By Yochanan Gordon
The following is a eulogy I wrote for my dear brother-in-law, Chaim Moshe ben Binyamin Tzvi, the morning of his levayah, just one week ago. Circumstances precluded me from being able to deliver it during the funeral, so I deemed it appropriate to publish it, in his memory, in this space.
The words, ideas, and sentiments herein reflect my completely honest assessment of who Moshe was, without any exaggeration. First, as is customary, I’d like to begin by asking mechilah for anything I may have done that in any way could be perceived as a slight to Moshe’s honor.
Truthfully, I cannot recall anything that would necessitate my having to ask forgiveness, but because Moshe was someone who despised fanfare or notoriety, I feel that these very words I’m writing would, in a certain way, be contrary to what he would want. My main objective is to impart Moshe’s remarkable ability to deliver a message without even uttering a word, and because that itself requires a few words about Moshe, it’s for this reason that I ask mechilah.
King David wrote in Tehillim, “To you, silence is praise.” Another verse in Tehillim conveys a similar message when it states, “Dom laHashem v’hischolel lo.” I was thinking that the word “v’hischolel” is similar to the word chalil, which is song or music, and expresses the idea that G-d perceives silent acceptance of His will as sweet and pleasing as song.
A musician would agree that there are two components to song — notes and rests — and that the rests are just as integral to the beauty of the symphony as the notes. Similarly, an artist would attest to the fact that in producing beautiful art, there are brushstrokes and empty spaces, and the empty spaces contain as much beauty as the brushstrokes do.
So too would a writer believe that in any great piece of literature there are words, sentences, and paragraphs, and then there is the story that is told between the lines. Rashi, in Parashas V’zos HaBerachah, cites a Midrash that says the Torah consists of black fire on top of white fire. “Black fire” refers to the words that are inscribed in black ink, and “white fire” is the white space in between each word and line. As the white fire is made up of empty space, it is therefore ineffable and imparting a much more potent message than the words themselves are capable of conveying.
Moshe lived between the lines. Moshe had the keen ability to deliver an impactful message with just a momentary glance, without as much as uttering a word.
It is extremely ironic that the most memorable eulogy in all of history was the one given by Aharon HaKohen, in Parashas Shemini, which contained no words, only silence. Aharon, when confronted with the ultimate challenge of burying two of his sons, Nadav and Avihu, remained silent, and it’s his silence that we remember eternally.
In Parashas Shemini, the Torah equates Moshe and Aharon, stating, “He is Moshe and Aharon; he is Aharon and Moshe.” Rashi comments that the seeming superfluity in this verse teaches us that the two brother leaders were equal. There are, however, distinctions between Moshe and Aharon. When G-d appeared to Moshe, exhorting him to inform the enslaved people in Egypt that the time of their redemption had arrived, he answered, among other things, “I am not a man of words.” To this G-d replied, “Aharon, your brother, will be your spokesman.”
If we were to read the account of Nadav and Avihu’s demise on its own we would think that Aharon’s silence stemmed from a reticent predisposition, similar to that expressed by his brother, Moshe. However, it’s not that Aharon had nothing to say; to the contrary, he stepped into the role of being Moshe’s mouthpiece when it was required of him to do so. But in such an unnatural position of having to bury two of his sons, he felt words would only detract from the ultimate message that needed to be conveyed. It is his silence that we recount these thousands of years later. Similarly, Moshe, my dear brother-in-law, was a man of action who saw words as cheap, and anyone who knew Moshe could tell you that he was not a cheap guy.
In a generation when people feel the need to speak whatever comes to mind, this thoughtfulness is a virtue of a bygone era that should be noted and applied.
It is easy in these situations to confront and challenge the Eibishter, similar to the way Moshe Rabbeinu did at the end of Parashas Sh’mos, and be forgiven for it. However, if we want to fulfill the mitzvah of listening to the words of the departed, we’d be better off following our dear Moshe’s lead by accepting every person and circumstance with a jovial countenance. When I envision Moshe, I see the smile that was on his face at all times, which itself was worth a thousand words.
All that’s left here is to direct my concluding words to all those seeking solace and comfort in the wake of this devastating tragedy. To Moshe’s mother, Rita, and siblings Shloime, Chani, and Faige, I say that Moshe left such an immense legacy in such a brief lifetime. Take solace in the impact Moshe had on so many lives and his ceaseless sense of magnanimity that continues to ripple the world over. And to my dear sister, Malkie, and her beautiful children, Dovid, Nisson, Yosef, Gavriel, and Rosie, we will bond together and step in to fill the gaping void that has been created with Moshe’s petirah. Be strong, walk with pride, and know with certainty that your husband and father is smiling upon you and being a meilitz yosher for you, us, and all of Klal Yisrael.
His soul should be bound in the bond of eternal life, death shall be swallowed eternally, and G-d should wipe away the tears from upon all faces with the coming of Mashiach and techiyas ha’meisim in the immediate future.