Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Avoth 1:16 and My Father A"H

Shammai Says:
• Make your study of Torah a regular activity

• Promise Little but do much

• And receive all men with a kindly countenance.

- R. Hirsch Siddur P. 429

Although Shammai has been rejected [for the most part] from normative Halachah, his Words of Wisdom match those of any one else in Avoth. So - who knew that Shammai - portrayed as grumpy by some - would offer such friendly advice?!

These words have personally resonated with me for a long time. Poignantly I used them as the theme of my Hesped for my dear Father [Zvi ben Hayyim]* at his levayah, who was niftar erev Sukkos, 14th of Tishrei 5749.

November 3rd, 2009 marks the 100th secular anniversary of my Dad's Birth. I have not made much of the various milestones before, EG my Dad's 20th yahrtzeit, but I felt that the time had finally arrived to speak-up.

At any rate my Father exemplified Shammai's dictum, albeit it takes some drash to make this work. The last two traits do fit my Dad to the proverbial "T".

OTOH, My Dad was no Torah Scholar. His meager Torah education in a Brooklyn Cheider enabled him to daven well, and not much more.

While my Mother was the outspoken advocate for Jewish Education, my Father in his own quiet way was quite involved in the same goal, serving on the board of the Yeshiva of Hartford and also as President of the Beth David Synagogue.

And so, I darshened "asie toras'cha keva" - not as fixing TIMES for Torah study, because my Dad really did not - but rather as being Kovei'a INSTITUTIONS of Torah Study, which he did big time. IOW his Kevious was about the bricks and mortar that made Torah Schools emerge from blueprint into reality. And as such, he made Torah his Qeva, albeit in my novel "Teitch" of the phrase.

My father's quietness was disarming. Few active community leaders approach public roles with such "anivus". He really did say little. At home, when he did speak seriously**, we listened, because little was stated without a lot of reflection and [by the time I rolled around] many years of experience.

Thus, while my Dad was a quiet man by nature, he could also suppress his strong opinions on issues - when he felt that being outspoken would only be counter-productive.

Nor was my Father shy as to be unfriendly. Aderabah, he was easy-going and smiley when meeting new people, and it was quite sincere. His quiet demeanour was not stand-offish as is often the case with many bashful types. He had a genuine "Dale Carnegie" smile when he said "hi".

Few people I have met have matched my Dad in exemplifying Shammai's immortal advice - albeit in his own way. I only wish leaders nowadays had more "strong silent types" who promised little but delivered much


* My Dad was usually called to the Torah as simply Zvi ben Hayyim

My Father was also called Zvi Hirsch and His Dad - I.E. my Grandfather was also known as Hayyim Haikkel.

We never knew for certain if the Yiddish nicknames were official names given at their respective Brisses, or simply pet names used by THEIR respective parents.

So E.G. My Grandparents called my Father Hirsh'l, but we don't know if that was his "official" given name - or not.

When naming my son, I made it a point to make "Hirsch" my son's official middle name so that there would be no ambiguity.

** although quiet by nature, my Dad had a good sense of humour and enjoyed entertaining people with cute jokes and stories, as well as very punny quips which were often spontaneous. The punny quips were pithy and natural. The funny stories were mostly to break the tension or "to melt the ice" when dining with company etc.

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