What can I say? I’ve wondered for years what I would say when the time came, but this bit gave me a starting point. I’ve been participating in a Mussar group through the AishDas society, where we work as a group, on conference calls, on various behavioral issues. Recently, we have been reading some introductory material we should have done a year ago. The current bit tells us we should formulate an image of our ideal person, the goal towards which our behavioral improvements would grow.
The more I think about it, the qualities of my ideal person are Dad’s – what I always envied him for
I’ve been to plenty of hespedim which began with a disclaimer, such as “it’s isru chag, we don’t say hesped, but the family would like to say a few words.” So I’ll make a disclaimer – I know a mourner isn’t supposed to be involved in Torah learning, but this passage from Pirkei Avot really encapsulates what I admired about Dad.
Avos 4:1. I’m going to reshuffle this a bit, for rhetorical effect
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men. Dad’s formal education may have been a bit patchy, but he was brilliant, and always willing to learn new things. He taught himself the liberal arts education that he had missed, during long hours reading in the lulls in the orchestra pit. At 69 he learned to lein, and did his first haftarah (of many – he was the go-to guy for haftarot in their summer synagogue for 18 years). After a life as an atheist, be became a baal tefillah, which brought somewhat further along his spiritual journey.
Who is mighty? He who subdues his passions Dad is the “slow to anger” guy. It takes a lot to get him upset, but when it happens, you know he means it. But he was often happy. I never understood this. His equanimity is the biggest thing I’ve tried to acquire throughout life, since I’m the more excitable type, like Mom, or Dad’s parents. Maybe it was a survival tactic as a youngest child? I note that he really came into his own after his brothers were out of the house – he went to Juilliard at 15. I asked him once, since he was often telling me when I got upset and yelling over something trivial, or not so trivial, “you shouldn’t feel like that.” That was frustrating – what am I supposed to feel? How can I change what I feel about something? Took me a lot of therapy to get there, on some things. Anyway – how did he deal with his feelings, since he never showed much? Through his music. But he was an orchestra/ensemble musician? You have to play the same notes, over and over, day after day, as they were written decades or centuries ago? Even so, there’s room for expression, subtle shifts in timing or volume or emphasis. That was tremendous, it changed how I listen to music, and how I hear myself when playing.
Who is honored? He that honors his fellow He was always proud of us, whatever we did. It was always obvious that neither Mitch nor I had the zitsfleisch to follow in the family business – neither of us could bring ourselves to practice for hours a day, the way Laurie did. He may not have understood it, since math was not something he had picked up much of, and he never really grasped computers, but he was patient with my attempts to explain personal triumphs at work in terms relevant to him. And he always had good things to say about most people. Of course, on rare occasions he called someone a name, and you know he meant it – he couldn’t work with that person. So we worked to find things to do with him, and get that appreciation for a job well done. As Dad often said, anything worth doing is worth doing well. So it was with him – top-flight orchestra musician, self-taught (but also took classes) photographer, always aiming to improve – won prizes at the Delaware County Fair for his photography, even with amateur musical stuff, always the best you can.
Who is rich? He who rejoices in his portion, as it is written (Psalm 128:2) "You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you." "You shall be" refers to this world; and "it shall be well with you" refers to the world to come.
Maimonides reads wealth as “possessing good ethical attributes.” And that’s really the sum of Dad. Even at the end, when he had to suffer little indignities just to deal with daily life, he didn’t complain, he put up with it, what choice is there? I asked him, how is it that you’re always happy? I wouldn’t say happy, rather, content with my life. He may not have reached for the flashy positions, but he did very well with everything he did, and enjoyed his life, even the hard work – his 2-3 jobs to provide for us. Happily married twice, raised three good people who all followed different paths and have done well with them, in three good marriages, with four growing (or grown) grandchildren with great memories of this “most happy fella.” May his merits that gave him a fulfilled life in this world carry him through eternity in the light of the knowledge of Hashem.