The Tallest Man I Knew

(Torah Portion Shimini) The Tallest Man I Knew (A Special Tribute-See Below)

Many people are under the impression that the laws of Kosher were established because of health issues, such as to protect from disease or because of the lack of cleanliness of certain species. If one follows this line of thinking, one may say that once these concerns are no longer relevant due to FDA regulations and the like, the laws of Kosher don’t apply any longer.

A very different reason becomes apparent with a simple reading of the Torah text. After describing which species of animal, fowl and fish are permitted and which are not permitted to eat, the Torah says, “I give you these laws because you are a sanctified nation,” and because of this special status, “I command you to have a special diet.”

Just as a king is served specially prepared foods, so too, when our ancestors accepted the Torah, G-d called us, “A Kingly and Priestly nation.” The Kosher diet was commanded specifically to fit the spiritual kingliness of the Jewish nation.

We all know that there are a host of foods that should be avoided by people with certain medical conditions, so too, for a Jew, the Kosher diet is the way to connect to our spiritual potential.

The Torah, refers to non-kosher as ‘Tamai’ – a term that is associated with ritual impurities rather than physical restraints.

The Baal Hatanya writes that all forbidden foods receive their vitality from the lowest, most evil forces in creation. They are completely imprisoned and bound (assur) by the forces of negativity and for this reason our Sages called non-Kosher – Ma’acholos Assuros – forbidden (bound) foods.

Thus, if one ingests these foods, even having the intent to provide him with strength to serve his Maker – nevertheless the vitality they contain is entrapped by evil and they can make no contribution toward energizing man in his search for spirituality.

Our Sages refer to permitted foods as Devarim Mutarim – Items that are permitted (unleashed), for their vitality is unbound and unleashed (muter), in order to propel man in his quest upward.

In this week’s Parsha the Torah also discusses the laws of the purification of vessels that came in contact with ritual impurities and require immersion into Mikveh.

A Mikveh is a gathering of water with the many Halachic requirements that enable it to effect purity on that which is immersed in it. A gathering of water connected to a fresh wellspring is in a special class.

During Rabbi Yonoson Steiff’s Rabinical tenure in Budapest, Hungary, a Mikveh was being constructed. Rabbi Steiff insisted that the Mikveh be fed through a wellspring. People were skeptical about digging and finding a well in the midst of Budapest. The project was delayed until they finally struck a well.

Years later, when the Nazi’s invaded Hungary, Rabbi Steiff’s home was one of the houses the Jews were assigned to live in. The Nazi’s shut the water supply so that disease would set into the overcrowded lodging. However, because the Mikveh’s source came through a well, those in its proximity had access to fresh water and were able to thwart the Nazi’s plan!

Wishing you a most restful, uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks

This past Sunday night, just as the Holiday of Purim ebbed away, a very dear uncle of mine, Mr. Israel Lefkowitz passed away in New York.

As the iron gate was slowly lowered at El Al’s cargo area, separating us from the bier of my dear uncle Mr. Yisroel Lefkowitz, prior to his burial in Israel, torrents of tears began flowing down our cheeks. The thought that came to mind was, “It’s so hard to see you go.”

Since my uncle’s passing, we are intermittently overcome by waves of grief and sadness.

We weren’t stirred by the eulogies. because there weren’t any as per his wishes. It wasn’t because we felt bad for him, because he had been very open and straightforward with expressing his preparedness with death.

The Tallest Man I Knew

We all just feel this huge void in our lives that we are trying to come to terms with.

Uncle Yisroel was our pillar. He was rock solid in his faith, belief, Torah and Mitzvos, Tzadoka and chesed.

We looked up to him, and he devotedly looked after us.

This magnificent and majestic man touched each of our lives and it is hard to imagine having such a void in our lives.

He didn’t want eulogies, rather just reading Psalms, and in reality, there were more sobs at his funeral of about 1000 people then at funerals where eulogies are presented. Why? Because each person has had some personal encounter where he was there to help and assist them or the Jewish people at large through his involvement in scores of organizations.

All those memories stirred within us, and brought us to tears.

