If Dad could, right now, he would, having surveyed the room say, “Why on earth are you making all this fuss?” He would then say, “I’m fine and I want to drive home, now!”
Not making a fuss was how he lived. Quietly, self effacingly, concerned only for the welfare of others and totally devoted to our Mam.
the kindest, most gentle, the sweetest, most generous, most thoughtful man
And, without making a fuss, was indeed how he died too. He fell, again, on Friday. I say again, because over the last few weeks, he had a few falls, each worse than the last and each, simply because he refused to call for help. Why bother the nurses? After all, they have sick people to look after.
Yesterday, as he was lying in the hospital, frail, asleep and hardly able to breathe, the doctors came to tell us that there was no more that they could do, that they would now stop medicating him and that a team would soon come to move him to another room, where we could have privacy, whilst a new team of nurses would ensure that he remained comfortable and pain free.
And that is when he left us. He heard the fuss being made. The plans being made, the organisation being organised and did what he had always done. He worked out how to avoid putting anyone out and how to avoid a fuss. He simply stopped breathing. So typical of the kindest, most gentle, the sweetest, most generous, most thoughtful man, that we were privileged to have as our father.
Louis was the second son of Gershon and Freida Cohen. His birth, in July 1927 was also a second. The second, amazing and wonderful thing that happened in Cardiff that year. The first, just three months earlier, was the much noisier affair of Cardiff City beating Arsenal in the FA Cup Final, at Wembley.
And to follow the theme of seconds, his passing yesterday, was again a second, as the great JPR Williams passed away yesterday too.
A good name is better than good oil.
In the Book of Koheles, Shlomo HaMelech writes: “Tov Shem, miShemen Tov.” A good name is better than good oil. The Sforno comments that the meaning of this phrase is that a fine reputation is acquired through mitzvos and good deeds, and Rashi adds that a fine reputation, is a far more valuable possession, than a precious oil.
Now the precious oils that are being referred to here, are those used in embalming, and the Alshich explains that a fine reputation will preserve the dead far more effectively than precious oils would. Our posuk continues, “Vyom HaMovess miyom Hivoldo” and the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth. So, bringing the two clauses together means that a good name is better than good oil because a good reputation travels much further than the scent of a fine oil and, has a far more lasting effect.
So the Yom HaMovess, when we have fulfilled our potential, is of course, obviously more important than our birthday, when we are just about to start out. Actually, my late, great friend, teacher, mentor and indeed boss Harav HaRashi Lord Jakobovits tzl, always commented on birthdays, that if anyone deserved a Mazal Tov, it’s the mother.
The Midrash asks, why, when we are born is there so much rejoicing and when we die there is much sadness? Logically it should be the other way around. When we are born, our future is a mystery, our good deeds are just possibilities and potential, but when we die, there is cause to rejoice for one who departs this world in peace and with a good name.
Just think about it. When a ship leaves port, we have all seen the movies, and my Dad saw more ships, cruise ships anyway, than most, it is waved off into the unknown with apprehension and concern for its direction of travel. But when it returns safe, having navigated the journey, that is the time for real celebration.
he leaves this world with the finest name anyone can possibly strive for
The Midrash then helps us further, by explaining that a man is called by three names. The name his parents gave him, the name by which he is known and the name he gains for himself during his lifetime.
And the Gemara in Berochos pulls it all together. “One who has given pleasure to Gd and departed the world with a good name, is better than a good oil, and the day of his death better than the day of his birth.”
Our Dad was born quietly and without fanfare, whilst everyone was celebrating that FA Cup Final win. He spent his life devoted to others, just doing what he thought was right, and he leaves this world with the finest name anyone can possibly strive for. Today, we celebrate that. We celebrate a life full of joy, full of life and full of success. He spent close to fifty years retired and sixty nine years married. That, is success in itself.
He was driving in August, on holiday in September and shuffling about Sandringham Jewish Care Home last week, bossing his nursing team around, maintaining his independence and devoted, totally devoted, to our wonderful Mam.
The name Dad was given when he was born, Eliezer, was a name his parents liked. The name by which he was universally known, Lou, was a term of endearment. But the name he leaves, the reputation for being the mensch, the mensch of all menschen, is the name he earned, and by which he will be remembered. That is our blessing, our inspiration, our guide and our example. We have been blessed and it is now up to us to earn that blessing.
Zol Zein Zichroin Boruch Zein. Yehi Zichroi Boruch.
( Hesped Team: This expression in Yiddish and then in Hebrew means….May his memory be a blessing.)