April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In Memory of Our Friend David Thaler, Moshe Dovid Ben Yitzchak Isaac, z”l

This week, the family and friends of David Thaler, z”l, met via Zoom to share memories on his second yahrzeit. I recalled my first encounter with David; that revealed so much about him. As chairperson of the Middle School Child Study Team in Fair Lawn, I initiated a meeting with the parents of a severely emotionally disturbed student who we felt would benefit from a more therapeutic program. In anticipation of the disappointment his parents would experience, we invited David, his treating psychologist, to participate. We hoped he would see the need for the interventions we recommended, in the decision-making process of finding the best option for his patient. Despite the compelling reasons for our recommendations, we were in for a surprise. David presented as calm and confident, sharing the progress his student made, and offering us a host of doable strategies that could be effective in the classroom setting. He also established a timeline within which his progress could be evaluated before making the drastic move we recommended. At the same time, David took the time to validate the school’s position and the commendable efforts we already attempted. We agreed, and scheduled a follow-up meeting to assess the outcome, which turned out to be a “win-win” situation for all. Due to this team effort, the implementation of David’s recommendations, we decided on an extended period of time in his present program, and a date for assessing the resulting outcome.

Stating that we were all impressed with David’s advocacy, as well as his professionalism and expertise, is an understatement. He knew his patient well and was confident that his recommendations would lead to success. We were also aware that he was a sincere, empathic professional who was not “full of himself,” but “full of confidence” in his ability to seek out the best-possible scenario for those in his charge. The Shabbos after this first encounter, David approached Jack and related our shared experience as professionals. Jack also knew that I would appreciate the compliment David sent my way: “Wow, your wife is something; she’s small and petite, but when she speaks, everyone listens.” This small gesture went a long way, since it was I who felt so “small” compared to David, the real miracle worker and hero at this meeting.

At the end of the day, we were all winners. The district saved a huge amount of money, the student benefitted from our inclusive setting, and most importantly, this first encounter with David eventually led to the start of the close friendship between the Thaler and Nussbaum families—a relationship that was binding because Jack and I were so drawn to David and Eve’s commitment to the values that were so dear to our hearts and souls: chesed, loving-kindness, and the importance of nosei b’ol im chaveiro, sharing the burden of one’s brothers and sisters, and avoiding the cardinal sin of judging our fellow man unfairly.

The journey we traversed in our growing friendship brings to mind the lessons taught in Behaalotcha and Shelach, the two pre-Shabbat parshiot that David sent to his family and friends in the two weeks prior to his petirah. This, I believe, is clear evidence of hashgacha pratit, the Divine intervention that led to our special friendship. It is crystal-clear that the lessons gleaned from the juxtaposition of these parshiot, and the life lessons they taught, clearly reflect two character traits that our David possessed in full measure, serving as a paradigm for all who came into contact with him, and leaves the lessons taught indelibly ingrained in our hearts and souls. In Parshat Beha’alotcha we were introduced to a segment of the nation that was contaminated by contact with a meis, a cadaver. Due to the state of tumah they found themselves in, they were exempt from the mitzvah of bringing forth the korban Pesach.

Imagine, if any one of us were exempt from even one chore associated with Pesach, we would be relieved rather than mourning the loss of additional obligations, as the Jews did when they expressed their outrage to Moshe, crying, “Lamah nigara, why are we being left out of this opportunity to do this mitzvah?” It was for this reason that Hashem gifted them with “Pesach Sheni,” a chance to redeem the “missed opportunity” they cherished. In a similar fashion, David never looked for a shortcut in giving of his best to everyone under his loving care. Those in his life—relatives, friends or patients—always knew he would go all the way for their good and welfare. There is no doubt that he was an exemplary role model for how to be a “lamah nigara Jew,” the best version of the individual Hashem expected him to be. During this challenging time of COVID-19, if we really want to know how to respond, we just have to imagine what David would have done when it comes to the mission Hashem has in store for us.

A second Torah lesson David modeled for us is found in the Rav’s response to the timeless question of: “Lamah nismecha…” the prelude that is typically used in explaining the juxtaposition of two segments of the Torah. In this case, our rabbis and commentators wonder about the juxtaposition between Miriam’s punishment of tzara’as for the lashon hara she spoke against Moshe, to the segment detailing the sin of the meraglim, spies, who presented a negative report regarding the land. In responding to this question, the Rav teaches us another vital character trait of David. In a shiur by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, he references the Rav’s commentary on this question. He explains that the source of Miriam’s lashon hara against Moshe, as well as the lashon hara of the meraglim on the Land of Israel, were both rooted in the character flaw the sinners possessed. It appears that they both failed to recognize that both Moshe and the land were chosen by God because they were nivchar, distinct, from others of their kind, a quality David possessed as well. This was because both Moshe—the greatest prophet, teacher and leader—and Eretz Yisrael, the holiest land, possessed a unique status that elevated the spirituality of all who came in contact with them. Most importantly, because of these egregious errors, both perpetrators warranted the remediation via the punishments they suffered as a vehicle for rehabilitation for denigrating the two objects that were jewels in the eyes of God.

Finally, given these insights and analogies, we now also know exactly why David chose his early retirement, which was not easy for him. As a “nivchar,” via his posture as being a “lamah nigara Jew,” he could not settle for mediocrity. He also possessed the unique ability of sizing up people and situations and was able to offer the exact dose of sensitivity that made everyone feel comfortable in his presence. Knowing that he would be forced to give less left him with the option that would allow him to give his all! This clear example of Yad Hashem allowed David to enjoy his last few years as an exemplary and loving husband, father and grandfather in the life he led and the choices and sacrifices he made—a status that he earned when he chose excellence and holiness instead of settling for “mediocrity” in all the arenas of his life.

This, my friends, is the legacy David left us, which comes in handy as we face the current challenge of COVID-19. We can feel safe just knowing that David is up there reminding us of these lessons and advocating in our favor. He is surely partnering with Hashem, and if we follow in David’s footsteps, we know this will end in nothing less than a “win-win” situation for us all. In doing so, we can look forward to reaping the benefits in his zechut, hopefully putting an end to this terrible pandemic, with Hashem finally bringing us home, to Eretz Yisrael, with our final geulah looming in front of our eyes!


Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with special training in imago relational therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].

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