It is the fifth yahrzeit of my best friends’ husband, Rav Dovid Speyer. His yahrzeit is erev Rosh Hadosh Ellul; perhaps as a gentle but eternal reminder of not only how spiritually great Rav Dovid became; but also a warning of how far we need to work to match his accomplishments.
Dovid was born a twin, much smaller than his identical twin. Perhaps from being always the smaller one, he knew how to be tough. Toughness is what he needed to first survive physically and then later spiritually. Although his home had a Jewish feeling, it lacked in Torah and mitzvot. When he first learned about yiddishkeit and all the requirements the Torah’s way of life demands; he accepted it immediately with enthusiasm and love. And then he started to grow and learn; leaving many of us far behind.
He had started Ohr Somayach as a young chasan; just have graduating from college in England. Only two years later, Dovid had entered the kollel of Rav Abba Berman zt”l, whose deep lomdus even advanced talmidei chachomim found challenging. His intense nature was well-suited to life as a yungerman. But after ten years in kollel, he decided it was time he taught and gave back a little bit what he had received.
Devorah also slid into a religious Jewish life the way it is discouraged by many Rabbis; she jumped in with two feet and never looked back. They both recognized and gravitated to truth and were never afraid of seeking a higher meaning in life.
I once heard from a shiur of Rav Dovid Orlofsky an observation about the nature of the way Jews speak to each other. When goyim talk, one speaks and then the other answers. When Jews talk; one speaks and the other is just waiting for his chance to respond. By Rav Dovid Speyer zt”l, he had a different timing. First, he actually would listen. Then he would think. And only when he had a complete answer thought out; he then would reply. There was a time lapse. This was just a simin to his approach to life. Emes – the truth, he worked on the midah of truth his whole life. It would not occur to him to pretend to listen to you, without actually doing so. And as he would see it, if you were asking him a question, then you deserved a truthful answer, which really takes time to deliberate.
I remember once he clarified his love for Torah, a thought said by others would have struck me a bit pretentious or patronizing at best. But since it was from Rav Dovid who was so earnest in his words; his declaration hit me sincerely and stayed with me all these years. As Rav Dovid was telling over a Torah thought, he was bursting with happiness. “You know, the Torah is sweet, sweet like honey. Once one delves into the Torah, the learning is geshmak; a wholesome sweetness; like mana which was known to taste like honey.”
For those who know Devorah the Rebbetzin and Rav Dovid; may not have seen their similarities. Rav Dovid Speyer was serious, intense, and machpid in understanding and fulfilling halacha precisely in detail. Whether it was not taking ribis from the banks taking time out to check his bank statements, saying brachos clearly, intently and loudly, or making sure he had given enough maser from the money that he had earned though not necessarily actually received; Dovid strove to do it right.
Devora, on the other hand, is flexible and optimistic. She can present any topic in a humorous way with a smile. She makes everything not only look easy but fun: whether it is making a seuda for her family or then Dovid’s students, or teaching high-math to girls with a smile and a new insight, or babysitting for her grandchildren in lieu of taking time for herself. They were a beautiful couple that complimented each other.
Dovid and Devorah shared their enthusiasm for growing spiritually passionately. They would express their love for obviously their family, but also their students, their friends, their co-workers. And they equally felt the pain of others.
Rav Dovid would speak to the teenagers at risk in Neve Yaacov. He may not have had the smooth easy going nature that one would assume these kids needed; but didn’t matter – teens, would realize he was genuinely concerned about them.
He felt other people’s pain. He would help widows stabilize their financial lives, by collecting and setting up accounts that would be there when they needed it. He not only would speak to his students about Torah, but he was involved with their lives. Making shidduchum, and advising them through their shannah rishonah (first year) issues that inevitably would come up. He would be there even when situations became incredibly sticky and unpleasant. It would not occur to him to shy away from helping; but he would know who to call or what to do. I heard how in one case where he helped the couple get divorced, both sides came to him and thank him for being there for them; individually.
Dovid was incredibly close to all his children, recognizing that each was different and needed an individual approach. One of the teachers of his youngest sons was in shock when she learned he was the ninth child in the family, since the young boy would proudly tell his friends that his father would read to him every night. Even when one of his sons chose not to live his life according to Torah; both Dovid and Devorah had/have maintained a sincere relationship with him. He in return expresses only love and respect for his parents. Although Rav Dovid passed away very young, not quite fifty; he got a chance to shep naches from his sons, daughters, sons and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren. And already today, Devoah is the proud grandmother of a few Dovids.
When he was already very sick, he went to speak to a gadol in Torah with a question that was bothering him. Knowing that he was about to approach the world of Truth, he wanted to know, ‘should he spend the last few months he had learning the Gemorahs he had never touched because he was always staying in tune with the regular yeshiva schedule or continue like normal’. A week before he died, Dovid woke one morning on the oncology floor in Tel HaShomer Hospital, in Tel Aviv, and realized it was after kirah shema and he hadn’t lein tefillin yet. He was immensely distressed. He couldn’t be satisfied with mere excuses in fulfilling G-d’s mitzvot, even when death was facing him in a matter of time.
As the children lined up to say the last words with their father as he succumbed to the leukemia that he fought for three and half years, he encouraged his children to ‘go and learn Torah – the breadth and width of Torah’.
I have known the Speyer’s for over thirty years; and I take pride knowing I was part of a tzaddik’s life and watched him grow.