Monthly Archives: June 2014

Memories of Dad

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father-and-daughter

To celebrate Father’s Day, I have come up with a small collection of the best memories I had with my dad: some, funny; many, just plain silly; a few, heart-warming. He may have gone from this world, but the 25 years and all the memories within those years that he shared with me will never go away.

To my hero, my role model, my inspiration, to the greatest person I’ve ever known, I miss you and I love you so very much. This is for you. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

Lottery Tickets

For as long as I could remember, my dad would always have a lottery ticket. Many nights, I would watch with him on television the replay of the draw at exactly 9 PM. His practice was to bet the same set of numbers every day until that set wins. He told me that many times, he would win small amounts of money for getting 3 or 4 out 6 numbers right; and on three occasions, he actually won significant amounts, two of which were the jackpot. (FYI, these lottery games are not all the same. There are different types: some are more easily won (e.g. 4 digits with a combination of numbers from 0 to 9) while others, much harder (e.g. 6 digits with a combination of numbers from 1 to 49).

One time, I asked if betting every day would be a waste of money. He said that since he already won three times, he had already replenished all the losing bets he bought and still had enough for more.

He was very confident that he would one day win the highest jackpot. The secret, he confided, was to bet the same set of numbers every time. I still remember his last set of numbers; and sometimes, when I feel lucky I would bet that same set hoping that when it wins, I will be able to proudly say: “Those were my dad’s numbers!”

The Walking Encyclopedia

My dad was one of the smartest people I knew. He read voraciously and no topic was too boring or too sophisticated for him. From classical novels to medical textbooks (he was a doctor), he would embrace them all.

His favorite past time was doing crossword puzzles. In my high school, we would have this annual newspaper drive. At that time, we didn’t have any newspaper subscription so I would use the drive to collect all the crossword puzzles I could; and when I got so many of them, I would surprise my dad and give them to him. He would always look so happy and grateful. He would then give me a hug.

My dad was my encyclopedia, dictionary and thesaurus. I remember very few instances when I asked him about something and he didn’t know the answer. Whenever it did happen, he would not let it go unanswered. He would learn about it afterwards. This was especially true when it came to Medicine-related questions.

From him, I discovered that truly learned people are also uniquely open-minded. It is unique for it is the kind of open-mindedness that is rarely seen even in this so-called Post-Modern era. It is the acceptance (as opposed to mere tolerance) of other people’s convictions by seriously learning more about those convictions while still being true to his own. Many today spout this idea yet how many of them actually try to learn about others’ worldviews and at the same time have deep convictions of their own that they would be willing to fight for?

This attitude of his had been especially meaningful for me during the years I was cruising my way through Judaism. Not only was he very supportive of my decision to become Jewish, he was also very involved in the process. Unlike most of the people I had encountered, he was not condescending at all about it. He didn’t think to just try to “accept” it even though for many, it sounded so ridiculous, maybe even bordering fanatical. He sincerely tried to understand where I was coming from and what had drawn me to it in the first place. When he eventually did, he would encourage me all the time by telling me that the Torah has made me into a better person. He would listen to me whenever I would share new insights. And when he found something interesting, he would ask me reading materials about it so he could learn more. Some of those Jewish ideas he found interesting were the laws of lashon hara (gossip/ slander) and the concept of the Jewish messiah. He also never forgot to remind me about his one and only Jewish friend from med school, Ira.

Beloved by All

One of the most remembered qualities people had about my dad was his generosity. He was extremely generous with his money, his time and his effort. I remember my sister’s friends went to him all the time to ask for advice and they would always walk away happy and enlightened. When my friends would sleep over, he would always prepare sumptuous meals for all of us. Our house was all the time open to visitors and people loved being there. He reminded me so much of Avraham Avinu who was the paragon of hospitality and generosity.

Other prominent virtues he had were his loyalty and trustworthiness. When you needed him for anything, he would never let you down. If he told you he would do it, you didn’t have to worry anymore after because it was sure to be realized. He took every person seriously. No wonder he was beloved by all. That’s why he was strongly against traitors and dishonest and unreliable people. Whenever someone betrayed him, he would completely cut off any connection with that person. He just didn’t have tolerance for that.

