Friends & Teachers
I am sitting on a plane on my way to visit a very good friend, one of those rare people who qualify as a good friend. We call each other and we email, but I actually need to spend time with him. I met him a little more than a year ago, and within the first half hour I knew that I had a new friend for life. He doesn’t hesitate to argue with me, point out when he believes I am making a mistake, or to receive the same from me. He too was a close student of my father’s zt”l, and ybcl”c, my Rebbi, Rabbi Zweig. The world is a better place for me because he is my friend. This particular friend is a master teacher of any Torah topic, but he is the world’s best teacher of how to be a Boteiach.
Yesterday I learned that a friend from thirty years ago, passed away. I was his Rebbi, and he was my boss when I worked for 3H Electronics in Sunnyvale, CA in 1983. We constantly fought (admittedly, usually my fault), learned, laughed, and shared Torah thoughts. We could go 5 years without speaking to each other and then call and email every day for months. He called me a few days ago while undergoing dialysis to share a Torah thought he heard from Chacham Mordechai Eliyahu. His children saw my number on his cell phone and realized that, although he had stopped speaking to anybody but family a few months ago, he continued to speak with me. I cannot recall a single conversation with him since 1983 that did not have some words of Torah. Even when we were having a heated argument, he would pause, chuckle and say, “Rabbi Simcha, this reminds me of something I once heard…”
Our relationship was so irregular that I couldn’t understand why I was so devastated by his death. I had to go to a house of mourning where an acquaintance is sitting Shiva, the 7 Days of Mourning, and then run to teach a class and then another and then yet another, until 2AM. I did not have an opportunity to think about my friend until now as I am sitting on the plane. I realized that Halfon too, was a master teacher.
Here are two of his favorite stories, both offered to me in the perfect moment for each:
Three white men were captured by a tribe of Indians. The first is brought to the chief of the tribe who says, “You have a choice; death or Roo Roo.” The white man had no idea what Roo Roo was, but at least it wasn’t death. So, he chose Roo Roo.
All the members of the tribe began cheering when they heard his choice. They took him, spread him out on the ground and began beating him for hours and hours until he barely had any life remaining. But, he lived.
The chief made the same offer to the second white man, “Death or Roo Roo?” The man thought about it and realized that although the first had suffered terrible things, he was still alive. “I choose Roo Roo.” The tribe cheers. They spread him out on the ground, and he suffered a multi hour Roo Roo, but he still was alive.
The chief looked at the third man and before he could offer any choice, the man said, “I choose death!” The crowed booed.
The chief said, “OK. Death, But first… a little Roo Roo!”
“Rabbi Simcha,” Halfon said, “Just remember, no matter what will happen, people will want to get in a little Roo Roo. Don’t think you can avoid it!”
Halfon’s father and uncle were wealthy merchants in Cairo. Every Friday morning, widows with children, Jews, Muslims and Christians. would line up outside the Hamaoui offices to receive their milk money. All their names wre in a ledger with a record of how many children each woman had. She would sign othe date and receive her money. Halfons’ father and his uncle would take turns handing out the money.
One Friday, Halfon’s uncle was confromnted by a woman who insisted that she had not collected her money the week before. Mr Hamaoui checked the book and showed her that she signed the book on the previous Friday.
“Liar! Thief! You forged my signature so you could keep my money!”
“Why would I do that? This is all my money that I am sharing with you.”
The woman began shrieking in a loud voice and she was soon joined by all the women in line.
Halfon’s father ran out to see what was going on. Realized what was happenoing, took the accuser into his office, apologized for his brother’s bahavior and even gave her extra money.
Halfon’s uncle was furious. “Do you realize that now everyone in the marketplace believes her and not me?”
Halfon’s father responded, “If someone acts in such a desperate way it is because they are desperate. Who knows what she is going through?”
“Rabbi Simcha,” said Halfon after hearing my tale of woe about someone who stole a fortune of money from me, “desperate people do desperate things.”
I could go on for pages with Halfon’s stories and advice. He is a living presence in my life and always will be. Goodbye, my friend.
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