We Ask How

Rabbi Dovid Traube zt”l upon his first Yahrtzeit

There are questions we are not permitted to ask. We have been taught this idea since the moment we stood at the foot of Har Sinai and as a nation know deeply its impenetrable truth. In times of joy we embrace it, and in times more trying it is difficult to do more than accept it, but we never waver in our recognition of His absolute perfection. Only He understands the secrets of tragedy and pain, the formula of His infinite mercy, and of how darkness brings the world its light.

We do not ask why.

Instead, in the year since we lost our friend, Rabbi Dovid Traube zt”l, we have been consumed with asking something entirely different.

We have been asking how.

Dovid was not an angel in the way angels are commonly perceived. He was always popular, very funny, and, for lack of a better term, exceedingly normal. Everyone wanted to be in his Purim group and part of his bein hazemanim plans. His personality never changed throughout his years of constant growth, and his laughter continued to fill up the room. He was one of the boys, albeit the one you write about in the yearbook “most likely to succeed.”

Except that when we said it as young teenagers, we had a different interpretation of the word “success.”

We all played in the same sandbox, pushed the same trucks, built the same castles and carried the same pails. And then, somehow, he ventured past the corrugated iron borders and left the sand behind. He reached places we read about in books and earned the rare honor from his peers – without any qualms or reservations – to be called a gadol. The term fits and does not carry the faintest whisper of hyperbole.

How, Dovid?

How did you achieve such greatness in so short a time? How did you make such an impact, change so many lives, soften our hearts of stone? What was the secret of the warmth we felt in your presence and the desire when we left you to start being better? What was the key to the expansion of your neshomah and how do we turn that key in ours?

In moments of honesty, of sincere reflection, it is a question that turns rhetorical. Those who watched closely his rise intuit acutely the nature of the ladder he climbed to grasp hold of his potential. A potential available to each ben Yisroel but fully realized in only a precious few.

He fell in love with the Torah.

Not by mere happenstance or coincidence. At a young age, he was faced with the question we all are posed and made the choice we all are given the ability to make.

Bederech she’odom rotzeh leileich molichin oso.” With the force of his immutable decision, accompanied by blazing willpower and relentless toil, he achieved that love and turned it into the story of his life.

Shetihiyu ameilim baTorah.” For him, not just a Rashi we read yearly, but a concept that bore the full brunt of his ambitions. If one is willing to incessantly pursue the object of his affection, to make it the fulcrum of his being, success follows naturally in its wake. For some, it is wealth. Others prefer power or status. For Dovid, it was to be called a talmid chochom. Not by his colleagues and not by his friends – for him that never carried any significance – but by Hakadosh Boruch Hu himself.

To understand his essence was to unlock the wellsprings of life that Abaye and Rava give to every Jew who cares to bend down and drink. Dovid cared and he bent down. And it changed him and refined him, fulfilling the blessing promised to all who indeed accept its yoke.

And as he fell in love with the Torah, he fell in love with the people to whom it was given.

Everyone he met felt so important, so worthy. Because to Dovid, they genuinely were. He understood the value of each one of us, and his purity and gutskeit drove him to ensure that we understood it as well. Hakadosh Boruch Hu loves us and so he loved us, too.

The paradox he displayed was difficult to comprehend. There was no time in his day for anything other than learning and yet time was available as needed for all who sought his embrace. When he talked to you, the drumbeat went still, his focus trained on you, your struggles, your dreams. And when you were finished, he hugged you, sat back at his place, and the music of his soul resumed its endless song.

His brother told me, wonder lining his eyes, “He carried a flip phone – no text or WhatsApp – yet he managed to communicate with more people than all our access allows us to even contemplate.” He found the strength to carry and drag the full weight of our respective burdens. Rather than going out of the bais medrash to reach and to touch, he opened the doors for us all to find our way in.

Dovid was never satisfied with or proud of where he had reached in his life, but he knew no greater satisfaction and pride than observing every small step the people in his circle took towards bringing true meaning in theirs.

The secret is simple. When you are consumed with love of the ultimate truth the way he was, your dearest wish is for those you cherish to adore that truth for themselves. He became inflamed with the passion of the devar Hashem and served as the torch to light every lamp he encountered.

He fell in love with the Torah and he desperately needed us to experience that love in kind.

There is so much to recount, so many angles on which to focus the lens. Dovid the son and the brother, the husband and father. As someone who comes from a family extremely close to his, I saw snippets and learned lessons, but by no means am capable of expressing nor do I possess the presumption of describing what he meant to his mishpacha.

There are, however, no words to express the gratitude to his family and his wife in particular for so lovingly sharing him with us all. For being his partner in all that he did and helping him grow into the man he became. For allowing others to partake of his glow and to be lifted by his spirit. I am certain it entailed sacrifice and we remain forever in their debt.

By Heavenly design, we were placed in a world filled with murkiness, where it is so difficult for us to clearly define our purpose. There are moments we are given when the veil lifts and the mysterious crystallizes. Yom Kippur during Nei’lah, Pesach night at the Seder. But our eyes need to be open. We need to be looking.

The sudden passing of Reb Dovid can become such a moment.

A man leaving the levayah who did not personally know our friend gave me some perspective.

“It was an ode to the Torah and what the Torah can make a person become.”

We will continue to ask how.

How can we take Dovid’s choices and make them our own? How can we find our own path out of the sandbox and climb the ladder pointing to greatness? What can we do to fall in love with the Torah and then share that love with humility, sweetness and grace? Where can we find the strength to treat our fellow Jews with the respect they so richly deserve, lighten their loads and bring joy in their lives?

Dovid taught us how.

Hold his instructions close to your heart and chazer the constant shiur he gave us with the way he lived his life.

He is sitting in a place reserved for the very beloved, watching us and praying for our success.

And as we climb each rung higher, he will be bursting with pride.