There is a mitzvah to always be happy. It is also a mitzvah to perform service to Hashem with joy and happiness. A person has one opportunity to bury his father, rip his shirt, and make the berachah Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Since the Torah says to do it, it must be possible and it is up to us to figure out how. How is one supposed to fulfill these mitzvot with joy and happiness?
In my father’s final moments of life, I held his hand and recited Shema Yisrael. He was peaceful and smiling as his soul left his body. His yetzias neshamah was in the same manner that Torah describes the deaths of Aharon and Moshe.
According to the Gemara at the end of Chapter 3 in Niddah, it is said that before a Jew is born, a heavenly oath is administered to him, charging him: “Be righteous and not be wicked.” The soul comes into the body of a person to enable him to fulfill this heavenly oath.
There are many sefarim that state that a person’s neshamah yearns to be with Hashem and that we are here in this world to work our way towards the goal of earning our share in the world to come. There are many discourses that discuss how we are to achieve this goal and conduct ourselves during our lifetime. Death is something that we work for and achieve.
My father was affectionately known as Chacham Solomon to the community of Kew Gardens Hills and beyond. To me, he was Abba. He was loved and respected for his knowledge and wisdom, warm smile, and dedication to his shul and community.
My father loved to be in shul. He would often speak of his shul in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar). His father, Gavriel Solomon, z’l, was the chacham and chazzan of the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue as well as the spiritual leader and shochet for the community.
My father often spoke about how he would go early in the morning in all sorts of weather to open the shul and take care of the community needs. As the Myanmar Jewish community dwindled, my father assisted in shipping off most of the sifrei Torah to Israel. After his father passed away, the family left Burma. In 1956, my father came to New York and settled in Kew Gardens Hills.
He was the first Orthodox Sephardic Jew in the neighborhood and made himself at home in the shuls. My father was diligent about going to shul and davening in a minyan and made sure to instill in me the importance of this mitzvah. Many people reminisce about his Iraqi rendition of Mipi-El during hakafot on Simchas Torah.
O L‑rd, I Love the dwelling of your house and the place of the residence of your glory. (Tehillim, 26:8)
I have fond memories of my abba during our many walks together going to and from shul. My father often quoted the pasuk (Bereishit 22:6) “Vayelichu shnaihem yachdav,” as we were walking to shul. Thankfully, my dad wasn’t carrying a sharp knife.
My father was active in the chevra kadisha and always performed mitzvot with alacrity. His wisdom, ahavat Yisrael, and yirat shamayim earned him the title of Chacham Solomon. He spent a lot of time in his shul, Ohel Simcha, and loved to participate in Rabbi Haimoff’s shiurim.
My father was always ready and willing to help someone. He was able to relate to people of all ages. His presence and his smile would instantly light up a room. He cared for people and would recite Tehillim for people in need of refuah and yeshuah. People would come to him for advice and blessing and he always knew how to make a person feel good about themselves.
He would prepare money to distribute for tzedakah and always made the recipient feel that they were giving him the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah. He always took pleasure in sharing in peoples’ smachot and thoroughly enjoyed participating in hachnasat sefer Torah ceremonies.
One thing I ask the L‑rd, that I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lor, all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of the L‑rd and to visit His temple every morning. (Tehillim, 27:4)
As the symptoms of the advanced stage of his illness began to present themselves, he still pushed himself to go to shul. When he went to the hospital and his diagnosis was confirmed, he told me, “Gavriel, I am very sick, but Hashem is great.”
My Abba led a righteous and pious life and conducted himself in accordance with the Torah. So, as my father’s neshamah left this world, I realized that everything my father worked for in his lifetime was accomplished and he achieved death.
Like all treasures, his physical body would be buried and his neshamah would be moving on to great spiritual heights in Gan Eden. Although I was extremely sad to be physically separated from my beloved father, I was able to recite Baruch Dayan HaEmet with happiness, because I was proud to have such a wonderful man for a father and was happy that Abba accumulated many mitzvot and earned his share in Olam Haba.
As the year of aveilus has progressed, and the memory is more distant, I feel a stronger connection with my Abba. Through saying Kaddish and learning mishnayot, l’iluy nishmato, I have learned to appreciate my father for the man that he was and for what he stood for. His legacy continues through my mother Rachel, me, and all those who loved him.
May the neshamah of Avraham Shalom ben Gavriel Yaakov be bound in eternal life and may he be a meilitz yosher for all of us. v