Yesterday morning my father, mentor and rabbi, Rabbi Binyamin (Bent) Melchior returned his soul to his creator at the age of 92.
It is difficult to describe the depth of the void that we feel due to his departure from the world. Throughout his entire life, he knew how to turn hardship and tragedy into a source of strength and hope. This is the consolation that I find at his passing away.
Several of the large newspapers in Denmark have dedicated their front headlines to eulogize him, a rabbi who retired over 25 years ago. They are calling on the Danish people to follow the moral compass and values of this elderly rabbi, who they hoped would live forever!
Over the past day, Jews have told me that people on the street have stopped them to share with them their sadness over his passing, because he was their rabbi too. We just received a very moving letter from the Queen of Denmark, in her handwriting, telling us about her relationship with Dad. Her last meeting with him was just a few months ago.
My father's strength upon which he educated us, his sons and his grandchildren, stemmed from his conception and devotion to the Torah. He refused to accept a small and narrow Torah, because G-d is encompassing and infinite. Thus, my father's teaching has always been to fight for the rights of the Jewish people - the Jews of the Soviet Union, Syria and Ethiopia. He fought as a volunteer in the War of Independence in 1948, and was a passionate Zionist throughout his life. He was very proud that his first great-grandchild is now an officer in "his" brigade – Givati.
With that being said, he very much wanted his children and grandchildren in the IDF to be unemployed. He wished for a just peace and for the Palestinian people to have independence and freedom, because HaShalom (The Peace) is one of the names of G-d and encompasses everything. In addition, he fought for every refugee and person in need whom he could help. This is the home in which both my parents raised me and my brothers.
In the end, dad parted in a very personal and moving way from his four sons, his daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even as he weakened, he gave a personal parting, spiced with humor. When one of the wonderful nurses asked how he was still optimistic and humorous when his situation was so dire, he answered: "Without it I would die!"
Dad always taught me that if I do not see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is not because there is no light, but because the tunnel isn't straight. We, as humans, do not always see the good that is just around the corner. When you look at his life from this perspective, there was so much good in it that it gives you strength.
In his last 24 hours, he recited "Shema Yisrael" many times, in deep and complete belief in the unity of God and in the unity of mankind. As I promised him on the last day, I too will strive together with all his descendants, disciples and admirers, each in his own way to be worthy to continue in his footsteps and to broaden his path.
May his memory be a blessing.
The picture of my father was taken in the south of Sweden. It is the place that his boat arrived after him and his family escaped Denmark. He was 14 when he arrived.
Photo Credit: "Rachael Cerrotti / We Share The Same Sky”