A Groiseh Mensch Iz Avek by Dr.  Joel M.  Berman


Parashat Emor opens with Hashem telling Moshe to instruct the Kohanim in the Halachot of mourning.  At the time that I am writing this article, twelve days remain in the Sheloshim mourning period I am observing for my mother.  It seems, therefore, appropriate to write a few words on this topic.  

Nearly one year ago, I attended the funeral of the woman who taught me the Aleph-Bet nearly forty-five years ago.  Her son recalled an event that occurred just a few months before the funeral.  He had been about to leave the house early one morning for Shacharit when he noticed his mother, obviously very upset, sitting at the kitchen table with a copy of the Hamodia newspaper in her hands.  “What’s the matter, mom?” he asked.  

“The Bobover Rebbe died,” was the reply.  (His mother had grown up in Europe and had known of many Gedolim from that generation.  However, she had never mentioned the Bobover Rebbe.) 

“I didn’t know that you knew the Bobover Rebbe,” her son commented.  

“I never met him,” she said.

“Then why are you so upset?” her son continued.  

Disappointed in her son’s question, the elderly mother looked at her son and said slowly, “Nosson, what’s the matter with you? A Groiseh Mensch Iz Avek” (a great personality has departed).

During the week of Shiva many stories about my mother emerged.  Having grown up on a small farm in rural Massachusetts, my mother was placed into stories that described life without air condition, refrigeration, good heat, and modern entertainment.  We heard about long and physically demanding days.  My mother attended public school in an openly anti-Semitic atmosphere.  She knew that there was an open door available at any time to a liberal, much easier and physically comfortable world, but despite this attractive option, she clung to her traditions and ultimately brought up a Jewish family.  Even after she had married and was living comfortably, she told me that, given the choice once again, she would enthusiastically choose a life of rich Jewish tradition over poor fleeting comforts.  I miss her.

At the end of a Shiva call we offer our condolences to a mourner invoking an unusual name of Hashem – HaMakom, literally “the place.” The next time I visit my father’s home, the place where my mother sat at the table will be empty.  Her reading chairs in the living-room and on the porch will be empty; the house will be quieter.  The kitchen will never again smell of tollhouse cookies, puddings, and apple and pecan pies.  One might mistakenly come to think that these places (Mekomot) in the universe are now empty.  We therefore inform the mourner that these very places are now filled by HaMakom – Hashem – and are now sources from which He, Himself, will comfort the mourner.  

“A Groiseh Mensch Iz Avek.”

-LeElui Nishmat Beilla Bat Tzvi Zalman.


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