Weekly Sermon

H 5781 KORACH 5781 A Tribute to My Father-in-law, My Bonus Father Harold Goodman


A Tribute to My Father-in-law, My Bonus Father Harold Goodman

As you all have heard, Cheryl’s father, Harold Goodman, passed away this week. I have been blessed in my life with 3 fathers. My father and teacher, Sidney Kunis, of course, and by 2 bonus dads—my previous father-in-law Martin Vogel and Cheryl’s father Harold Goodman.

My father, Sidney Kunis, was a great role model. He taught me to be kind and considerate. I learned from him to be dedicated our people, to my family and to country. I learned to think and care about the world around us—to understand its ideas and passions and to get involved. This Tuesday will be his 4th Yahrtzeit.

From Martin Vogel—who died this past year—who survived Auschwitz, I learned resilience—how to survive in a hostile world, and how to love Gd and Torah no matter what life will throw at you.

And from Harold Goodman I learned that family is not just important, it is everything! Born and raised to a Jewish family in South Africa, he understood that. Although he loved South Africa, it wasn’t the best place to raise a Jewish family anymore. So, in trying to find the best place for them he moved to Israel. When that didn’t work out, he came back to South Africa, then to London and finally to Atlanta. Why? so that the family could be together in the best place for all of them. 

Harold was a man of rare courage and real inner strength. You could see that in the way he faced his illness. He had stage 4 pancreatic cancer 18 years ago, followed by a unique “Whipple” surgery that was supposed to give him 3-5 years. That was 18 years ago! He was diagnosed with a new pancreatic cancer this past fall and we were told to hope for a couple of months! When the chemo no longer worked he had the courage to opt for a new experimental trial of treatment. And when that didn’t work, he faced his end with calmness and resoluteness. I’m not sure Harold knew who Lou Gehrig was, but he paraphrased his famous speech at Yankee Stadium when he said, “I’m the luckiest man in the world!”

He wasn’t at all materialistic, but he was a very wealthy man by Harold Goodman’s standards for he had an amazing family along with the love and respect of all who met him. Harold was stubborn at times, but in a good way! He knew what was important and just wouldn’t let anything distract him from it. Life wasn’t always easy, but even during difficult times, he never lost his dignity, and always remembered consideration for others. I never heard him raising his voice or speaking ill of anyone—never! He was so smart and well-read, and could talk on almost any topic with authority.

There are people who enrich by overt gifts…and there are others like Harold who enrich by their mere being. Harold was a big man with a bigger heart—bigger than life. And when you were in his presence, he made your heart bigger!

I thought I know what compassion was until Harold taught me about compassion. During this past year, one of Cheryl’s former neighbors was suffering with cancer. She was having a really hard time of it. She couldn’t move her arms well or bend her back to do even menial tasks. When Cheryl told Harold about this, he told her about a couple of arm extension tools he had that might help her. So, he immediately got in his car and delivered the one he no longer used to her. After visiting with her for a while, the next day he came back with the better one because, as he said, “She needs it more than me!”

How do most of us deal with the annoyance of street beggars when we stop for a light? That’s right, we look the other way and try to ignore them. Kind as he was to so many—Harold always kept a stack of dollar bills in his car so when he saw a beggar, he would stop to give him a few bucks. He didn’t stop to think perhaps he will use the money for liquor or drugs. No, if lowering himself to ask for money, Harold would help him. Who does that?

In this week’s Torah portion, we see the opposite of Harold Goodman—we see selfishness, embodied in Korach. Korach attacked Moses and fomented a rebellion. Why? We see Korah’s true motive in the opening words (Num. 16:1): Vayikach Korach (Korach took). The big question in the text is, what did Korach take? The verb “take” is not associated with any direct subject—telling us what he actually took—leaving us to wonder what it was.

The commentators give various answers. But my point is that “Take” is a good word to describe Korach because he was all about taking. He wanted to take power and the glory of leadership for himself. He wasn’t seeking leadership to help others, but for his own glorification. Korach was a master “taker”—always figuring how events can benefit him—a “What’s in this for me?” kind of guy.

Moses, unlike Korah, never wanted to take the role of leader upon himself. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” he asked Gd (Ex. 3:11). In fact Moses pleaded with Gd to choose anyone else in his stead.

After the sin of the Golden Calf, Gd offers to destroy the Jewish people and make Moses into a great nation (Ex. 32:10). Instead, Moses tells Gd: “If you do not forgive the people, erase me from the book which You have written.” Moses, the humblest man on earth (Num. 12:3), recognizes that leadership is not about oneself, rather about the people being led. It’s about sacrifice and deferring personal needs and gratification 

That was Harold Goodman—one who sacrificed again and again and deferred his personal needs and gratification for the sake of others. Harold was one of the humblest men you’ll ever meet. He was such a good husband, father and grandfather because, no matter what, his family always came 1st. He gave of his time and financial resources, not for personal gain but to help others.

The word for love in Hebrew is ahava—which comes from the root hav, which means “to give.” My friends, you create happy, enduring relationships by being a “giver” and not a “taker.” This is why Moses and legacy remains 3,000 years later while Korach is all but forgotten.

So, let’s try to emulate Moses and Harold Goodman who both taught us how to be “givers.” Perhaps Harold’s greatest gift of all was to give to this perplexing turbulent world a sense of honor and dignity, a sense of respect and a sense of devotion. Harold taught us something, without saying a word, about the deeper meaning of life beneath the superficial materialistic world. We were enriched—no elevated—by his life. Y’hi zichrono Baruch, May his memory be for a blessing. Amen!



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