Death of A Giant
I lost one of my Rabbis last week, Rabbi Joshua Gordon. His was an untimely death, at the age of 66, due to a terminal illness. Naturally, I was saddened and emotional about it. Rabbi Gordon was a unique, charismatic, charming, encyclopedic, funny, warm, loving, caring Torah genius, who also made amusing and insightful references to secular and popular culture in his teachings.
I only met Rabbi Gordon once in my life, for less than an hour, in a wedding which he officiated, and in which I was honored to recite one of the chuppah blessings. At this point you might be pondering the following question: “How could you possibly claim as your own Rabbi someone whom you only met once in your life, and even then, for a very brief period of time?”
The answer is “the wonders of technology”. For several years, Rabbi Gordon recorded his Torah classes online, in which he taught the entire Torah with Rashi’s indispensable commentary, as well as the entire Tanya – a monumental Kabbalistic masterpiece, and the entirety of Maimonides’s halachic code the “Mishnah Torah”. Rabbi Gordon’s classes continue to be available online, and you can listen to them and watch them anywhere, at home in your sweatpants, or while driving your car in your earphones.
I learned so much from Rabbi Gordon, and those of you who attend our services and Torah classes are also the beneficiaries of his unique personality and genius. Rabbi Gordon and his wife Deborah were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to start Chabbad of the Valley, more than 40 years ago. When Rabbi Gordon arrived in the valley, in the early 1970’s, there was virtually no Orthodox Judaism in the valley. With time, Rabbi Gordon established 26 Chabbad centers in the valley, he fundraised for it, he built schools for tens of thousands of Jewish children, and he helped his congregants in the most personal and compassionate of ways. For example, one time one of his congregants called him crying, saying that she is too sick to pick up her own baby and change his diaper. So what did Rabbi Gordon do? He dropped everything he was doing, and drove to his congregant’s home in order to sit with her, comfort her, and also – while he was there, to change her baby’s diapers. Unbelievable. Rabbi Gordon would wake up at four o’clock in the morning to prepare his Torah classes. Cumulatively, there were millions of times in which his Torah classes were watched online by people from all over the world. One day, Rabbi Gordon went grocery shopping at a local Ralph’s, and an Africa -American gentleman walked up to him and exclaimed: “Rabbi Gordon, I learn with you Torah online every day!” “How wonderful”, responded the Rabbi. “And what do you learn with me?” Asked the Rabbi? “Kabbalah, Jewish Law?” “Why, the weekly parasha of course!” was the gentleman’s answer…
The Talmud teaches us that “The righteous are considered as living even after they physically depart from the world”, as the magnitude and loftiness of their deeds continue to reverberate, enrich the world, and nourish countless souls. So do yourself a favor, and go online in the time you don’t have, and check out one of Rabbi Gordon’s classes. You’re in for an exhilarating and life-enhancing treat. “You are a blessing to the Jewish people” I told Rabbi Gordon when I met him eight months before his death. He was already pale, very frail, thin and weak. And yet he remained dignified, charismatic, holy, strong, funny and profound. He served and taught until his final hour. And so Rabbi Gordon will remain a perpetual blessing to the Jewish people, and to the entire world. His classes will remain forever accessible for future generations online, for our grandchildren and great grandchildren – an eternal legacy of an eternal teacher for G-d’s eternal people. His numerous G-dly deeds will continue to illuminate the world “As long as eyes can see and men can breathe” as one William Shakespeare once put it. His memory is a blessing, as well as an undying inspiration to us all.