey NY was dug and the body was prepared for burial. At 7:10 p.m. the burial was completed and he along with his mother and brother, sat ‘Shiva’ in the parking lot in of the cemetery for a few minutes, getting home a few minutes before the holiday began. The arrival of the holiday put an end to the rest of the Shiva. I asked him how he was able to transition from mourning to a Seder in such a short period of time. He said, “We somehow did it. My father’s setting was in place at the table and my brother and I dressed in Kittels – robes that belonged to our father and we proceeded. We cried, laughed, drank and went through the steps of the Seder.” He said it was the most elevated Seder he was ever at, to the point that when they opened the door for Elijah, they were convinced that their father would walk in. Sam took solace in what our kabalistic masters call a ‘spiritual passport’ that is given to the soul of one who is buried in such close proximity to the holiday. I was awed by the amazing strength this family possessed!
An elderly woman left a message that she needed the phone number of someone sitting Shiva. I returned her call and during the conversation with this sweet and kind lady, she informed me that her son, who had been suffering from a dreadful disease, had passed away the day before. I was unaware of it and immediately offered her condolences. I commented to her that through the three years of her son’s illness she always bore a smile. She told me, “People like it when you smile!”
Her positive response reminded me of the following:
When I was growing up there was an interesting radio talk show on money and business matters hosted by Bruce Williams. He once gave the following valuable personal advice. Although he had met success in many business ventures, there was a time when his businesses were doing lousy and to make ends meet he was getting up in the wee hours in the morning to deliver newspapers and stock shelves. However, when people would ask him how business was doing, he would say – terrific! The response was usually, “Oh wow!” and the conversation would end. He went on to say that had he told them things are real lousy they wouldn’t be interested in hearing his sad tale nor were they in a position to help. So he chose the most effective way out of the conversation.
So when asked, how things are going? Try answering, ‘terrific’ – and observe the surprised reactions!
My son Tzvi called me and told me that Mr. Jack Diamond, who was a partisan during the war, passed away. At the age of 90 Mr. Diamond retired from working as a furniture salesman in Omaha NB and settled in Monsey NY to be near his children. Mr. Diamond worked for a company owned by Warren Buffet. The story goes that Mr. Buffet came to the store and approached Mr. Diamond to speak shop with him. Mr. Diamond told him he couldn’t talk at the moment because he was in the middle of a sale. Mr. Buffet commented. “It is because of workers like Jack that I am successful!”
The Torah describes that G-d’s Presence appeared in the form of a spiritual cloud that rested on the Holy Ark in the Temple.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro o.b.m. gleaned a timely message from this. Specifically at times when there are clouds which give off darkness and symbolize uncertainty is when we place our trust in the Almighty. The blurred times are a harbinger of our salvation and deliverance!