By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, Rov of Agudas Yisroel of Staten Island
As I attempt to write about my dear friend, Chaim Ben Klominos Kalman Silber zt”l zy”a affectionately known by many simply as LOBO (a nickname garnered by his beloved baseball team in the OBBL up in the Catskills. This team he outfitted every year with caps and sweatshirts, and all kinds of other paraphnelia, with the LOBO insignia which one can find being worn by all sorts of people throughout the world) I am reminded of what they used to say about my Ravbe, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Rav Shach, zt”l zy”a. When they asked Rav Moshe in what merit he lived long, he answered my whole life I never caused pain to another person. And when they asked Rav Shach what he attributed his longevity to, he answered that he always bentched from a bentcher. I always wondered about those answers. Both Rav Moshe and Rav Shach spent every waking moment learning Torah. Wouldn’t that be the first reason for their long life? After all, about the Torah it states “Eitz Chaim hee L’machizikim Bah” it (Torah) is a tree of life for those that hold on to it. I believe the explanation is: that both Rav Moshe and Rav Shach knew that it would be nigh impossible for the common man to emulate their super human diligence so they gave us something that we can sink our teeth into. Namely, being sensitive to other people’s feelings and bentching correctly.
So too, when talking about Chaim, most of us will not be able to emulate his global charitable accomplishments. The scores of people living today because he masterminded and funded their organ transplants. The countless widows and other indigents that were on his regular payroll. The bungalows he paid for his friends. The oodles of money that he gave out on Purim with such a passion. His philanthropic example which he exhibited, with such a flourish on such public forums such as JM on the AM and the Oorahthon. And as Heshy Walfish, his beloved Tzedoka CEO said at the levaye, these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. These accomplishments are not attainable for most of us. But there is so much more that we can learn from and emulate from this remarkable man. His motto that whatever you do, perform it in the best way possible. Give it your all. His personal insistence “L’olam yhai adam” – always be a mentsch above all. The dignity and grace which he brought to everything that he did – we should all try to copy. For example, a yeshiva bochur who is not so excited about having to spend time on his English studies. Even so, if he is doing it already, he should give it his all and make sure he behaves with dignity and like a mentsch with his English teachers.
Let’s take a page out of Chaim’s book and look for every opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem. As his brother, Yanky, related at the levaye, when he was by chemo he didn’t wear his customary LOBO cap. When asked about it, he answered that chemo is a special opportunity to make many Kiddush Hashems. The people undergoing chemotherapy are understandably irritable, grumpy, and moody. He made it a mission to thank his oncologist, talked sweetly to his chemo nurses, and cheer up his fellow patients. When doing this, he wanted to be wearing his black yarmulke so that it can be clear he was a religious Jew and Hashem’s name would be sanctified over and over.
His honesty, integrity, and reliability in the arena of the business world and the tzedoka world were a means of Kiddush Hashem on a regular basis. As I said by the levaye, Chaim had many many friends and he treasured his friendships greatly. He was reminiscent of a Meiri in the first chapter of Pirkay Avos who says “let it not be small in your eyes one enemy and let it not be too many a thousand friends.” It always troubled me since a friend is one of the great treasures of life, why does the Hebrew word for a friend, which is spelled Reish Ayin, share the same meaning as “evil” which is also Reish Ayin. There are no coincidences in the holy Tongue. I passionately believe the answer is that a good friend remains loyal even in “bad” times. That was Chaim personified. His friendships shown through in tough times. He was the opposite of a fair weather friend. When times were hard, he was there to accompany a friend to a doctor, to help fill out the forms, and to arrange for a second opinion. If a better insurance was needed, his staff was already working on it before he was asked. While we might not be able to emulate this last part, we can sure work on bettering our loyalty to our close ones and widening our circle of friends. In yiddishkeit, there is premium placed upon getting our priorities right. We are taught that our home comes first. As busy as Chaim always was, his family always came first. When his dear wife, Eva, was ill, everything else was placed on the back burner. And as it is reported in the Megilla about Mordechai Hatzadik, for five years every day he endangered himself to look by the Chatzar Bais Hanashim, the royal women sector, to check out Esther’s welfare. So too, for Chaim Eva was always his first concern. No matter how busy we are and although there are no accolades, plaques, and recognition for what we do behind the closed doors of our home, for the good person, family must always come first.
