May 23, 2024
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May 23, 2024
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HaRav Simcha Krauss, z”l: Gaon, Pioneer, Abba

Upon hearing that I was returning from a simcha or any public event, my father would always ask me, “did you speak?”. I am sure he would have asked that question today, and we will all attempt to find the words to bring him a fraction of the honor he deserves. At the same time, it is Friday afternoon, and my father was very makpid on kvod Shabbat. He was always ready for Shabbat early, and would have been uncomfortable keeping people here so close to Shabbat.

So on this Erev Shabbat, Parshat Yitro, when we will accept the Torah for the first time without my father’s presence, we are faced with the double challenge of eulogizing a person who we can speak about for days, and at the same time, respecting his wishes for all of us to honor the Shabbat.

C.S. Lewis wrote about The Four Loves. Today, I would like to address four loves of my father, which made an impression on me and so many others around the world.


Love of Torah

מה אהבתי תורתך כל היום היא שיחתי

This pasuk was his favorite, and he sang it in the car for us as children, and later to his grandchildren. My father truly loved Torah, and brought out that love of Torah to his family, communities, and his students. Last Friday night, for the last time, not strong enough to sit at the table but close enough to be there, he smiled as his grandchildren delivered divrei torah and shared their own thoughts and ideas.

The night before the surgery on Wednesday, from which he would ultimately not wake up, he experienced a few minutes of joy as he watched me teach my Gemara class on Zoom. Growing up, nothing gave him more pleasure than enabling and empowering me to learn. He picked me up at midnight on Thursday nights from YU, so I could stay for night seder, giving him the advantage of my extra learning time, as well as beating the traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

In recent years, when he was in Riverdale, my father loved to sit at the bagel shop near SAR and ask kids “what masechet are you learning?” or “tell me a chidush”.

When we were trying to identify some of the seforim he had left in our basement for donation, my wife Shana went through each one, and for almost each he said “no, this you keep, it is very important.”

My father was a student of Rav Hutner and Rav Soloveichik, and a close friend and chavruta of Rav Aharon Lichtnestein. He was so proud of these relationships and connections and never ceased to refer to them and their Torah.


Love of People/Community

I left the ICU the other night after he left this world, and I turned to the nurse to tell her that there was no way he would have not thanked her at this moment. That’s just the way he was. He respected everyone, and was kind to everyone. He made sure that his aide over the past few years, Robert, was taken care of, asking me in the hospital to make sure he ate, and making sure I told him he should leave when it was late. He introduced himself to children and adults, “I am Simcha”. He was not much into small talk but he was able to connect and he made people feel that they mattered, because they did. Even over the past few hours, I have received dozens of messages from people who were touched by his humanity and his caring and his love.


Love of Truth

My father loved truth. The one thing he had little tolerance for was insincerity. He sensed when people were not being real. He never really confronted them. He just kind of lost interest.

His love of truth complemented, but did not contradict his love for people. For him, it was simply true that Halacha did not prohibit a woman from reading from the Torah, so when he was asked, that is what he said. For him, it was true that the Torah was kind and that people and their dignity mattered. And that G-d didn’t want people to suffer, and would never create a system that would institutionalize that suffering.

For him, it was not possibly true that the Shoah (Holocaust) made any theological sense, and he categorically rejected any attempt over the years to explain it. Some things just can’t be understood. That was his truth.

It was true that young children shouldn’t mourn during Sefira or the three weeks because there is no “chinuch for aveilut” — we don’t teach or practice sadness. It was true that our family custom of not eating gebrokts on Pesach didn’t make sense, so while he generally respected the tradition, he also made sure to dip some matzah into his soup to express his discomfort with it.


Love of Family

My father’s love for his family was אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר. It was the model of absolute and unconditional love. He loved us when we didn’t call enough or when we didn’t pick up the phone, even though all he wanted was a 30 second conversation – “I just wanted to hear your voice”. On Tuesday night, he told me, for the last time, “you are a gavra raba” – a big person. He told us that we could do everything, and he told that to us often. If someone didn’t believe in us, for him that was a deficiency in them.

At times, his love would be challenging. Out of a sense of protection and love, he preferred that we not go too far. “Don’t go”, he would often say, when we left the house. Later, for me, that became “don’t go to Russia for Pesach”, or “don’t move to Germany”. He worried about us always, and we felt that love every day of our lives.

He loved those who loved us, accepting Tully, Shana, and Danishai as his own. He loved his brother, who was in many ways so different from him, but their shared love of Torah and family bond was inspirational. He loved our mother, and respected her and supported her in her own incredible adventures and accomplishments.

השליך אמת ארצה

The Midrash speaks about the day that G-d “threw truth to the ground”. Today, a fraction of the truth in the world is being buried. That void will be with us forever. But I heard my father say a thousand times that we follow the wisdom and the approach of Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai — to push ourselves to see the light in the world, and in people — machar yibanah hamikdash.

Rabbi Binyamin Krauss is principal of SAR Academy.

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