Watching people a few hundred feet up in the air, walking or bicycling on a string has always astonished me. Regardless of the science behind it (using a long pole as a means of forcing one’s center of gravity onto the string) does nothing to subtract from the magnificence of the act. Therefore, it’s these performers that take my breath away when I have the opportunity to see them walking the tightrope.
But, as wondrous as it is to see actual tightrope walkers perform, it cannot be compared to seeing someone who walks that string every day, in every aspect of his life. A true ben Torah, in my opinion, is someone who accepts and includes everyone and everything, but in the proper proportions, balancing.
In the world we live in, specifically in the States, it’s impossible to cut one’s self off completely from their surroundings. Yet, accepting it wholly, or even being complacent about it, is the most dangerous thing a person can do to their neshama. Balancing the world of Torah and secular society is difficult, to say the least. So when I meet someone who I see walking that fine line, I’m in awe and, of course, aspire to be like them.
But that’s only one string that people are capable of walking along. There are those who are balanced in regards to people as well. They not only get along, but are best friends with everyone. Religious and irreligious alike, girls, guys, children, adolescents, rabbis, middle-aged, the entire spectrum – they love and are loved by everyone. When their names are mentioned, smiles alight on people’s faces as they all can’t help but reflect on how wonderful, special and remarkable this person is, to them, in a personal manner.
Finding a person who can walk one of the aforementioned strings is a rarity in and of itself. Finding someone who walks them both, on a daily basis? I never would have thought it possible.
Then I met Mo. Moshe Yehuda Berkowitz a”h. He was the tightrope walker I had given up looking for, thinking that no such person existed. He was, Mo – the fun-loving, perpetually happy, serious learner, king of chesed, master of selflessness, who loved everyone and was loved by all.
I heard Mo’s father speak at the seuda held on Mo’s first yarzheit and was startled by the succinctness and brilliance of what he said. “Chein: a small word with a big meaning.” Mo had chein like none other. Everyone who had the zechus to spend time with him was entranced by him – his rebbeim, his peers, his friends, his students – simply, everyone. He was an amazing person, and an even better Jew.
Mo’s father said something else that still resonates with me: “It was as if he was here tonight.” And for a moment, I knew exactly what he meant. One of the many associations people have with Mo was his boundless energy. In all the time I knew him, I never heard him say once that he was tired (that most favorite refrain of anyone his age). When he walked into a room, there was a change; a stronger pulse than had been there previously. Be it in the beis medrash, at a wedding, in the car or in the dining room, everyone knew that Mo was around. That was the feeling at the Hachnasas Sefer Torah and Siyum held in his memory. The energy that was Mo, that we all miss so enormously, had fleetingly returned to be with us again.
Amongst Mo’s many endeavors to propagate Judaism, was his participation at NCSY. Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, regional director of NY NCSY, shared a story with an incredible interpretation and how it relates to Mo. He was once in Aberdeen, Scotland in early summer to give a lecture. After the lecture, someone approached him and asked him to come by his house to look at his sukkah. Of course, Rabbi Lightstone accompanied him to take a look, all the while wondering why this man had built his sukkah in June. The man’s sukkah was flawless; it was built with every chumrah possible. When questioned, the man explained that 1) He built his sukkah so early because there were no other rabbis scheduled to visit and he wanted it checked out and 2) He had taken out all the books he could find on the halachos of how to build a sukkah and followed them.
Rabbi Lightstone followed up this amusing, yet amazing story with a question. Why doesn’t the Torah say specifically to be a good person? Isn’t being a good person one of the most important things? Rabbi Lightstone answered that if the Torah had written such a command, we would all read a book to know what to do. But a book isn’t good enough. We need a living, breathing book, a role model to read, see and aspire to be like. Mo was that role model. Mo was that book.