One of my mentors was Rav Baruch Abaranok ז’ל. In the early days, he was in New Zealand at the Dexton home for orphans. At other stages he was a grocer and a מוכר ספרים. Eventually he came to Melbourne, where he became the מרא דאתרא of Mizrachi Shule. I used to try to visit him on Sundays, bringing my children Talya and then Tzvi Yehuda with me. My visits coincided with the days when I stopped going to Mizrachi for reasons I won’t go into. If I didn’t visit Rav Abaranok regularly, he would express surprise and I felt bad.
When he got quite ill, I went rarely. I know he couldn’t understand it, but I couldn’t tell him; in fact, I coudn’t tell anyone. I was consciously trying to stop myself getting too close because I feared the emotional chasm that would materialise should he leave this world due to ill-health. This was a selfish motive; a display of weakness on my behalf. I don’t expect anyone to understand or accept what I did, but that’s what happened and why.
When we were married, I learned that my father-in-law had been a Talmid of Rav Abaranok in New Zealand, and they knew each other well. One story my father-in-law related was that in his grocery store, Rav Abaranok had a set of scales. When he sold, say, some sugar he weighed the sugar with the bag, and then weighed the bag separately. This, of course, is צדק צדק תרדוף … Rav Abaranok, as per Torah law, did not want to charge for any extra weight derived from the bag.
His honesty and integrity were not limited to the grocery store. All who knew him readily testified to his great morality and ethical virtue. I recall that when Talya was born, he came to our door with a gift. I had never experienced a Rabbi coming to my door in this way, and giving a gift. When Tzvi Yehuda had his Bris, Rav Abaranok was the Sandek. He, of course, tried every which way to give this honour to someone else. Again, I was stunned when he brought a gift of a Hebrew/English set of Mishnayos. On Yossi’s Bris, he presented a beautiful Mishna Brura, as authored by his teacher, the Chafetz Chaim. Rav Abaranok was the Rabbinic Posek for Mizrachi Kashrus, the precursor to Kosher Australia. Only someone of his integrity was acceptable to most.
These days, I am accustomed to seeing a different phenomenon. Some Rabbi cum Mashgiach comes into a food establishment from time to time to check the kosher bona fides. After the regulatory check, he sits down, and then waits, departing with a stack of food for his family! Something isn’t quite right. Yes, I know, he has an account …
As they say,
חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין