Making Good on a Promise

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to make good on an important promise, and in so doing, to follow in the footsteps of our forefathers.   When Yaakov Avinu anticipated that he would soon leave this world, he summoned his beloved son Yosef, and asked him to make a promise:

“Vayikra livno l’Yosef vayomer lo im na matzasi chein b’einecha sim nah yadecha tachas yereichi, v’asisa imadi chesed v’emes, v’al nah sikbereini b’Mitzrayim. V’Shachavti im avosai u’nesasani mi’Mitzrayim, u’kevartani b’kevurasam, va’yomer anochi e’eseh kidvarecha.

He (Yaakov) called to his son, to Yosef, and he said to him, ‘If I find favor in your eyes, place your hand under my thigh and act with me in kindness and truth – please do not bury me in Egypt.  Rather, let me lie with my forefathers and carry me forth from Egypt to bury me among their graves,’ and he (Yosef) said, I will do what you asked.” Yaakov asks Yosef to carry him up from Egypt and to insure his burial in the Land of Israel.  The parsha ends in a similar manner to the way it began.  This time it is Yosef who asks his brothers to make a promise, the very same promise that he himself made to his father.

“Vayomer Yosef el echav, anochi meis veiLokim pakod yifkod eschem v’heelah eschem min ha’aretz ha’zos el ha’aretz asher nishbah l’Avraham l’Yitzchak u’leYaakov.  And Yosef said to his brothers, I am going to die, please swear that you will carry up my bones from this land (Egypt) to the land that God promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.”

Yosef, like his father Yaakov, did not want to be buried in Mitzrayim, a land of exile.  Both of them make those with whom they are close promise to bring them to a permanent burial in the land of our forefathers, in Israel. Last Friday, our community suffered a great loss in the passing of our beloved and esteemed member, friend, and teacher – Rabbi Gene Klein.  Rabbi Klein led a life filled with challenges, suffering, tragedy, and disappointment and yet, he was one of the most optimistic, positive, and upbeat people any of us has ever met.  Rav Yaakov Chaim, like his namesake Yaakov Avinu, did not want to be buried in exile, and instead insisted on being interred in the land of our forefathers, together with his cherished Rebbetzin, Elka.  A few years ago, Rabbi Klein asked me to make him a promise.  He asked that we escort him to burial in the land of Israel.  Earlier this week, on behalf of our community, I made good on that promise, much sooner than any of us had hoped to. Though it was already dark and cold, close to 60 people attended Rabbi Klein’s burial in the Eretz Ha’Chaim Cemetery in Beit Shemesh on Monday night.  Many of our teenagers studying in Israel for the year attended.  Former BRS members came from all throughout Israel to pay their respects.  Rabbi Klein’s cousin whom he spoke about often, Rabbi Slezinger, the Rav of Gilo, spoke eloquently about his cousin.   A great, great nephew of Rabbi Klein was there as well, and he, too, shared great memories of many beautiful yomim tovim with the rabbi. I recognized everyone in attendance, with the exception of three people.  I had never seen them before, and even while I was looking out while delivering my eulogy, I wondered who they were and why they came.  My curiosity was compounded when I noticed them growing emotional as the funeral and burial went on until they each had tears streaming down their cheeks. After the Kaddish was recited and the burial came to a close, the three mysterious individuals and I had an opportunity to meet.  It turns out that these two brothers and a sister had grown up in Rabbi Klein’s Shul in Englishtown, NJ.  They described that their family had no Jewish background at all and they grew up in a totally non-observant environment. My new friends exclaimed proudly that they are religious today only because of the love, care, concern, and inspiration of one man: Rabbi Klein.   They reflected nostalgically on what it was like to grow up as one of Rabbi Klein’s children.  He met with each of them a minimum of 12 times before for their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs.  They learned to daven, to love Torah, to keep Kosher, and to value Judaism from this extraordinary man whom they had come to say goodbye to, all of these years later. Their stories of being inspired by the behavior and modeling of one man sat in great contrast to what I had witnessed just a few hours earlier.  As I’m sure many of you can attest to, airplane travel seems to bring out the worst of some people.  True, there are many who exhibit virtuous conduct by giving up a superior seat to help a married couple sit together, or get up to help someone load his suitcase into the overhead space, or hold a baby so that her mother  traveling alone can go to the restroom. However, the kindness of some at times seems to be outweighed and muted by the gross inappropriateness and offensiveness of others, often with a yarmulke on top of their head.  Somehow there is a moment on every flight to Israel when I cringe and recoil watching and listening to a visibly observant passenger carry on in a manner that can only be described as an egregious Chillul Hashem.  During those episodes, the look on the faces of those not yet observant says it all – “I want nothing to do with Torah and Mitzvos if this is the kind of behavior those who are observant could exhibit.” As I flew home, I sat in my seat reflecting on the contrast between Rabbi Klein’s love, affection, derech eretz, and fine middos, with the crassness, obnoxiousness, and insensitivity of some others.  This journey served as a reminder that our very behavior and conduct is pregnant with the potential to leave transformational impressions on others that will either draw them closer to our tradition, or God forbid drive them far away. Rabbi Klein’s greatest legacy is the thousands of families who were beneficiaries of his kindness and who were inspired by his actions, even more than his words, to live richly Jewish lives.  The greatest honor we can show his memory is to remember our responsibility and obligation to always act with righteousness towards others, and to seek to create a Kiddush Hashem with everyone we come across.