Has it really been 4 years since the passing of my beloved Rebbe? My guide, my mentor, my role model……. my hero.
Hardly a day passes that I don’t crave his wise advice; his kind and caring input into my life. The knee jerk reaction of reaching for the phone is long gone, but the desire and the yearning for contact remain. Where can I go with my difficult questions? Where is the voice of sanity in a generation so confused and distracted? When I’m feeling lost, who can shine a light and point me in the direction of my own wisdom again?
I miss him so much and yet, permeating the silence that he left behind, I hear his voice whispering quietly in my mind. “The answer to all of those questions, my tachshit (jewel), is ‘you’.”
Someone once told me that a woman grows up when she becomes a mother; a man grows up when he loses his father. I lost my father a”h this year and I certainly understand what that means. Now you have to stand on your own two feet with no one, but no one, left to support you. The safety net is gone and you’re on your own in a big world. That’s in a material sense. But in a spiritual sense, I believe you grow up when you lose your Rebbe. It’s time to stand on your own two feet. Like it or not, it’s time for enforced spiritual independence. And no one could have prepared me better for that than the R Noach himself. ‘Check it out’, was his catchphrase. Don’t believe me, know what YOU know. If it doesn’t make sense to you, then disagree. If something in Torah doesn’t make sense to you, then question it. And don’t be satisfied until you have an answer. Never compromise one iota on truth. ‘Give me clarity or give me death’ – there was simply no in between for R Noach. It was his unswerving commitment to sanity, and his utter intolerance of the opposite, that pushed his students to trust their own judgment and discover truth for themselves rather than rely on others to do so for them. He gave me many gifts. Preparing me for life without him is perhaps the greatest of all.
If I want to understand the influence he has had on my life, as one example of thousands, I need only imagine where I am today compared to where I would most likely be had he decided to go into business, or learning, rather than Jewish education.
As I look at my life today, I have a marriage that is as happy as I could possibly hope for. In fact, I have had the blessing of two wives (my first wife a”h passed away) with a total of 21 years of marriage under my belt and I am so grateful for every moment of it. I have 8 gorgeous emotionally healthy kids, each of whom feels a deep commitment to our family and to the Jewish People. They respect me, honour me and look at me as their primary guide through life. I spend my life helping people, both practically and spiritually. I see that I have a role to play as part of the Jewish Nation and I am proud to play my part as best as I am able. I am a Rabbi with my own independent understanding of Torah and feel confident to make my own decisions most of the time and seek advice at other times. Life simply couldn’t be richer or more fulfilling.
Now compare this to the path that I was on before R Noach influenced my life. I had no interest in anything Jewish. I had no interest in marriage or children. I wanted to make money and be successful, seek honour and power – and not a lot else. Of course this is a hypothesis, who knows where life might have taken me, but if I had married, it would have almost certainly have been outside of the Jewish faith. If I had changed my mind and decided to have children, it would have been one or maybe two. Six or seven of my gorgeous children would simply not have existed were it not for R Noach. Wisdom would have meant very little to me and the goldmine of Torah’s wisdom would have been a tightly closed book. It gives me the shivers even to imagine. I would likely have remained arrogant and narcissistic – as I was prior to my encounters with Judaism. And, perhaps most painful of all for me to consider, the Jewish People, the nation that I burst with pride to be a member of, would have had no meaningful role in my life. I just can’t imagine it. It brings tears to my eyes to think how life could have had so much less to offer me.
And those tears are tears of gratitude. Tears of gratitude to many people, but above all, tears of gratitude to R Noach. He lived a life of incredible self sacrifice. He gave up so much. And why did he do it? For me. Who am I that he cared so much? Who am I that he made so many sacrifices in his life to ensure that I and my children would remain a part of the Jewish Nation? Who am I? I think that in his mind, I, and the thousands like me, represented the future of the Jewish People; leaders who R Noach taught that making a difference in the world is what matters; leaders who believe that the Jewish People can and must once again shine its light brightly through the world. Yes, R Noach cared deeply about me and about the tens of thousands he reached out to, but above all, he cared about the Jewish People. And he cared about them because they are God’s People. Because at the root of R Noach’s soul, like his forefather Abraham before him, he was purely and simply a lover of his Creator.
There is such a moving and powerful scene at the end of the film Saving Private Ryan. The men of a whole squad have given their lives so that Ryan might live; the squad Captain lies dying and whispers to Ryan simply, ‘earn it’. I can never pay you back R Noach for what you have done for me. But can I ‘earn it’? I hope so and I pray so. On reflection, yes, R Noach, you’ve taught me that with God on my side (and you’ve also taught me that of course He is), for sure I can ‘earn it’ – and I intend to do my very best to do so. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity.