Moshe Tabak was 90 years old when he died last week. Originally from Sigid, Czechoslovakia, he was the descendent of a distinguished line of chassidic Dayanim (scholars and judges) and was one of eleven children.
Moshe’s father was a wealthy land-owner in Czechoslovakia before the war, and so when the Nazis took over the country in 1939, he felt resistant to leave despite his wife’s urgent pleas. He reasoned that the bad times would pass and they should wait it out.
Tragically, he and almost all the family were murdered in Auschwitz, except Moshe, one older brother and a younger sister who survived work camps.
After the war at a port in Rumania, Moshe was waiting to board a Haganah boat that would take him and hundreds of refugees to Palestine. He was standing in a bread line when he spotted Miriam, a girl two years younger than him. Charmed, he reached out and offered her chocolate. Miriam remembers that Moshe was wearing a hat, had beautiful blue eyes and curly hair.
Once on board the ship, Moshe became sea-sick, and Miriam nursed him. They fell in love quickly and two years later, in 1947, they married in Palestine.
Theirs was a love-match from the beginning. Jewish legend relates that at creation each soul was split in two into what is called a palga gufa, a half-soul, and then each half moves through time and multiple lives in a sea of souls seeking its other half to become whole again.
Moshe and Miriam believed they had originally been one soul and that each was the other’s beshert, intended one – soul-mate. Their love was so deep and sustaining, they couldn’t imagine it otherwise.
Together Moshe and Miriam parented four children who in turn brought them nine grandchildren and then six great-grandchildren – L’dor vador.
Last summer, Moshe and Miriam, now living in Los Angeles and together for 70 years, aging and frail, moved in with their youngest daughter and son-in law, Debi and Ofer, and their four children Orly, Danielle, Aleeza, and Bradley, members of our congregation for many years. Their youngest two, twins, had been preparing to become bar and bat mitzvah yesterday on Shabbat Parashat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32).
Sadly, we buried Moshe at 3 PM on Friday just before Shabbat. The family attended Kabbalat Shabbat services to say Kaddish. Tradition discourages public mourning on the Sabbath.
Yesterday morning, despite the family’s loss of its loving and gentle patriarch, convened to celebrate Aleeza’s and Bradley’s b’nai mitzvah.
My teacher and friend, Rabbi Larry Hoffman of HUC-JIR in NY, wrote a moving d’var Torah this week about the juxtaposition of death and life and how that theme played itself out in the rebellion of Korach and the subsequent sprouting of Aaron’s staff:
“Moses placed the staffs before God in the tent of the covenant law. The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” (Numbers 17:7-8)
Rabbi Hoffman explained that the great shoot of promise exemplified in the buds, blossoms and almonds of Aaron’s priestly staff, is regenerative and always bends towards the sun. “Judaism elects that image,” Larry wrote as its preferred image, not the image of destruction, bitterness and negativity.
How true this has been in Moshe’s and Miriam’s family experience.
Moshe was a positive thinking man. He mourned the destruction of his family quietly, deeply, with reverence, and dignity, but he looked forward, started his life over (as did so many survivors of the Shoah), sought continually every day to rediscover the good in life and to celebrate it, showing love and being generous in spirit to all, taking sustenance from Jewish tradition and Jewish faith, and delighting in the joy of family.
An unknown poet has written:
“Four things are beautiful beyond belief:
The pleasant weakness that comes after pain,
The radiant greenness that comes after rain,
The deepened faith that follows after grief,
And the re-awakening to love again.”
Zecher tzadik livracha. May the memory of this righteous man, Moshe Tabak, be a blessing.