Links to the Past
On Erev Rosh Hashanah, Ariel's rebbe from Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles, Rabbi Dovid Gruman, visited with me. Rabbi Gruman was Ariel's 10th grade rebbe, but their relationship transcended that of student and teacher. Not a week went by when Rabbi Gruman did not visit Ariel here at home or in the hospital. I vividly remember that at the very hour Ariel was being prepped for surgery a few years ago, Rabbi Gruman's infant son was undergoing an extremely complex and dangerous surgery on his tiny heart. Right before Ariel was wheeled into the operating room he assured Rabbi Gruman that his son was going to be fine. Ariel had davened for him and he was sure that HaShem would listen to his prayers. The recovery room nurse told me that when Ariel's surgery was over and he regained consciousness, he groggily asked how it went. You're okay," the nurse told him. "No, no, not me," he muttered, "How is Rabbi Gruman's son?" The baby was fine, Thank G-d, and continues to thrive. Ariel's concern for others was deep and genuine. Ariel had no pretences; there was not a dishonest bone in his body. This absolute goodness is why people loved and respected Ariel. I was not the first person to call Ariel a Tzaddik Gamur, an Authentic Saint. No, I left that to others. Karen and I knew that it was true, but Ariel's deep sense of modesty prevented us from ever saying it out loud.
Rabbi Gruman and I talked about Ariel. We talked about Rabbi Gruman's children, the recent birth of his grandchild, his daughter's engagement. Then as Rabbi Gruman was leaving, he turned to me and hesitantly said: "Is it okay for me to go into Ariel's room?"
Ariel's room is, for the most part, the same as it was when he was alive. Karen organized his tapes and notebooks, I dust his books; his childhood toys. Sometimes I put my face into his clothing, his old Shabbos suits and take a deep breath. I can still detect his scent. It makes my head spin. I borrow his ties. Once, I tried on his black hat. He was so handsome, especially when he dressed so carefully for Shabbos and Yom Tovim.
A few years ago, Ariel struggled to put on a pair of cuff links. "Dad, can you lend me a hand?" I love helping my children with anything. It makes me feel, well, like a father from the early days of television, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons. I'm just the Jewish version. Ariel could not figure out how to get the cuff link through the holes. Never terribly coordinated, Ariel was positively defeated by this maneuver. "Take off your shirt," I said. Ariel did it. "Now, sit down on the bed, and put the cuff links through the holes." Ariel did it with ease. He smiled hugely and said, "Dad, that's brilliant." We laughed. Ariel could decipher the most difficult passage of Talmud, but he was often confounded by the most ordinary of tasks.
Rabbi Gruman touched the spines of a few books and nodded to himself, perhaps thinking, Yes, yes, this is the space, these are the objects that I will fix in my mind forever and ever.
Rabbi Gruman bid me a Gut Yuntif. I stood outside my home and watched him drive away. Back in the house, I returned to Ariel's room, sat down on his bed and got ready for this second Rosh Hashanah without my son. I took off my shirt and put on my cufflinks, just the way I taught Ariel -- just the way my father taught me.