Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Siyum Speech on Maseches Bava Metziah, Commemorating My Grandfather’s, Z’TL, 3rd Yahrzeit

The following introduction of my siyum on Maseches Bava Metziah was delivered in Tifereth Israel of Passaic during Shalosh Seudos, Parshas Beshalach on 2/11/17 (Items in parentheses are ad-libbed material):

Good Shabbos everyone! Thank you for always inviting me to partake in these wonderful Siyumim, and for asking me to speak and be mesayem today.

It’s always wonderful to reconnect with friends, and to check in with Howie on where we’re each holding with our reading ambitions (We took care of that business immediately, and now we can carry on with the core reason for my visit).

We have completed Maseches Bava Metziah, and I have dedicated the learning to my maternal grandfather on the occasion of his third yahrzeit (I have spoken of him highly here, and often. So for those of you who are unfamiliar, I’m pleased to give you a basic introduction).

It happens to be, at the moment, that I am penning his memoirs, which were borne out of several Thursday night interviews I had with him 14 years ago.

The time finally came to transcribe them and put them all together.

My grandfather led an astonishing Forrest-Gumpian kind of life, especially during the war. He was all over the place, running and hiding, and being captured, and enslaved, and escaping, and taking up arms against the Germans, and hiking back home for thousands of miles (from Deep Russia, back to his home in Marmarosh, Romania – an on-foot journey of at least 1,700 miles).

The story is amazing, and I hope you’ll benefit from it when I publish the book.

One of the things that has struck me while putting the book together and taking a broad view of his life, is that it seems that it was one of Tikkun Olam.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that Gd has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.”

Now, besides, Josh, for being a great lesson for a shul President for whom exactly to listen to when they complain to you, it is also – it seems to me - the living, breathing lesson that my grandfather imparted to his family for generations.

He took the various injustices and broken things of his world that he experienced and witnessed, and he set about to repair them. Four distinct examples stand out from his life (I have a page in the book detailing the examples I have. It is 17 bullet-points long, but time is brief today, so I’ll keep it to these four):

  1. When he returned home from war, he found his house in ruins, and he found his father’s Shas had been used as toilet paper by the enemy. He cried, and he despaired. Oy, did he (On the video my mother recorded of the interviews, my grandfather comes to near tears when he describes how terrible it was to see his father’s favorite sefer ripped to shreds: “Oy, my father’s Noam Elimelech! The Noam Elimelech my father loved!” It’s an extremely emotional part of the tape), but he also began a life of learning that included finishing Shas 14 times. How else can you be mesaken something as devastating as seeing your father’s Shas in ruins?
  2. There were children who survived the war, very few, and instead of letting them languish, my father, and his brother – Rav Eliezer Malik – took it upon themselves to be the teachers of the children in the neighborhood while the survivors rebuilt their lives (These Malik brothers then handed these children over to formal institutions once they were formed).
  3. When my grandfather was enslaved by the Russian army, rations were meager, and at one point, the entire group had to resort to cannibalism to survive. My grandfather refused, and would rather die than succumb. The chef was initially angry with my grandfather for refusing, but eventually had rachmanos on my grandfather, who was dying of malnutrition, and gave him an extra portion of daily bread to sustain him. Guess what my grandfather did for a living when he came to the states? He was a chef for 40 years before retiring, specifically for children in yeshivas and camps. It really isn’t that hard to draw a straight line here.
  4. One of the jobs my grandfather had while serving the Hungarian army - Jews were not allowed to be soldiers - was to dig foxholes for the Germans on the front lines against the allies, under pain of death (My grandfather’s friends were shot either by the Germans when they refused to dig, or by American or Soviet bullets when they fired upon the enemy). My grandfather escaped in the night from this travail, when his war wanderings began. As if God himself acknowledged this way of suffering and that He approved of my grandfather’s way of life, it happened many years later that my uncles, living in Israel at the time, and in Yeshiva, were summoned by the army for a day of work. What job were they given? Foxhole diggers for the Israeli Army. Uh, if that’s not a Tikkun Olam, I don’t know what is.

So I feel a responsibility to continue the legacy of my grandfather, to continue repairing the holes in the universe. However, I’m not a rebbe, and I’m not a blue-collar worker, and I’m not a chef. But you know what I am? I’m a poshiter yid, and I learn daf yomi every day, and I have my grandfather in mind every time I open a gemorah, and I love and honor him always, and on the occasion of his yahrzeit, it is a distinct pleasure to be able to be mesayim with a minyan, with friends.

The world is a broken place right now, but the gadol hador, Leonard Cohen, said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets In.” I give everyone here a blessing that we, and everyone around us should be the kind of people who notice broken things, and set about fixing them. We can repair the universe this way, and we can spread a little light.

Let us now complete Maseches Bava Metziah in honor and in memory of R. Benzion Ben R. Aharon, Z’TL…

(The picture attached depicts the moment I finished Shas with Zaidy, on July 12, 2012. It was my first completion, which I considered his 15th, due to how he inspired me down this path.)


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