By: Sholom Schapiro
(From a weekly email sent to my mailing list last month)
This past Shabbat, I lost a very dear friend.
At the young age of thirty-four, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Deitsch, of blessed memory, passed away after a heart-wrenching three-year battle with lung cancer. Levi, as he was called, was a friend of mine from a very young age. We spent our yeshivah school years and summer camp together from elementary through Rabbinical college. We were partners in the Rebbe's work, visiting Jews in offices and businesses on Friday afternoons: as thirteen-year-olds we would put tefillin on people twice our size and share ideas about the weekly Torah portion as if we were world-class speakers! Later, we traveled together to Chabad Houses around the world, receiving hands-on experience as young Rabbis.
One of the greatest things we can do for someone who has passed away is to better our lives by learning from - and emulating - their special qualities.
From among Levi's countless good character traits and deeds, there are two qualities that stand out in my mind:
Levi was always happy, upbeat, and humorous, greeting everyone with a smile. He was full of life and his laughter was contagious. His positive attitude was directed to everyone, no matter what their religious standing, views, or life path. What always stuck out in my mind is not just that Levi greeted everyone with a smile, it's that he greeted everyone. We all have certain people with whom we'd rather not have to interact. Levi spoke to everyone equally for, in his world, there was no one undeserving of kindness and respect.
Levi's openness and straightforwardness was another of his special qualities. He could tell everyone what he thought and felt without having to worry that he might offend them. Because of his loving, non-judgmental attitude, people appreciated his honesty. If there was a yeshivah student who cut his beard, Levi would tell him in his witty way, "Ah, com' on, you shouldn't be touching your beard; you should have a full beard." He would prod me in his forthright and loving way: "Sholom, I think it's about time for your Chabad House to be open on Shabbat!" (Levi is one of our inspirations for starting Shabbat services, which we now have every week.) People were able to accept his advice without offense because they knew that it came from his tremendous capacity to care about them.
In this week's Torah portion, Yaakov prepares for a reunion with his brother Esav after many years of separation. Esav, the epitome of wickedness, hates his brother and approaches him ominously with 400 armed men. Nevertheless, when they actually meet, Esav embraces him.
Yaakov is known to be the middat ha'emet, the attribute of truth. When we project and express the truth, we can even approach a person with the veneer of Esav and turn him into a friend. By recognizing and revealing the inherent good that's in every person, we can reach even those seemingly far from Judaism, through their essence.
More than any other, I feel this quality personified Levi. He was able to touch so many with his honesty and genuineness; any criticism he offered was accepted as an expression of his warmth and care.
If we need another reason to cry out for Moshiach to come, let it be to bring an end to all suffering and pain, when all those who have passed away will be reunited with their loved ones; and Levi will be reunited with his beautiful family, his wife Miriam and four lovely children, Chaya, Mendel, Mirul and Zalmen. And they will continue to lead the community they built as emissaries of the Rebbe in Tysons Corner, VA.