It is written in the Ethics of our Fathers, Pirkei Avos that:
“Rabbi Shimon used to say: There are three crowns–the crown of the Torah, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of kingship, but the crown of a good name surpasses them all. (Pirkei Avos 4:17)”
I cannot stress how many of you have spoken with me about the high level of respect and love they had for my father. Growing up he was just my dad, who shlepped us to the Gypsum Hills and other exotic sites on Sundays, Shocker games, family gatherings, and always took us to great places to eat that were well “off the beaten path”. I was blessed to have not only know him as a father, but also as a grandfather. Grandpa, as we called him, loved his grandkids. He would always talk about sports with my son, and loved to watch my daughters dance, sing, and play. He was very proud of their Jewish education. My Dad and step-mother always made the most of their visits , even their last one in July when we spent an early morning at a flea market and then the rest of the day and evening at Six Flags. But there was another side of him that was fairly public, despite his attempts to keep it private.
He was a person who truly lived up to his Hebrew name, Avraham.
Avraham, Abraham, is known in the Torah and throughout Rabbinic writings as embodying the essence of Chessed, the Hebrew word for Kindness. My Dad never was one to seek out fame and pats-on-the-back for his deeds. He quietly, and many times behind the scenes, did many acts of kindness for everyone he came in contact with. No matter if it was a smile, a greeting when you came to into the Synagogue, offering advice, maintaining the cemetary erev Yom Tov, before a Holiday, making sure food was prepared just right, or simply thinking about how he could help someone else, he was constantly doing chessed. Even when it came to shipping out artwork sold on eBay, he would take time to make sure that each piece was packed in a way that it would arrive intact to the buyer. The truth is, most us of will never know of the chessed, the kindnesses, that my father did for others, as he was not one to ever broadcast what he did. That was the type of person my father was, thus, earning the “crown of a good name” as a brother, husband, father, uncle, friend, and especially as a grandfather.
There is a book in my dad’s basement titled “The Bar Mitzvah Treasury”, printed in 1954, that was given to my dad as a Bar Mitzvah present. In it there is a story is the following story about Rabbi Israel Salanter, a Rabbi who lived in the 1800s and started an Ethical movement within Judaism. It seems that one day, even though there was a full pail of water in the house, he used very little of it to wash his hands prior to eating bread. His pupils were quite astonished that their revered Rabbi, know for his pious acts, did not perform properly the commandment to wash thoroughly before eating bread.
Hesitantly they turned to him and said: “Please forgive us for asking you this. But we cannot understand why you used so little water to wash your hands.”
Rabbi Salanter replied: “I saw that their maidservant delivers this water to the house from a far-off well. She, poor creature, bends low under the heavy load when carries the yoke on her shoulders. I do not think it is right to perform a Mitzvah at the expense of some else’s shoulders!”
This story totally encapsulates my father. Always thinking of others and not wanting to burden anyone.
As my step-mother said to me last night, and I quote, “Random acts of kindness don’t only change the world but they elevate people.”
The true greatness of a “Ba’al Chessed”, the Hebrew term we give to a “master of Kind Acts” is that even after he leaves this world, his acts of kindness continue. I am truly blessed, that even at this difficult time, he has allowed me to reconnect with family and friends whom I was very close with when I was growing up. The crown of his good name, Avharam ben Zorach, Albert Lyon Harris, can live on in each of us, if we simply think about what we can do to help someone else.