When my grandfather, Max Shaffer, was born in 1915, the world was a different place. He lived through two world wars, the invention of the Radio, TV and internet. Phones became commonplace in the home - to heck with-it - maybe he even saw the installation of internal plumbing although that may be a long shot. Longevity is an interesting blessing.
I wonder at what moment one's life transforms from a participant in living to a witness of life. You have lived on this earth for long enough, and you have seen so much that your role becomes the transmitter of history to the next generation, the experienced sage.
Ultimately, this theme is central to our existence as a people. Every Friday evening we are witness to the creation of the world through the recitation of these words:
בראשית פרשת בראשית פרק ב
א)וַיְכֻלּוּהַשָּׁמַיִםוְהָאָרֶץוְכָל־צְבָאָם ב)וַיְכַלאֱלֹהִיםבַּיּוֹםהַשְּׁבִיעִימְלַאכְתּוֹאֲשֶׁרעָשָׂהוַיִּשְׁבֹּתבַּיּוֹםהַשְּׁבִיעִימִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹאֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה ג)וַיְבָרֶךְאֱלֹהִיםאֶת־יוֹםהַשְּׁבִיעִיוַיְקַדֵּשׁאֹתוֹכִּיבוֹשָׁבַתמִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹאֲשֶׁר־בָּרָאאֱלֹהִיםלַעֲשׂוֹת
1. Now the heavens and the earth were completed and all their host.
2. And God completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did.
3. And God blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, for thereon He abstained from all His work that God created to do.
Only the most ancient of nations, the Jewish people, who have been blessed with longevity, can testify each Friday evening to the creation of the world. Not because we were there when the world was created, no living soul was a first-hand witness to God's creation, but because our existence as a people, which spans millennium, is as miraculous as the very creation. If any people can understand was creation means, it is the Jews.
The Chida took our responsibility to offer testimony each week so seriously that he insisted that one be fit to offer this testimony according to Jewish law. This is to include that the paragraph should be recited standing, by two people who have repented all their sins.
The Chida insists that each Friday evening we sincerely repent so that we are fit and able to testify about the creation of our world.
My grandfather, Max Shaffer, lived his life as a testimony of his simple beginnings. Born into a working-class English family, my grandfather worked his entire life (until 93) to earn an honest living. He considered his greatest achievement to be his children and grandchildren and was indeed rich with nachas.
Last week I spent an evening with my grandfather as his health was failing. During the early hours of the morning he awoke to ask where everyone was - I told him it was too early for everyone to be there and they will be arriving soon. At which point I said "Grandpa, you're a good man, y'know?" without missing a beat he responded "Good people have good children". In the simplest of ways, he deflected the compliment to focus on his children.
On Sunday morning, May 11, (11 Iyar 5774) my grandfather offered testimony in the Olam Ha'emes, Heavenly court, on the 98 productive years he lived on this earth. One can only imagine the reception - the many family members who came and passed during his many years, who came out to greet him at the gates of Heaven. A mentch, gentleman his entire life would now find peace amongst his ancestors.
His passing marks the end of an era, the fading of the memories of a distant world that is foreign to us today.
In his last week he was surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. A man who was deeply proud of his family, he knew the miracle of Jewish survival. His longevity was a testimony to the honest and simple joy with which he lived his life. With a fighting spirit that must have been learned from the difficult early decades of the 20th century, Grandpa was strong for everyone else until the end.
When R' Akiva returns from studying for 24 years in yeshiva, he is walking the streets with his 24,000 students when a woman, foreign to the students, approaches R' Akiva. The students insist the she move out of his way (perhaps an indicator of the students' shortcomings in Bein Adam LeChaveiro, concern for fellow human being) and R' Akiva famously responds "Mine and yours - is hers" - for this was no ordinary woman, this was the wife of R' Akiva who had encouraged him to leave 24 years earlier to study and become the greatest of Rabbinic sages.
Grandpa Max came from an era that was honest, and hard-working. This honesty translated into wanting the best for each of his children and grandchildren. Forever the interested cheerleader, Grandpa would watch with simple pleasure as his family grew.
For 98 years a man lived in this world who encouraged and supported each of his children in their life journey. This man, Max Shaffer, was simple in his requirements for life but grand in his vision for family, future and friendship.
Last week, one last time Grandpa would called me 'boy' as he had done my entire life. This was a term of endearment afforded by him to my father before me; a true honor. Last week I assisted him in making Hamotzi on Shabbos day; a true honor. To spend an evening with a man who witnessed so much in his life, who was so strong and who was central to every member of his family; what an unforgettable honor.
Longevity is indeed a blessing. But spending time with a recipient of that blessing is inspiring, informative and most importantly humbling.
As we say goodbye to Grandpa, we express gratitude for his devotion and strength. Our family was built by a proud, hard-working man - may each of our days be a merit for his Neshama (Mordechai Ben Nechemia), Soul.
Grandpa was a giant of strength, simplicity and sincere devotion to his family. We, as a family all know that all that is ours, all our accomplishments, all the Nachas is his.
Click here for a poem on Grandpa Max, written by my sister, Elisheva Levitt.