A true Tzaddik died this week. Rabbi Ben Hollander z”l was a talmid muvhak – a dedicated student - of Nehama Leibovitz, a gentleman in all of the meanings of the word, and a mentsh. Ben was a scholar-in-residence for many years at Camp Ramah in Canada and at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. He touched the souls of thousands of students. There were few like him.
I only really met Ben once. Four years ago, Rabbi David Soloff and I had the privilege of enjoying Shabbat lunch with Ben and his beloved wife, Judy, who would die unexpectedly one year later. The conversation was invigorating and the aura of Torah emanating from Ben was exceptional. I left with incredible admiration for this exceptional teacher and mentsh. Upon returning home to Atlanta from that trip, I learned that my father had cancer and he would die one month to the day from when he received his diagnosis. One night during Shiva, the phone rang. It was Ben Hollander. This man, who I met for a total of two hours at a Shabbat table, was calling to comfort me as a mourner. We talked for over half-an-hour and the conversation was deeply moving. It was as if Ben was sitting next to me in my home even though he was across the world.
In his final years, Ben suffered like Job suffered. One struggle after another: the death of his beloved wife, Judy; cancer that wracked his body; a stroke and other tragedies. Yet, from all of the eulogies delivered in his memory, it was clear that Ben never expressed misery. He was always upbeat and optimistic. An exceptionally gentle soul, Ben took every tragedy, every pain, with a sense of humor and a smile.
Our parashah opens with instructions regarding the Ner Tamid – the Eternal Light – that was to burn in the Mishkan – the Desert Tabernacle. The Cohanim were to tend to it in order to insure that it would burn eternally. I don’t know whether or not Ben Hollander z”l was a Cohen, but I do know that he was a glorious keeper of our Ner Tamid, our Torah, working tirelessly to make sure that each successive generation would be warmed by its fire and illuminated by its light. May we all aspire to live as genuinely, as authentically, as happily as Ben did and may we all strive to inspire others to live and learn Torah, in its broadest definitions, in the fashion that our teacher, Rabbi Ben Hollander z”l did.
May his memory be for a blessing.