Category Archives: aveilus


This past Pesach was the first time that I, along with my brother, recited  Yizkor for my father a’h. While the text of Yizkor is moving, the idea behind it is that we should donate to a charity in memory of a loved on, as a merit for their soul (I donated to my shul and also to an organization dedicated towards Jewish self-growth).

Being able to say Kaddish daily, in all honesty, helps keep me thinking about my father.  Minyan attendance has always been a struggle for me, but I’m hanging in there.  For those who have moved past period of aveilus, I can see how saying Yizkor, helps them keep the memory of a loved one “alive”.

For me, I’ve found that dedicating a mussar chevrusa in my father’s memory has also been comforting. It’s a measurable way that I know I’m doing something.  Just last week, someone donated a gift certificate to a Jewish book store to me, with the intent that I should purchase a Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) to learn in memory of my father. I was touched by this gesture especially because the person who made the donation has asked remained anonymous. 

I’m sure that whatever charity dontated, mitzvos performed, or learning that one does in zechus of a neshama allows one to connect with the memories of those who has gone on to the Olam HaEmes.

The value of life and the day the Yetzer Hara will be slaughtered

Life is very dear to those who discover its value, and very cheap to those who squander it.”- from the sefer GESHER HACHAIM (The Bridge of Life)

I posted this quote about three weeks ago on Facebook.  The sefer Gersher HaChaim, by Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, was suggested to me by Micha Berger as a good thing to learn when dealing with the death of a loved one.  Micha was kind enough to comment on Facebook, “I’m happy to see it is speaking to you.  BTW, contrast that quote to the various perceptions of the size of the yeitzer hara on the day it will be slaughtered.”

The gemara that R Berger was referring to is in Sukka 52a:
“Rabbi Yehuda lectured: In the future, Hashem will take the yetzer and slaughter him in the presence of both the tzaddikim and the reshaim.  To the tzaddikim he will appear like a high mountain and to thereshaim he will appear like a thin hair. Both, however, will cry. The tzaddikim will cry “How could we have overpowered such a high mountain?” and the reshaim will cry: “How could we not have subdued such a thin hair?”

 Rav Dessler discusses this gemara in Michtav M’Eliyahu.  He explains thats that a tzaddikim will view all of their challenges, urges, difficulties in life as a tall mountain.  The rashaim will see “that one act of the will which could have taken him to the top in one bound” as that thin little hair. (See Strive for Truth Vol 1 pg 105)
The goals and aspirations of a tzaddik in this world are to get close to Hashem.  For the rasha, his only interest is to distance himself from the Creator.  I think this is what Micha was alluding to.

The things we have a ratzon, a desire, for will fight for.  We’ll climb, to use the gemara’s imagery, the mountain if we have to.  We will use all of our energy and might.  The tzaddik will fight his yeter hara until the end to get closer to Hashem.   Don’t be fooled.  The rasha will fight also for what he desires.  With just as much strength as the tzaddik.  What the Gesher HaChaim is telling us is that those things that the tzaddik values are looked upon as almost worthless to the rasha.

That is why both the tzaddik and the rasha will cry, in the end.  Out of joy and awe will the tzaddikim cry when they see the high mountain that was their yetzer hara.  All most too difficult to conquer, yet they did conquer it.  The tzaddikim will cry tears of joy.  The rashaim, on the on other hand, will see their yetzer hara, that they gave into time and time again, as nothing more than a hair.  Nothing more than a little thing they could have blown or brushed aside.  That is why they will cry tears of regret.

My hesped for my father a"h

Delivered last Wednesday (Nov 4th) in Wichita, Kansas

I want to thank everyone for being here today. It’s a true testament to the type of person that my father was.
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.