Nine or so Lives

My dad was a fearless man. He would tell me all sorts of stories of how he cheated death so many times. But he was not a careless man. He would not put himself in dangerous situations deliberately or needlessly (at least most of the time, as any normal person would). Somehow, danger just always came his way.

His first near-death experience was when he was 7 years old. Children are always curious about the things around them and my dad was definitely not an exception. Wires are especially interesting for them. So one day, dad climbed a ladder to reach a long loose wire coming out from a hanging bulb-less socket. The moment he touched it, he lost consciousness. When he woke up, one of his grandfather’s gardeners or farmers (I don’t exactly remember) told him that he saw my dad hanging from the ceiling with only a wire holding him up! The flow of electricity coming out of the wire was so strong, it was enough to keep his body hanging. The gardener/ farmer told my dad that if he had pulled him there a few seconds later, who knew what would have been his end.

Whenever he told me this story (he told this to me numerous times), he would relate other similar experiences. There was the time when he accidentally fell off a cliff while driving with his parents. Another was being on a mini jet plane with his best friend and nephew (who owns a construction and mining company, thus the jet plane) when it had to do an emergency crash landing. Then another when his entire house was literally engulfed in flood water so he had to quickly escape to the neighbor who lived in a house with two floors. Another was the time he was sleeping inside the mini store he owned when out of nowhere, a huge vehicle headed directly and smashed the front of his store, escaping a crushing blow by a hairsbreadth!

Unfortunately, he had apparently used up all his nine lives to be saved from his most important battle with death. Three years ago, he had a massive heart attack that nobody expected. My sister would relate the seeming ordinariness of that day. (I was on the bus coming home from work when it all happened.) He was cooking dinner for my sister like any normal day when he unusually felt very hot and tired. He climbed up the bed and lied down to cool himself a bit near the air conditioner. When my sister checked on him a minute later, he was already having the attack, bubbles foaming in his mouth. She said that all her medical education and training (she’s also a doctor) disappeared as she saw my dad on the brink of death. Our house was a few minutes from the hospital. The doctors tried to revive him for 40 minutes but to no avail. When I was almost near home, I checked my phone and got a very brief message from my sister that dad was in the emergency room because of a heart attack. I was already crying while on the way to the hospital yet still hoping it was nothing too serious. But it was serious and I was too late. He was already pronounced dead when I arrived. It was the worst day of my entire life.

Unconditional Love

Perhaps to most people, the concept of authentic unconditional love is mostly relegated to fiction stories or something only imagined by the idealists. My dad showed me that it is true but that very few people can indeed actualize it.

All my life, I would hear my dad tell me every chance he could get that my sister and I are the best things that ever happened to him. He stood both as mother and father to us and did odd jobs (when doctoring wasn’t enough) just to provide us with the best of everything, but never once did I hear him complain about how difficult his life was (even though from the outside, it looked quite difficult). Only now do I understand why he never uttered a word of complaint. For him, it wasn’t difficult at all. He loved us so much, whatever it was that he did for us was never quantified.

He is the reason why the Torah’s assertion that G-d’s love is unconditional is not that too far off for me to grasp. If a mere human, only one of G-d’s creations, could give such a lofty kind of love, how much more the Creator Himself, the Source of all kinds of love!

 

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The Non-sense of Arrogance

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Last Shabbat, while looking at the roofs of the neighboring apartment buildings (we live on the 6th floor), my husband and I noticed a group of pigeons drinking from a puddle of water on one of the roofs. A few minutes later, the calm was disturbed when a bigger bird, very likely a crow, showed up. It “crowed” (how much more apt can this word get?) in its usual loudness while it used its wide wings to shoo the pigeons away from the puddle. And so the pigeons did. But before the crow started to actually drink the water, it strutted its body first, head held high, looked to the left and then to right. My husband then commented: “See that gaavah [arrogance]? It has no sechel [sense].”