While honoring his wishes and not turning this into a eulogy with details of his goodness and kindness, I want to try to capture the essence of this great person so that we can learn from his life and mannerism.

A year and a half ago when he was going through a debilitating illness, I visited him in the hospital and mentioned to him that King Solomon in Song of Songs speaks of, “Cholas Ahava – a love sickness.” I continued, “Uncle Yisroel the only sickness that I know that you had all your life is –‘Cholas Ahavas Yisroel – Sick with love towards your fellow Jew!”

Do you know what this man who was always strong and composed, did? His brow started to wrinkle and he began to cry! He only allowed himself to cry because he was in a weakened and vulnerable state…but he cried because he knew quite well that he had this magnificent and wonderful “sickness, of Cholas Ahavas Yisroel” that his good heart knew no bounds when it came to assisting another Jew. If he became emotional about himself, we certainly have a right to cry about his loss.

His tall physical body was complimented by his creative and visionary ideas and dreams. He optimistically stepped forward with these ideas and through his largess brought them to fruition.

My uncle was honored by many organizations on numerous occasions, yet, practically all of his chesed was done quietly without fanfare.

He considered himself a soldier of Hashem, saying, “If Hashem endowed me with blessing whether it was wisdom, vision, finances or influence, it was to be used to benefit my brethren, even when it goes against my nature to receive an honor that risks exposing what I want to keep private.”

He cared just as much about an individual’s need as he did for an organizational need. He had this uncanny ability; a keen and perceptive eye that saw what an individual, family or organization needed or was lacking, and presented it without being asked. He craved and yearned to do Chesed.

No matter if times were good or when he was met with challenges, he was the same devoted soldier, always recognizing and expressing Hashem’s dominion and control.

My uncle was a businessman; he built his business on integrity and he treated all his employees fairly and with dignity.

He had a tremendous reverence towards rabbis and leaders, and he was an articulate and stately spokesman for the Jewish people and to all who came in contact with him. He greeted and showed respect to all. When he would come home from work, before he would sit down to dinner, he would don a special robe displaying dignity to the food Hashem provided him with and respect to his wife who devotedly prepared it.

He took life seriously. He was always grateful for Providence that brought his family from Czechoslovakia to these shores right at the onset of WWII. He was the bridge in our family that connected the pre and post war eras by openly sharing his experiences and encounters with us. He felt that if he was excluded from the fate of so many during the war, he had a mission to accomplish in life, and he did his utmost to achieve the high goals that he continuously set for himself.

He thought in big terms, and anything he did was expansive. It was refreshing and exciting to witness and be the recipients of it.

He had a great thrill to hear how fellow Jews were given opportunities to further understand and feel the warmth to embrace Hashem, Torah and Mitzvos, and he was a staunch supporter of such causes.

He lived his life with the image and lessons of all his Rabbis in front of him, and indeed, he had pictures of all of them beautifully embracing the walls of his home. His prayers were beautiful, pleasant and unhurried.

The Lefkowitz Shabbos and Yom Tov table was a sight to behold. The elegance, class, ambiance, delicacies, guests from all walks of life, songs and words of Torah was regal and magnificent and many used it as a model when they established their own homes.

Together with his devoted wife, Shoshana, the Lefkowitz home was and is the address for chesed, guests and Torah. It is a house where they raised their wonderful children and opened and expanded it to include all of their nieces and nephews, family members and guests. They made everyone feel welcome.

Family was particularly special to him. How he treated, respected and interacted with his wife, was indeed a lesson. They were a dynamic couple. His children, their spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren were the apple of his eye and he was totally devoted and involved in each of their lives. He was so proud of each of their accomplishments and rallied for them.

One of the constants in the Lefkowitz home for over 40 years is their housekeeper, Joyce. Having personally witnessed and helped prepare meals and accommodations for the constant flow of guests and having answered the countless calls and observed the stream of visits of people who needed assistance, the adjective she used to describe Mr. Lefkowitz was, “a true hero.”

That is what he was.

Now you can understand why we are overwhelmed with the feeling of, “It is hard to see him go.”