Baruch Dayan HaEmet
"You are a blessing," are some of the very last words, that I heard Reb Moshe Cohen, of blessed memory, express a couple times, along with "Thank you," and "please", the simplest sentiments, also directed to his care-giver, while he, Moshe, was in the greatest of physical pain, mostly unable to move or comfortably talk, and trying to stay conscious with his visitors at home--my daughter, Aviva, and myself. This, too, was a teaching from Moshe. Gratitude, how to treat a human being, and having another know that they are appreciated for even their simplest gifts: bringing a sip of water in a paper cup for a pill.
Moshe, a couple of weeks ago, kiddingly called this small gathering, "a party." Literally, I sat by Moshe's feet with this last visit.
There was the 'thank you' spoken to Aviva when bringing from and conscientiously returning his siddur to another room. Moshe's last teaching to me from his siddur on the phone was about Rosh Chodesh. Struggling, and barely hearing me even with a new hearing aide, Moshe was able to spend a couple of minutes having me open a siddur so that I could learn about Rosh Chodesh. Moshe's great gift to us all from his heart, faith, truth and experience, was in showing us with wisdom, skill and enthusiasm, how to look for and discover, the pearls, the treasures, the humor, the wisdom of our Jewish heritage. How many people did Moshe individually teach in person, via the phone, the Internet and his classes at shuls and at home? I know that Moshe taught at S.S. Wise Temple twenty years ago, because we celebrated one evening in class with Torah, his 65th birthday. David and Sheila Epstein, publishers of the Jewish Calendar Magazine, had brought birthday cake. Moshe would call me and ask me my opinions about the humorous titillating titles to entice students for his classes. Back in the early eighties, I had hired Moshe to teach for a program called Jewish Women's World. Even then, titles needed to be catchy, and Moshe's were the cutest.
When Moshe was honored last year during his last Shabbat minyan teaching at Valley Beth Shalom, downstairs in the small Lopaty Chapel which could hold many more congregants, rabbis and friends, Moshe later told me that when the years of his teachings were counted, they had left out the earlier years at prior shuls. He was proud of all his years of teaching Torah to children and Adults.
Treating me like a child, Moshe even played a game with me several years ago, when I discovered a passion for G*d's "holiest number seven" as found in Torah. Moshe instructed me to write out seven of my own important personal sevens. Sure enough, my daughter was born in 1977. Even my birth year ended in seven. Moshe would reward me with allowing me to call him back with a Torah question. Moshe had a seven in his e-mail address moshe.cohen7@__. Reb Moshe died last night at 5 PM, Friday, August 17th, 2007, 3 Elul 5767, just before Shabbos, and 46 hours after his beloved wife, Jean, died. Moshe got in his last personal sevens. Moshe and Jean died in Elul, acronym for,"Ani L'Dodi, L'Dodi Li." I am my beloved and my beloved is mine. This was a loving second marriage for them both.
Tid-bits: Aviva reminds me that Moshe loved movies and was a trivia maven on the movies. I fixed him up with another movie maven so they could share their deep love of movies. Moshe loved Yiddishkeit and would love going to the Yiddish learning conferences. At our last visit with Moshe, he shared that the cartoon 'Lil Abner' must have come from Jewish sources: Tu B'Av.
Moshe loved learning computer, even though frustrating for him at first. Moshe loved using his Hebrew language program. I would save his Hebrew words and sometimes write back to him with his Hebrew "Moshe" or "Shalom." So I learned to do things, Moshe's way. Moshe always wore 'hippy style' open Birkenstock sandals with socks, way before others wore them, even to weddings. So I too, years ago, finally bought the same big clunky Birks, but in purple, and wear them 24/7 everywhere, and with fancy dress.
A month ago, I made sure to write to Moshe (Moshe Chayim ben Chana as I prayed for him), a couple of letters detailing a lot of what he meant to me, how he had made a difference in my life, and for him to know he has been appreciated for what was important to him, G*d and Torah. Moshe had left a legacy in our lives. We might have missed each other by phone, playing tag, but we never gave up until reaching the other to learn a little more Torah. Moshe was patient with me, and always forgiving.
