July 15, 2024
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Remembering Mitchell Gross

On the occasion of Mitchell’s recent yahrtzeit (24 Nissan), I just wanted to share a few relevant thoughts l’ilui nishmat, Menachem Avraham ben Nachman Moshe.

We are currently in a time period colloquially known as sefirah. It is considered a period of mourning, and therefore there are various customs that people take upon themselves during these seven weeks, including not listening to music and not having weddings. Throughout Jewish history, this season has been marred by many tragedies. Many of the Crusades occurred during this span. Although the Nazis, ysh”v, rounded up many Jewish people in their respective towns throughout Europe in every month, there was a higher percentage of roundups during this span of time.

The traditional Av Harachamim, a prayer said for the martyred Jews of all ages, is also specifically said during this time period, sefirah. Why is this time filled with these tragedies? What initiated this time to be a time of mourning, of death, of sadness? The answer can be found in the Talmud (Yevamos 62b): Rabbi Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of students died during this time. The Talmud questions: Why? “Mipnei shelo nuhugookavod ze leze,” “because they did not act with respect to one another.” The students did not understand that just as the bein adam l’Makom (commandments concerning the relationship between man and God) aspect of our avoda, work, is important, like learning Torah and davening, so too, the bein adam l’chaveiro (commandments concerning the relationship between man and man) aspect is just as important.

Moshe Rabbeinu received two luchot, tablets, at Mt. Sinai, one engraved with bein adam l’Makom commandments and the other engraved with commandments that are bein adam l’chaveiro. Rashi, one of the foremost commentators, notes there (Exodus 31:18) that “shteihen shavos”, the two tablets were equal in measure, i.e. they both weighed the same amount. This can also be understood to mean that both types of mitzvos are equally important. Mitchell, A”H, took this Rashi extremely seriously. He went to shul, learned the daf, always talked Divrei Torah, but at the same time understood the importance of the commandments concerning the relationships between fellow man.

Just to demonstrate, during shiva for Mitchell, a man whom no one knew came to pay a shiva call. When asked why he was there, he responded that although he had not known Mitchell for long, he was very impressed by something he saw Mitchell do and therefore came to pay a shiva call and share this story.

Mitchell used to go to 7-11, whether to treat his kids to slurpees or something else, and this man watched as he walked in and said to the cashier behind the counter, “Hey Ahmed, how’s the family doing?” Mitchell then proceeded to have a whole conversation with the man behind the 7-11 counter. This man paying a shiva call was so impressed that he had to come and share this story. It might not seem like such a major thing. But if you think about it, do you remember to treat the secretary nicely? The man who works by the tolls? The cashier in Pathmark or ShopRite? The waiter at the wedding? This man was so impressed by Mitchell’s conversation because this was something that most people do not do on a regular basis. Wow.

We know that Mitchell treated everyone with respect, no matter what race, religion or size. He was the guy who had the constant supply of bubble gum and candies for the kids and anyone else who was around. He was the man who said hello to the people that everyone else ignored. He was the man who understood the importance of kavod habriot, respect for other people. And very fittingly, during this time of sefirah, we should really try to emulate what he did throughout his life: in essence, helping fix the original issue regarding Rabbi Akiva’s 12,000 pairs of talmidim. It is no coincidence that Rabbi Akiva is the person most oft quoted as saying “v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, ze klal gadol baTorah” — “Love your friend as yourself, this is a major tenet in the Torah.” So if possible, during sefirah, each person should try to take upon themselves one thing, whether it be to try to reach out to a shy colleague, to say good morning to the bus driver, to hold back from repeating some juicy piece of information, to thank the security guard — anything to work on the bein adam l’chaveiro aspect of our lives. And don’t think that your one little action doesn’t make a difference. Ever see a puzzle missing one piece? That one piece is you.

In the merit of our unified avoda, may we all merit to turn this time period around, me’evel l’simcha, from a time of mourning to a time of happiness, bimheira biyamainu, amen.

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