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Big in Everything He Did

 In tribute to Ben Chafetz a"h

Eis laledes v’eis lamus. There is a time in life to be born, and a time to die. These factors are completely up to Hashem and not a matter of personal decision. But what is up to a person is how he lives his life between those times. A person can decide to allow his challenges to weigh him down, or to utilize those same challenges to lift himself up. My father, Ben Chafetz a”h, was a person who lived his life to the fullest, despite his many challenges. Someone who only knew him as an adult could never imagine where he came from.

My father lost his own father when he was just nine months old; he spent his whole childhood switching from school to school as he struggled with ADHD and anxiety. My dad wrote about his mental health journey in an article that he published. He did not grow up in a stable, frum household, yet he succeeded in starting and building a beautiful family with my mother; our life was filled with love, simchah, and Yiddishkeit. He did not get to where he did by giving up and accepting defeat; he worked hard and always persevered. Every day was another opportunity for him to work on his emunah and middos and do as many mitzvos as possible.

My father did more in one day than an average person could do in a week. I used to think it must be because he had more than 24 hours in his day; otherwise, how could he complete so much in so little time? I soon realized it was because he never wasted his time on mundane things and he prioritized what matters: Hashem, Torah, and his family. His work was just a means to earn money to support his family; anything extra went straight to tzedakah.

My father knew that nothing in this life was his, and that he was just a messenger from Hashem, placed here in this world to help and touch as many people as he could. And he did just that. Everywhere he went, he created a family. The number of people who became our extended cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents is astronomical. Everywhere he went, he became “Uncle Ben.”

My father didn’t grow up with a big family, so he made one. Because that’s what he did; when life was tough, he made the best of everything. When facing a difficult issue, whether it affected him or someone else, he would never complain about it; he would just step in and try to fix it. He always said that anyone can feel bad for a person. You need to be the one to do something — because if you don’t, who will?

There are so many instances I can recall my dad living this. Here in Cleveland about five years ago, a family went through a terrible tragedy, and my dad stepped up to the plate to help them. For four months, he put his business on hold and got all his employees to work helping this family. He didn’t worry about being unable to support his own family because his emunah was through the roof. He knew that Hashem would take care of his family while he took care of another’s.

But as much as he devoted himself to the welfare of others, he never failed to take care of his own. Each of his children was loved, appreciated, and respected. My dad knew how to do chesed the right way; he never used it as an excuse to not spend time with his family. Two summers ago, I ran a successful day camp and was having a hard time giving maaser. My father shared an approach to tzedakah that I will never forget. He explained to me that the money I give away to tzedakah is the only money that I end up keeping. The money that is “mine” is spent on mundane physical things that I will eventually forget about. However, the money I give to tzedakah is the money that will stay with me my whole life, following me up to Olam Haba.

Although my father’s tzedakah and chesed were unparalleled, these didn’t even begin to compare to his ahavas Yisrael. In fact, his passion for tzedakah and chesed came from his pure, unadulterated ahavas Yisrael. Everyone felt like they were my father’s best friend, and in truth, they were. Nobody got a handshake when greeting my dad; they got a “Ben-hug.” They were embraced in his loving arms and passionate, infectious smile. Anyone who had the pleasure of joining a Friday night meal at my house knew very well that they would get a Friday night brachah from my father. He would hold his hands over their heads and bentsh all my friends and my sister’s friends, because he loved them all, as though they were all his children.

There were many stories I didn’t hear about until after the shivah, but here are a couple that really exhibit his true nature of chesed and ahavas Yisrael. There is a grocery store in Cleveland at which many kollel families shop. My father would come in once a month and pick up the tabs of these families; he always asked the store manager not to tell the people who paid for their tabs.

And his love was not limited only to Jews. Once, a cleaning lady ended up being held in jail for an expired visa, and my dad went downtown to the county jail to pay her bail. He would also go downtown to feed the homeless. He would see someone on the side of the road and buy him a hot meal. He didn’t just start this when he was established and had the money; he did this even when he was a broke teenager.

When he was 19 and living in New York, he was mugged while walking back to his apartment. My dad looked at his mugger and asked him a question no one would ever dream of: “Are you okay?” After getting into a deep conversation with the mugger, my dad brought him back to his apartment, gave him a place to sleep for a couple of days, provided him with clothing, and set him up with a job.

My dad was someone who looked at the person, not his sins. He was a big believer in second chances and that everyone could change their ways. I remember him telling me that one day he wanted to open a business that employed convicts to help set them back on the straight path. My father’s emunah, chesed, tzedakah, and ahavas Yisrael were things he worked on each and every day, because he knew that’s what living meant, and what it was all about. He knew that the meaning of life was not to simply exist and survive, but to move ahead, to grow, to try, and to follow Hashem and keep His mitzvos.

This Monday will be my father’s first yahrtzeit. A few months ago, someone shared with me a beautiful thought; my dad was described as a person who was “bigger than life,” a person whose physical being could not be confined. Maybe that’s why Hashem decided that my father could no longer be away from Him. Because my father and Baruch Taub a”h were people who were so big in their actions, so big in their love, so big in everything that they did, that it exceeded their physical form. It could no longer be contained in a body and had to be returned to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Someone once told me that your personality does not change when your neshamah is returned to its creator, and I do not doubt that my father is by Hashem’s side, arguing for everyone he loves and fighting for what’s right. May my father’s neshamah have an aliyah as we all try to emulate his ways.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 993)

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