Moshe loved it when I would call him before he called me at home with a Torah question during the week to direct me to a passage in Torah. Moshe knew where to find everything. He would get out his Stone Chumash, so that I could follow him most easily. His gift was being able to show us where throughout the Torah, these concepts were repeated and how similar or different they were to each other.
Moshe and my husband, Marcel, z'l, for a couple of decades, would study Torah together every Friday evening, to prepare both of them for their own Torah readings the next Shabbat morning at their separate shuls. Moshe's, a conservative minyan, Valley Beth Shalom's Library Minyan, and Marcel's, a traditional minyan, and Chabad. Chevruta, they both studiously learned Torah together to share with their communities, with Moshe leading the way. Moshe and Marcel shared the same Bar Mitzvah Torah parsha BaHa'alotecha. As as the Parsha teaches us, via going up to kindle the lights of the Menorah--to reach for our own potential, Moshe had us reach for the highest teachings of Torah and our potential.
Aviva will share her own stories about her relationship with Moshe as friend and Rebbe. I was happy to give to Aviva, our family's big Book of Jewish Legends which Moshe so loved. Aviva brought it to Boston with her seven years ago so that she could continue to study long distance over the phone with her beloved Moshe. Aviva made sure to visit with Moshe and joined his weekly home class, as soon as she visited California. People at my shuls would tell me that they met my daughter at Moshe's. Seventeen years ago, we gave the honor of opening the Ark to Moshe for Aviva's Bat Mitzvah. Moshe was the Kohan witness on the Ketubah for Aviva and Brett's chuppah two years ago.
My first Aliyah to Torah was given to me by Moshe. I had never been called up to Torah before, because I had gone to my husband's minyanim. Moshe called me up to Torah to say the bracha. I had Gabbai Joyce and Rabbi Sheldon Kirsch standing by my side, along with Reb Moshe, at Valley Beth Shalom. Now as I go up to Torah each year on my birth Parsha, BaHa'alotecha, to chant Torah, I bring Moshe with me in my heart, as Moshe gave me my first opportunity to be closer to Torah. The only important meaningful action that I needed to do for my current big birthday, was to go up to Torah and chant and share my understanding of the Parsha's meaning, and experientially involve the congregation. Moshe is the one who told me what my birth Parsha was, based on when my Hebrew birthday was, based on my secular birth date. When ever a friend wanted this same information, I would ask Moshe to look it up in his book for them. I had friends call Moshe for other Torah information before the days of the Jewish Internet. When I had Torah Parsha BaHa'alotecha written for a new Torah last year, I also had Moshe in mind.
In 1992, before Internet ease, Moshe found for me in the Torah, the many places where healing was mentioned. I still recall that in 2Kings2, Elisha brought back to life by hands on healing, a boy, son of the Shunamite woman. Face to face, life was returned. I had to prove, as conference chair for Timbrels of Miriam, to one of the head rabbis at a Jewish university, that indeed, energetic healing was a valid topic for a major Jewish women's conference. Whereas the class had been cancelled, we were able to hold the workshop on healing with several Jewish healers as teachers, and it was a standing room only crowd, and written up in the Jewish press, because Moshe had given to me the long list of Torah healing references. To this day, Jewish healing continues to be popularly taught at the university. We are in one of the weeks of "Comfort" leading up to the High Holidays. This week's Torah Parsha, Shoftim, includes the verse (Deuteronomy 16:20), "Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof". Justice, ,justice, shalt thou pursue, and Moshe helped me to pursue justice of learning. Moshe always asked why a word was repeated twice. Maybe here to pursue Truth in this world and the next. Thank you, dear Moshe!
I don't know that Moshe cared for my "back-door" entrance to Torah, as he called it, because it was through Kabbalah, and not straight pshatTorah. Moshe was not looking for hidden meanings to be revealed, but he wanted my involvement in Torah. Moshe put up with my Kabbalistic questions.
