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Thought for the Day: A Love That Doesn't Depend On Anything, My Relationship With Aaron Nosson Cohen, ztz"l

On the first night of Yom Tov, I heard a shiur on the topic of rejoicing on our festivals.  Apparently when the Gr"a was asked which mitzvah he found to be more difficult, his answer was the mitzvah of ושמחת בחגך/rejoice on your holiday.  Hard enough to feel joy on command, but for seven days and nights is quite a tall order.  I had a particularly difficult challenge in feeling joy 24/9 this year when my world was rocked with the פטירה of Rev. Aharon Nosson Cohen; whom I never called anything but Zaida, even from the very first time I met him at the Chicago Vasikin minyan.  I found comfort and even joy in that pain.

For several years (but not nearly enough for me), we would walk home and share a s'uda together on Shabbos mornings.  He would tell me, week in and week out, "I have the best wife."  I tried a few times to say, "You mean the best for your, right?"  He would smile (he had a beautiful smile) and say yes, but his smile and tone of voice told me that we wasn't really buying it.  He had the best wife and that was that.  He would also tell me, "My wife has the best children."  I would note that he probably had something to do with that also.  He would smile (that beautiful smile), and this time it would be a smile of pride in the family he and his wife (the best) had reared.  When he could no longer eat, we just walked.  When he could no longer walk, I would go to his home to share divrei torah.  The last time I saw him was the morning of the first day of Sukkos.  I brought my two year old granddaughter who sang and danced, "If you are happy and you know it..."  We were rewarded with that beautiful smile.

I was at a total loss of how to give over in even a small measure some description that would help you understand what it was like to be in his presence.  Then I saw picture of Bubbie and Zaida posted by one of his daughters (he was adamant that he had daughters, not daughters-in-law).  I caught my breath and felt like he was right there with me.  It seems to me that he was so refined, his spirituality was so evident, that even seeing him "in person" was no more Zaida then that picture was Zaida.  His true, eternal self could be clothed in a body or clothed in pixels, but it was Zaida that you experienced; not the physical form and not the pixels, but Zaida himself.

It would be ridiculous to speculate why I loved him; who didn't?  (No, I mean it; he was beloved by all without exception.)  Why he loved me, though, I have no clue.  Chazal (Avos 5:16) tell us that a love that doesn't depend on anything will last forever.  That's why I find joy and even comfort in the pain.

Honestly, that's a really good place to stop.  Moreover, I know that I am supposed to keep this short.  But what can I do?  אהבה מקלקלת השורה/love causes a disregard for the standard [of dignified conduct].

Zaida was niftar during chol ha'mo'ed, so there could be no eulogies.  Standing at the airport, though, his son told one story.  Zaida worked as a shochet and a shamash at a shul.  Both part time jobs.  Bubbie worked as a bookkeeper.  Somehow they managed to clothe, house, and give a Jewish education to their family of four boys and one girl.  There were times when one of the other shochtim were unable to work, because of either sickness or injury.  They might be unable to work for days, weeks, or even a month or two.  Zaida was only working part time (not by choice, but because that's the work that was available), so he would stand in for the shochet who couldn't work.  Zaida did the work, but didn't take the money; that went to the shochet who couldn't work.  He wasn't picking up there work to make more (sorely needed) money, he was picking up their work so they wouldn't miss an income.  He did that even for shochtim whose sh'chita he would not personally eat.  So when a shochet got sick, Aaron Nosson Cohen's chesed provided the family with parnassa and the community a higher standard of kashrus.

I was surprised that I hadn't heard the story before, but I was not at all surprised by the story.  I miss Zaida a lot.  But I still hear him at n'ila every Yom Kippur and I still feel him squeezing my elbow when his son leins too fast.


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