Some of you may have known Rabbi Yosef Azar.
I didn’t. I saw him at Neve over the course of many years, but I never actually spoke to him. He was nonetheless someone who I admired from afar. He always looked like he just came back to work after the best vacation ever. He seemed rested, full of high spirits and an almost tangible level of optimism and love of life. When he disappeared from the scene, at first I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I assumed that he might be involved in some sort of fundraising because he would be an amazing ambassador for Neve. When his name appeared on the Tehillim board, with those who need our prayers because of illness, his name became part of my daily tefillah. It felt discordant. He just wasn’t the type.
He came back, and he looked (not surprisingly) like a poster boy for cancer treatment. The same relaxed upbeat persona, and the same observable connection with people. Then he stopped coming.
It didn’t occur to me that he was relapsing until his name reappeared on the list. He recently wrote a letter to the school in which he thanked us for our tefillah and tehillim and then went on to candidly discuss his condition. He was on a new type of chemo, one that left him less wiped out. There was no hint of resentment in his being “less” wiped out, only gratitude. Maybe it would shrink his tumor enough for a future surgery. He didn’t seem at all concerned with the possibility that maybe it wouldn’t, even though it was evident that the reality of his condition didn’t escape him. It was clear that he felt that everything is as it should be, “According to plan”, and that there was no reason to complain.
I was unable to attend his funeral, since I was in Kiryat Sefer, which if anything makes the finality of his passing more elusive. There was something so full of light about him, that it’s difficult to just let go.
The first thing that the Torah tells us about the world is that it was chaotic, desolate, dark and had seemingly unfathomable depths. Hashem imposed spiritual light over that waters when He willed it to come into being. Rashi tells us that this light (which isn’t physical- the sun was created later) was concealed Where?
The Chasam Sofer quotes a verse from Tehillim that says, “Light is planted in a tzadik, and those whose hearts are straight have joy.” A tzadik is someone whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds. Not quantitatively. They outweigh the bad deeds qualitatively. The word “outweigh” tells you that some deeds have greater spiritual impact than others. Suppose, for a minute, that you have a chronic case of yentitis (the need to gossip, to stay “in the know” and to exercise daily by jumping to conclusions). You go to a class reunion and can’t’ wait to share your insights. Your High School chums used to be younger, thinner etc. You want to give an honest report about each of them, to anyone who shows even polite interest. If you somehow manage to resist, you made a real dent in your character, and this can be a genuine brick in the you, you call “self”. On a one to ten scale, what number would you use to describe your victory? Try another scenario. Envision yourself in the midst of a bitter divorce, one in which your soon-to-be ex is relentlessly trying to prove himself “right” by presenting you as “borderline” (the favorite cliché in the world of current psycho-babble). No one will ask him for his professional credentials…You want to answer each accusation with “the truth” (which under the circumstances by the nature of things is the truth as you see it, which may or may not be the entire truth). Words like “abusive” and “controlling” can roll off your tongue freely. No one will ask for your credentials any more than they asked him for his credentials.
And you remain silent.
You know the truth.
No one is asking you for a recommendation as a future marriage partner. You are not even legally divorced. People want some drama and spice, and the thrill of being vicariously part of a drama. And you remain silent.
Your silence is enough to turn an ordinary person into a tzadik. It’s a 10. A tzadik is described as being someone who has the brilliant light of the first day implanted in his heart. When a seed is put into the ground, its inherent life force causes it to sprout. This causes the original shell that encased it to burst. The forces of evil are called “shells” or “husks” in Kabbalah language. They hold your capacity for light, your life force and vitality prisoner unless you are strong enough to make it burst. Someone who can hear themselves humiliated and not respond, is considered as strong as the sun at its most powerful moments.
Where does the strength come from?
There is an even higher level. There are people who have a natural goodness about them. They are described as “yishrei lev” having straight hearts. How do you get there? The answer that the Chasam Sofer gives is through having simchah. Joy in being. In learning. In doing mitzvos.
We just lost one of the “baalei simcha”- one of the masters of joy.
I didn’t know him, speak to him or do anything but see him from afar. It’s enough to make me want to bring some of what he was into myself.