This artice is written In loving memory of Kalman Moshe ben Reuven Avigdor, z”l.
Quite often in an argument, people will try to have the last word. The thinking is that if you end the argument and the person doesn’t respond, you’ve won. It’s almost childish in a way, no, it’s actually childish in every way, but we seem to need a sense of victory when we fight with someone. However, to quote John Viscount Morley, a British member of Parliament, “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” Simply having the last word doesn’t prove anything other than that you may not be mature enough to make peace.
Having the last laugh, on the other hand, is something entirely different. Having the last laugh means that when all is said and done, in the grand scheme of things, you have reason to be pleased with the result. Unlike the last word, the last laugh doesn’t have to come at someone’s expense. You don’t even have to be there in person to “have the last laugh.” You just need to have things come out in your favor.
What if we combine the last word and the last laugh? The results can be amusing. Many people have left instructions for their tombstones to contain humorous sayings such as “Go Away, I’m Asleep,” or “Here Lies John Yeast, Pardon me for not Rising.” Mel Blanc, who voiced numerous cartoon characters, quoted one of his most famous ones when he had his stone inscribed with “That’s all, folks.”
To me, being able to laugh at death and keep people smiling is a wonderful ability. To not want people to be morose even when they face mortality is a type of chesed that shows the character of the person. To understand that our lives are always in Hashem’s hands and not our own is deep wisdom.
These thoughts came to me when I reflected on the death of Rabbi Kalman Packouz. R’ Kalman, who was raised as a Reform Jew and became fully-Torah observant at the age of 22 as one of the founding students of Aish HaTorah, later co-founded the first branch of Aish HaTorah outside of Yerushalayim. His creativity lent itself well to kiruv and he introduced numerous new means of reaching people and helping them find their heritage. His Shabbat Shalom Weekly publication grew to 100,000 subscribers via email and fax in its 26-year history.
I first learned about him only eight weeks before his recent passing. Someone showed me something he had written for Shabbos Shuva, the week before Yom Kippur. It was so simple and practical that I found it brilliant. He wrote, “By the way, if you wish to keep focused that you are a soul and not a body, train yourself to say “My body is hungry” and not “I am hungry”! I was floored. I made up my mind to reach out and connect with him; to get to know him. Alas, it was not to be. I procrastinated and forgot about it until I heard that he’d passed away last Shabbos. Then I was filled with regret that I’d dropped the ball. But guess what? He had the last laugh in more ways than one.
Having signed up for his weekly email, I also got the announcement of his passing with an epitaph he had prepared beforehand. It shows what kind of a person we were dealing with, who followed in the footsteps of his rebbi, R’ Noach Weinberg, who always had a warm smile and quick wit for every situation.
I simply must share with you Rabbi Packouz’s “final fax” as he called it. He mentioned it several months ago to his helper and friend R’ Yitzchok Zweig, who will try to carry on this man’s legacy. Rabbi Zweig shared these words to honor Rabbi Packouz’s wishes. Here is what he wrote:
GOOD MORNING! By the time you read this, I will be dead. I’ve always loved that opening line—full of power, no beating around the bush...right to the punch line! However, my wife never had the same affinity for it. I asked her, “So, how should I start out? ‘It was a dark and stormy night?’”
With deep appreciation to my wife, Shoshana:
All that I have accomplished I owe to her. My eternal gratitude for raising our family. Everything she does is done with love, caring, and joy. My thanks to the Almighty that she married me.
Lastly, never leave a loved one or a friend without saying “I love you!”
I love you.
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
In his words you see a man telling people not to cry for what they’ve lost, but to appreciate what they had when they had it. You see someone who understood that this world isn’t so serious, because it’s the next world that counts. You see someone who could use his final words to make people smile and give them direction for the future.
I felt I had missed the opportunity to get to know this man, but in a few short lines he conveyed his personality and his life’s message. I thought I wouldn’t connect, but indeed I did and was even able to share this legacy with you. I hope his message converts many of us and helps us not be silent, but sing.
Yes, R’ Kalman had the last laugh, and he laughed well.
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Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail [email protected] and put Subscribe in the subject.