The rooftop where the pigeons usually go for a drink

The rooftop where the pigeons usually go for a drink. (The crow was not in sight during the taking of this picture.)

The Gemara (Eruvin 100b) teaches that some character traits can be learned from animals just by observing them such as diligence and honesty from ants, modesty from cats, chastity from doves, etc. In the case of our story above, we learn that the crow and many other types of animals are arrogant. Since it is in their nature to have these tendencies, we say that anything that animals do is without sechel. When we refer to sechel here, we do not just mean “common sense” in its simplest context since as was previously presented, animals do have some kind of sense. Thus, having sechel, especially when associated with human behavior, always involves acts and decisions done with wisdom.

According to the Torah, one of the most (if not the most) despicable and non-sense of all behaviors is arrogance for it ultimately leads a person to forget his Creator (Orchot Tzaddikim). Therefore, we are warned that “the abomination of Hashem are all who are proud of heart” (Proverbs 16:5) and that “one with haughty eyes and an expansive heart – him, I [Hashem] cannot bear” (Psalms 101:5).  On the other hand, the value that the Torah exalts the most is humility. The greatest of all Jewish prophets was positively described with only one thing: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

We might think, it is so obvious why we see in the crow how non-sense its arrogance is. It did not do anything worthy of pride. It was born bigger than the pigeons so what is there to be proud about? Yes, so obvious yet, we see this kind of arrogance all too often in rich and intelligent people. But from this argument, we are also practically saying that it is all right to be arrogant as long as we did something worthy of it. For example, a persevering businessman who had his years of hard work rewarded with wealth; or maybe a studious scholar who after almost a lifetime of toiling in learning finally received honor from his peers for his extensive knowledge. Is there really sechel to warrant arrogance in these cases?

The Torah’s answer is of course no. As the Igeret HaRamban [Letter of the Ramban {Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman}] summarizes it:

For Indeed, of what should man be prideful? If he has wealth – it is Hashem who makes one prosperous. And if honor – does honor not belong to G-d? As it is written: “Wealth and honor come from You” (I Chronicles 29:12) – and how can one glorify himself with the honor of his Maker? If he takes pride in wisdom – let him understand that G-d may remove the speech of the most competent and take away the wisdom of the aged (Job 12:20). Thus, all men are equal before their Creator. In His fury, He casts down the lofty; in His goodwill, He elevates the downtrodden. Therefore, humble yourself so Hashem may lift you.

Then, there is the most despised type of arrogance: the one that takes pride in his religiosity or spirituality. This is the kind that most religious people are guilty of in varying degrees. This is the person who feels superior for dedicating his life to serving G-d, observing the mitzvot [Torah commandments], learning His Torah, etc. There is nothing more non-sensical than this type. Rabbeinu Avraham retells a story told by his father, the Rambam [Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon]: “He [Rambam]  heard that, on the night of Yom Kippur, an observant man declared, ‘I don’t know for what sin I should repent.’ My father remarked, ‘What an unfortunate man! If he would only know what he should, he would repent even for thinking he has no sin for which to repent’” (Hamaspik L’ovdei Hashem). We see here that ignorance regarding the truth about one’s self is the main reason a person is haughty when it comes to religious matters. And what is ignorance but a lack of sechel? That is why among the most righteous of individuals, humility is paramount and the most desired by G-d. In the Gemara (Chullin 89a), quoted in Mesillat Yesharim, it states:

[With reference to the verse] ‘Not because you are more numerous than all the nations did Hashem desire you’ (Deuteronomy 7:7), the Holy One Blessed be He said to them [to Israel]: My sons, I desire you, for even when I imbue you with greatness you diminish yourselves before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham; he said, ‘And I am dust and ashes’ (Genesis 18:27). I bestowed greatness upon Moses and Aaron; they said, ‘And what are we’ (Exodus 16:7). I bestowed greatness upon David; he said, ‘But I am a worm and not a man’ (Psalms 22:7).

After everything that has been said, it is now understandably clear why arrogance is a complete non-sense. Wisdom begins when we learn that the more we know, the better we realize how much more there is to know, making all that we already know insignificant compared to what we are obligated to know.