Moshe had been involved with our TRZ Minyanaires which met at Aviva's day school a couple dozen years ago He left the Minyanaires for a more egalitarian minyan. Moshe was also sharing teachings with the children at Heschel Day School and rewarding them for their efforts.
During our last visit in person, Moshe could share with us the humor of his memories. I remembered tidbits that Moshe had shared with me almost thirty years ago. I mentioned them in the presence of my daughter so that Moshe could reminisce about war time and how Zero Mostel, his bunk mate, would rescue "little but loud" Moshe from destruction of others. Moshe said that the actor would jump on his back to restrain him. Aviva took good notes.
Moshe loved hearing that I had last month spent time with Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel in New Mexico, although she now lives outside Vancouver, Canada. I did assure Moshe that I had shared his regards with my dear teacher, and I would again as he requested. Long before I had first studied with Hanna Tiferet in 1993 in Berkeley, Moshe had gifted me with a 1987 audio tape of her songs, Or Shalom. Moshe had been the scholar in residence at Hanna Tiferet's Vancouver shul and brought me back the tape from the then rebbetzin. Somehow Moshe knew that I would love this woman. And I did. Turned out that Reb Shlomo Carlebach, z'l had brought her to "Yiddishkeit", as both she and Shlomo said to me. I was Shlomo's percussionist because of Hanna Tiferet (and Divine Providence). When Aviva moved to Boston seven years ago, I put Aviva in touch with the Siegel's for her first Boston Shabbat dinner. Moshe set the music going and I am grateful for life's spin.
Moshe also loved being rebbe in residence for Pesach at Ramah in Ojai, and other shuls. Moshe enjoyed telling me about those Pesach holidays (and how cold were the lobbies so that he got sick.)
Moshe did not want anyone going out of their way for him and wife, Jean, of blessed memory, or to give gifts to them, although they both gifted us with their love, concern and teachings. Moshe loved the giant beautiful etrog with a perfect pitom and bright glorious golden color and citronish aroma that I hand-picked for them from Rebbetzin Esther Elsant's tree. It was really the only perfect etrog on the whole tree and I wanted Moshe and Jean to have it. Moshe had said, "no" ahead of time, but I brought it over anyway, as I had done the prior year, along with some lulav branches and shach from a palm tree. Our dear friend Barbara Klaristenfeld helped to make the lulav complete for Moshe. Moshe had always gone out to choose his own set for Sukkot, but now life was different and Moshe and Jean were very appreciative. Moshe and his first wife, Sue, of blessed memory, had spent a Sukkot in our family sukkah.
Moshe and Jean always openly shared their love with us. They loved sharing with us news of their 'blended' family. For many years, we shared Sukkot, Chagim, and Shabboses at the loving home of Barbara and Rabbi Ken Klaristenfeld and their extended family. It will not be the same without Moshe and Jean at the table filled with love of Torah, but each day as I open Torah, Reb Moshe will be encouraging me to learn and appreciate our Jewish wisdom. Moshe, YOU have been a blessing, and always with your wife, Jean, at your side.
With love and sympathy,
Moshe shared with me years ago, upon the death of Sue, z'l, that tears are not necessary. "Why are you crying," he asked? Maybe that is because the neshamah goes on, returning back Home to the Source of All Blessings, and back to all the other souls who had filled one's life with love on earth while alive.
My Reb Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen of "Hazon - Our Universal Vision" shares: "The ultimate reunion with our loved ones will be in this world - in the World to Come on this earth. Thus the dust returns to the earth, as it was, and the spirit returns to the Just One Who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7) - When the human soul leaves the body, it returns to its Divine Source (Commentary of Metzudas David).
"May their souls be bound in the Bond of Life, together with the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah; and together with the other righteous men and women in the Garden of Eden." (from the Yizkor prayer for the souls of the departed)
May Moshe and Jean rest in peace, and have easy Aliyahs to Shamayim. May The Compassionate One comfort us all among the other mourners in Tzion and Yerushalayim. Ha'makom yenachem b'toch she'ar avelai Tziyon v'Yerushalayim.