When thinking about what I will miss most about Chaim, it is a tough dilemma. On a personal level, our late night conversations full of his practical wisdom and infectious humor is something I will surely miss. But what was really unique and I find myself pining for, was his incredible smile. If you have an internet connection, go to matzav.com – they have a picture of Chaim with his magical smile. The Mishna teaches us: “Hevei Mekabel Kol Adam B’seiver Panim Yafos” – one should greet every person with a meaningful, beautiful countenance. Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l zy”a, broke down this Mishnaic advice into three components. B’seiver, with thought. Don’t just merely give a robotic Good Shabbos. Put some thought in it. Wish a person, in your mind, to digest the food well, to have a good nap, etc. Panim, face the person. Don’t stick out your hand while talking to another person in the other direction. And finally, Yafos, make your smile as wide and beautiful as possible. It is said about one of the great baalei musar that he practiced two years to get his smile right. Anyone who has benefited from Chaim’s smile can readily understand how it could take two years to perfect such a smile. It was a knowing smile. An empathetic smile. A profound smile. It remained with you and filled you with warmth long after he left you. It was a smile that let you know he cared about you. He understood you and that you were so dear to him. Upon reflecting on how much I miss this smile, it made me understand a Gemara in the beginning of Brachos which I studied and taught many times but never really understood until now. The Gemara in Brochos 5b relate that when Rav Elozer took ill, Rav Yochonan went to visit him. Upon seeing that the room was dark, he uncovered his hand. Rav Yochonon was so beautiful that the radiance of his skin illuminated the room. Rav Elozor then started to cry. Rav Yochonon asked him “are you crying because in your mind you didn’t study enough Torah?” Why it says it’s not how much you study that counts, but rather if you make the attempt, and you certainly did. Are you crying because you weren’t awarded riches and you are worried that that might show Hashem disfavor in you? Not everybody gets to have prosperity in this world. Are you troubled by the suffering of your children? I buried ten children. Rav Elozor answered “you misunderstand. I am crying for your beauty which will one day decompose in the ground. Rav Yochonon nodded. About this you can surely cry. And they both cried. It always troubled me that these two great Tzaddikim were crying about the loss of transient physical beauty. The Maharsh”a asks the question and answers that Rav Yochonon was the last of the beauties of Yerushalayim. So upon his death another piece of Yerushalayim would be lost.
However, I would like to propose another answer. The Gemara in Kesubos 110a teaches that the very same Rav Yochonon would say “Oolvon Sheenayim Mei’cholov” showing the white of your teeth, namely giving a smile, is more important than milk. Now we all know how important milk is. If you don’t have milk in the morning, you have to make omelets or pancakes for the children. If you don’t have milk in the middle of the night, then you better find a 7-11 or CVS where you can buy Similac or Enfamil for the baby. Even so, teaches Rav Yochonon, a smile especially in the home and wherever you are, is more important and meaningful than a cup of milk or even a brewed latte. Like the smile Rav Yochonon talked about, with his personal beauty and shine Rav Yochanan was able to impact upon many, to cheer up the downcast and to energize his flock. Rav Elozor said I cry about this smile which will one day disappear in the ground.
I too cry over Chaim’s special smile which is now hidden from our view. Rav Yochonon’s smile bequeathed upon people, was readily there although he himself buried ten children. Similarly, there is a video clip which went viral, taken by Chaim’s last chemotherapy. Sitting in the treatment center surrounded by a makeshift kumzitz, (Oh, how Chaim loved music. His closeness with Shlomo Simcha, Shloime Dachs, and many other performers, the trademark M’imkomcha which was sang by every LOBO chasanah, etc.) he left a parting message to the world, while smiling and winking, he pointed to the chemo pole adorned with all kinds of medicine bags, and jokingly said “as I sit with my refreshments, I am doing great. He then concluded, “and to my friends on the worldwide web” (while saying this he took his hands to his mouth and threw his trademark kiss), “I love you all”. That ability to smile for others even under the harshest circumstances is something we can all try to emulate.
Chazal teaches us “Shma Garim”, a name foretells a person’s destiny. His name was Chaim and he had an amazing zest for life. How he enjoyed a Chasanah. But not the sweetbreads and stuffed cabbage like most of us. Not even the band although he certainly enjoyed that. He loved sharing in the joy of the Choson and Kallah. Sometimes, he paid for the wedding but that’s beside the point. His trademark chicken feet dance on the dance floor radiated his excitement for the new young couple. Chaim, I conclude with an apology. I merited getting to know you through our mutual love for paddleball, then you became my Talmid, but there are so many people who knew you better and much longer than I, and could have given you a much more knowledgeable tribute, so let me just say that this is just the beginning of the story. Now that you are in Shomayim, please be a meilitz yosher for your dear family, your incredible circle of friends, for all those you supported, and for all of Klal Yisroel. We miss you and love you and may we be reunited speedily with T’chiyas Hameisim speedily in our days.
Please daven for the merit of Miriam Leba Bas Devorah.