It was the time that I most looked forward to following the end of a busy week. As my family prepared to usher in the Shabbos, my mother and father would often come to our home to share the time with us. Shabbos is a time when the hustle and bustle of the week seems to magically stop and the world takes on a quieter, simpler tone. As my wife and mother would make the final preparations for the Shabbos dinner and our young children would play, my father and I would wish them all a “Good Shabbos” and walk together to shul. These walks were a highlight of my week. Though as an adult I think I do a pretty good job of balancing being a husband, father and business owner, the truth is that I always wanted to gain that extra piece of wisdom from my father, a man who I admired and respected so very much.
Fortunately, my father was a man always willing to share his knowledge with his children. A man who came from humble roots, my father, through hard work, became very successful in his chosen field. Moreover, he was a wonderful husband and father who always let it be known to us the importance of family. Blessed with a wonderful mother and father, my brother, sister and I did not have to look far for true role models.
During our walks to shul, my father and I would talk about work, family and faith. If I was facing a challenging situation my father always seemed to have the right advice and the right way to present it. Even if he disagreed with the way I was approaching a particular issue, he was never disparaging or condescending to me. I always understood that his advice to me had no other motivation other than what was best for me. Sometimes I followed his advice, sometimes I did not, and sometimes I would “blend” his advice with some of my own ideas. These walks were invaluable to me and, to a great extent, have molded me into the man that I am.
These cherished walks suddenly stopped. Without notice, my father became very ill and passed on.
And then one day these cherished walks suddenly stopped. Without notice, my father became very ill and passed on. Initially, the pain was too great to bear. Following my father’s death I remember telling my brother how it now felt like we were a ship without an anchor. My brother more accurately responded “Actually, it’s more like we’re a ship without its captain.” It was so true.
After some time had passed I kept wondering how to best deal with this new reality – Was I now expected to walk alone? The one person I knew who would have the right advice to deal with the issue was no longer there to ask. So I was left to answer the question by myself: How do I not walk alone? While certainly a work in progress, there are a number of things I have come to realize that allow my father to remain an active, guiding influence in my life.
For one, there is the Jewish tradition of Kaddish. Kaddish is the obligation that a child undertakes to assist their parent’s soul in the afterlife. It is recited everyday in shul during the morning, afternoon and evening prayer services. Kaddish is recited for 11 months following the death of a parent. While I had always been a pretty regular shul attendee, Kaddish raises one’s duty of shul attendance to a new level. I now find myself studying my upcoming weekly work schedule every Sunday night to determine how I will make it to shul three times each day. To be honest, at times it seems arduous. This, however, is a small inconvenience compared to the joy that I feel in knowing that I can still fulfill the Torah commandment of honoring my father. The daily recitation of Kaddish allows me to have my father remain an active, everyday presence in my life.
The lawyer in me provided another way to “not walk alone.” In law, there is a concept known as “the completed gift.” What this means is that a gift does not occur when somebody gives you something, but rather when you, as the recipient, accept it. Since my father’s passing, I have thought back on the many life lessons that he taught me. For whatever reasons, many of these lessons I had not incorporated into my life at the time my father gave them to me. Each day I find myself recalling my father’s lessons, accepting them, and using them in my life. By doing so I continue to receive gifts from my father - gifts that pierce any mortal divide.
By using my father’s gifts, I continue to receive them and pierce the mortal divide.
One of my father’s lessons to his children regarded what he believed to be his primary purpose for being placed on this earth. To my father, his life was more than just him. My father believed that his main purpose in life was to accept a “baton” (his term) from his parents, carry it proudly, and pass it on intact to his children. I have always found this idea intriguing. Not only does it create a great responsibility for one to continue their family’s traditions, but it also demands a humility in knowing that you are just one small part of a greater whole. I have taken this lesson from my father to heart. My father’s father was born in Lomza, Poland, once home of the renowned Lomza Yeshiva. By continuing the
Jewish traditions with my family, I take comfort in knowing that the traditions of my father and his ancestors are being instilled in my children. This, along with all of the other life lessons that my wife and I teach our children, is our attempt to properly accept that “baton” and pass it on.
So now Friday night comes and I walk to shul - sometimes alone, other times with my children. But even when I walk, technically, alone, I’m not alone - I am with my father. I remember his lessons and think about how I can use them to become a better person. How I wish my father were physically there by my side - yet, I recognize that this is no longer how it is meant to be. And when I arrive at shul and recite Kaddish it is my way of thanking my father for all the gifts he has given to me and continues to give to me. Then, I return to my home to enjoy dinner at our Shabbos table, where I try my best to pass on to my children the wonderful lessons that my father has taught me.
May the memory of Mattis Chaim ben Gavriel be for a blessing.