I’m writing this at 30,000 feet on my way back from a quick trip to Montreal. The purpose of my trip was to perform the mitzvah of nichum aveilim—comforting mourners—for my brother-in-law and his family, who lost their 17-year-old brother this week to cancer. I left Munster early this morning, and I spent three hours with them before returning to the airport to catch my flight home.
As a rabbi I’ve attended my fair share of lifecycle events, but a shiva for a young man taken in the prime of his life is especially heartbreaking. The loss is unbearable and visitors were at a loss of words; however just being there is considered comforting and that’s what I did—I showed up.
Sitting here trying to come up with a thought for my monthly column, it dawned on me that in life sometimes just being present is all it takes to make a difference. One might think that you need to have the perfect words or an eloquent turn of phrase to be memorable. We try to impress when in reality all that’s needed is to show that we care.
In fact, sometimes eloquence can even be a disadvantage. Take Moses, for example. When G-d sent him to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Jews from bondage, he initially stalled, saying that he had a speech impediment and that G-d should send someone else. So G-d appointed Moses’s brother Aaron to be the spokesperson; Moses would relay G-d’s message to Aaron, who would in turn tell it to Pharaoh. Later on, for 40 whole years, it was Moses himself—speech impediment and all—that taught and led the Jews.
One of the Torah commentators notes that had Moses been a polished orator, it would have been suspected that it was his eloquence that got the Jews to accept the Torah at Mount Sinai. But instead, by just being who he was, just doing what he was entrusted by G-d to do without making it about himself, he became the most dedicated and fearless leader of the Jewish people.
Eloquences and fancy words, or anything else that is used to impress, can only get you so far. But being there for others and showing that you care is what makes the world a better place for all.
May the family of Meir Yaakov Yosef ‘Yanky’ ben Menachem Mendel find true comfort, and may they know of only joy and happiness in their lives.
Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov