Rav Shlomo Zalman Kaufman taught me what caring and chesed really mean
I was shocked when I heard of his passing, so sudden and unexpected.
I had only met him twice in person and spoken to him on the phone a few times. Yet I knew I had to be menachem avel.
His sons didn’t recognize me, and asked how I knew their father.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Kaufman ztz”l wasn’t the rav of a shul nor a rosh yeshivah, but a dayan who gave many shiurim in his home.
Yet he impacted the lives of hundreds.
I never heard a shiur from him, nor did I discuss sh’eilos with him frequently. But Rav Shlomo Zalman Kaufman changed my life.
Rav Kaufman stood up for those with no one to speak on their behalf.
Countless women benefited from his courageous and sometimes unpopular support for them. He was the voice of the voiceless, and his broad shoulders supported those whom others would allow to fall between the cracks. He was an individual who was fearless as he stood up for those in need, undaunted in his defense of the defenseless.
Emes was his only compass.
We hadn’t spoken in years. Why did I feel the need to make the trip to Monsey?
I went because Rav Shlomo Zalman Kaufman gave me a priceless gift.
Rav Kaufman taught me what caring and chesed really mean.
Over 15 years ago, I was at his beis din as a rabbinic supporter of a woman seeking a get. The deliberations became heated, and unfortunately, we could not reach an amicable resolution, and no get was forthcoming at the meeting.
The meeting took place in the summer, and soon after, the entire episode was placed on my back burner.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur arrived, and soon afterward, Succos.
It was Hoshana Rabbah, and my family and our guests were about to sit down for the seudah in our succah.
Suddenly, my wife informed me that two rabbanim were at the front door and wanted to speak.
Who would be coming to my door on Hoshana Rabbah morning? Could they be meshulachim from Eretz Yisrael? It was unlikely.
At the door was Rav Kaufman and the other dayan of his beis din. Rav Kaufman asked if he could speak with me. He apologized for his unexpected and unannounced intrusion; however, he explained he had been up the entire night and believed he had finally come up with an acceptable resolution to facilitate the giving of the get.
I was confused. “But why come now, on Hoshana Rabbah? The get anyway cannot be given until after Yom Tov.”
He looked at me with disbelief. His bleary, sleep-deprived facial expression said it all.
In his signature calm yet strident nature, he said, “What do you mean? Today is Hoshana Rabbah, the gemar din. Could I go into Simchas Torah with this woman still in limbo as she pines for her get and closure to this painful parshah? Do we dare be b’simchah while this woman remains in a state of uncertainty?”
At that moment, I realized that nothing in the world — not the Hoshana Rabbah seudah nor sitting in the succah — mattered as much to Rav Kaufman as ensuring this woman would enter Yom Tov with the knowledge that her get was forthcoming. Only with an agreement in hand could he allow himself to eat or to sleep.
That day, I learned the true meaning of chesed.
That is why I traveled to Monsey — to express my gratitude to the children and the wife of the man who realigned forever my understanding of what it means to be a rav.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 981)
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