One of the central, recurring themes of Hanukkah is the dedication of the Maccabees to perform G-d’s will in the face of abject diversity.
The decrees of the Greeks against Jewish observance, the study of Torah, bris milah and many other mitzvos, as well as defiling the holy Temple, had plunged the Jewish people almost to a state of religious oblivion. These decrees, which to transgress was often punishable by death, understandably prevented most Jews from entertaining the thought of shirking the decrees and continuing in their observance. It was only in the merit of a handful of rare individuals who could not accept, under any circumstances, the lack of fulfillment of the commandments of G-d, regardless of the consequences or the difficulty, that the Torah, and hence the Jewish people, were saved.
We celebrate their bravery and mesirus nefesh, their dedication of their very souls and lives, each year as we kindle the Hanukkah flames. This reminds us that a little bit of light displaces much darkness.
At times we have seen, throughout the generations, unique Jews who embodied the spirit and dedication of those Jewish heroes of yore and have fulfilled the will of G-d in the most exemplary way despite the most difficult of circumstances.
My friends, I truly believe that we had just such a rare Jewish personality among us, who, in the most humble and unassuming way, was a hero of the spirit.
That individual was my dear friend and student, Dr. Paul Weissburd ob’’m, who recently succumbed, after a valiant 10-year battle against an insidious disease, at the tragic age of 40. He left us shortly after celebrating his 10th anniversary with the love of his life, Bella, and the sixth birthday of his beloved daughter, Rachel.
Paul, who hailed from the FSU, did not grow up with a Torah education. A deep thinker, his search for truth brought him to the recognition of Torah and its observance later in life. Once he recognized the truth of Torah, Paul, a brilliant dentist by training, immersed himself in Torah study every moment he could. He utilized his practice to bestow untold kindnesses upon others.
When he was diagnosed, just a few days after his engagement, he made a firm commitment to the observance of mitzvos, a commitment from which he never veered for a moment.
Over the past 10 years the disease took a toll on his ability to breathe, nearly taking his life multiple times and leading to numerous surgeries. It then took away his ability to eat, and finally, to speak. His suffering was something beyond the imagination.
Nevertheless, Paul’s deep and profound faith never wavered. Not only did he never complain; he never lost his joy! Amid the most excruciating suffering he would bring joy to others – who had no idea whatsoever that he was so sick or suffering. Only his wife truly knew the extent of his illness, and out of deep respect for his wishes not to be viewed as different, didn’t divulge their secret to anyone.
In the midst of all the medical issues, which kept mounting, Paul remained strong in his Torah studies and maintained a study partnership with a DATA rabbi, with whom he studied the night before his passing. He studied online in the middle of the night and utilized any other means he could to listen to every possible class. To see him pray, with such rare dedication and joy, would inspire anyone. A month before his passing he helped another dentist open a new practice, despite his own pain and weakness (which he hid masterfully).
Paul embodied the nobility of the Jewish spirit which was inculcated in the DNA of our people by those heroes of old, the Maccabees. Paul, like them, would not allow anything to stand in the way of his dedication to the service of G-d.
This Hanukkah, may we take Paul’s example of a modern-day Maccabee to strengthen our own dedication and observance and not let the little things in life stand in the way of what we’re supposed to do. May his memory be a blessing to his family and us all.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.