Hello Dear Readers,
My Rabbi and dear friend passed away ten years ago, Sunday 6 Kislev. He was 34. A husband and father of four, he was adored and cherished by our community.
I feel a little unmerited to write something in his memory. And even as I write that, I realize the folly of my worry. Though I sometimes get wrapped up in myself, including questioning my own merit, this is false. Of course you and I and all of us are of immeasurable worth and what we each contribute is precious.
When I first learned of Rabbi Levi, I was excited that a Rabbi was coming into my community. Walking distance really! And then I found out that his unusual “home” address (seemingly in the middle of a strip mall) was simply a p.o. box.
Oh well, I guess walking to shul, which was not part of my lifestyle, was not going to drop down into our lives that day. That was no issue really because I was very happy in my brand new Jewish community. This being the community I recently wrote about (ALL DRESSED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO and THE SABBATH QUEEN).
Very soon after I heard the news of a new Rabbi coming to town, I was told by my friends in my brand NEW Jewish community that this new Rabbi Levi is MY new Rabbi. As I hadn’t met him yet, I was a little perturbed that I was getting “kicked out” of my “other” new found Jewish community. I said that he was not my Rabbi. I was happy and had no desire to make a change.
However over the next few weeks, every time people introduced us, they would say this is Vivi and her family…they are part of Rabbi Levi’s community. 🥺 I know it was all meant for the good. I think they did this because Rabbi Levi was in my town (though not the very close walk I initially thought) and the other community was much further away. I’m guessing they just assumed I would want to support and join this new exciting emerging community that was so close to me.
Soon after, Rabbi Levi called and asked if he could come visit with his family to meet us. Yes, yes, but we still aren’t transferring shuls! I told the friends of the newly discovered shul, “listen, I am not ready to be of service, i.e. supporting a new congregation. I’m just newly LIKING being Jewish! My interest in this whole thing is still pretty fresh. You could easily lose me ”. They nodded as if they understood, but then were undaunted. We were the new family in Rabbi Levi’s shul.
Fast forward. Rabbi Levi, his wife Miriam, and their family came to our home. Yes, wow, they were wonderful! Warm and happy, bright, infectiously joyful, good humored, kind, smart. The list goes on.
No belaboring this detail. We joined forces. This was our Rabbi and our shul.
Rabbi Levi made Judaism fun. He always had a good word to say to you and to me about life, about how we were doing, about any positive things we did in our lives, no matter how small. When I was going through a hard time, he made himself available to meet with me regularly even though his illness had brought him to a difficult place. He encouraged me, praised the good I was doing, and maybe even more important, he called b.s. (though he used different words) when he saw me heading in wrong directions. Though he didn’t exactly say b.s., he was disarmingly direct. I appreciate that.
At one point, I had a deep heart to heart with Rabbi Levi and admitted mistakes, regrets and flaws. Here this loving wise man gave me the greatest gift. He did not minimize my challenges and mistakes. He heard and saw. And then after listening and giving it the gravity it warranted, he offered profound encouragement and support of the jewel of a person he knew me to be. The jewel of a person we ALL are beneath our challenges.
I will always remember this. His vision of our “jewel-ness” is a big part of who I am today.
A second precious memory is when Rabbi Levi, despite his serious condition, came and spoke at my older son’s Barmitzvah ceremony. He said he would not miss it. This meant the world to my family and to my son, 23, who still speaks about it to this day.
One last share. This is difficult to capture. When Rabbi Levi was ill, there was a huge effort to bring about his healing in every way – physically and spiritually. One of the dominant themes was spreading the teaching, “Tracht Gut Vet Zayn Gut! – Think good and it will be good”, originally shared by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866).
Rabbi Levi and his wife encouraged us all to think and live this teaching in his merit. They even made little rubber bracelets with this saying, “Tracht Gut Vet Zayn Gut”. I tried and did go along at the time, but I didn’t understand the profound value.
Rabbi Levi lived a good healthy beautiful life, much longer than originally predicted by his first diagnosis. He passed away on the sixth of Kislev.
Here is where the teaching becomes ever more profound. I attended his Memorial which had a huge attendance. I wondered how his family and the other Rabbis would publicly come to terms with the “Tracht Gut Vet Zayn Gut” efforts – their hopes and beliefs that Rabbi Levi would survive the illness? And now, his heartbreaking passing? I guessed they would sweep it under the rug, just not mention it.
I was completely wrong.
“Tracht Gut Vet Zayn Gut! – Think good and it will be good” was the theme of the Memorial. Further, we were asked as his beloved friends, family and community to practice this teaching in our lives in his memory.
His family put together a tractate specifically on this teaching. I was truly baffled and hungry to see how they could make sense of this. Their teaching, to my understanding, was simple. Trust. Bitachon. We can choose it. In Rabbi Levi’s memory, choose TRUST. Regardless of what life looks like, hope and believe in the best results, and keep our trust in all circumstances. Choose TRUST.
Choosing TRUST can definitely be a challenge. It may not always seem accessible. And I TRUST it is, regardless of circumstances. Just as our “jewel-ness” and divine dignity is always there, not always visible, beneath our flaws and humanity, the capability to choose TRUST is always there too.
I am in.