Selected Sermon/Article
2010-05-08 Behar/Bechukosai by Rabbi Zeev Smason
On the Occasion of Mr. Bremler's 100th Birthday
On the Occasion of Mr

On the Occasion of Mr. Bremler's 100th BirthdayShabbos Behar/Bechukosai  May 8, 2010


Good Shabbos


    I'd like to begin my remarks with a story about a man whose parents gave him a highly unusual name when he was born.  The bouncing baby boy was named:  Amazing.  Why would parents give a child such a name?  This little guy was named 'Amazing' in the hope he would live up to his name and achieve great things.  Well, Amazing never really did anything to merit the name. In fact, he led a rather boring life on the family farm and stayed married to the same woman for 60 years.


Unfortunately, all his life, Amazing was the butt of countless jokes.  As a result, he told his wife the only thing he wanted was that when he died, she wouldn't put his name on his tombstone; maybe then the jokes would stop.


Well, when Amazing finally died, his wife didn't want to put him in an unmarked grave.  So on his tombstone she wrote this simple inscription: "Here lies a man who for 60 years was faithful to his wife."    And now, when people walk by and read that, they point and say, "That's amazing!"


Ladies and gentlemen;  we're here today to honor a truly amazing man.  I'm certain that each of us are in complete agreement that Mr. H.H. Bremler, who celebrated his 100th birthday this past week, in many ways is quite unlike anyone we've ever met before.   I'd like to share with you just one observation about our 'birthday boy' that in my mind is one of his most amazing qualities.


Miami Beach is sometimes called 'G-d's waiting room", because it's filled with retirement homes and hotels for the elderly.  We might not realize it, but retirement is a western concept, and one that has come under criticism from doctors in recent years.  Studies have shown that people who don't retire but stay involved in their work (granted - at a level that is appropriate for their age) have longer life expectancies than those who retire and relax into their "golden years."    Remaining active in mind and body -- particularly 'active in mind' -- is so important for both our mental and spiritual health.


In fact, Jewish tradition teaches that we should remain active to the very end of our lives, to the degree that the Almighty blesses us with the health and wherewithal to do so,  as the following story illustrates.


Two thousand years ago the Roman Emperor Hadrian was once passing through the city of Teverya (Tiberias) in Eretz Yisrael.  He noticed an elderly man hard at work, planting fig trees.


"Saba!  Saba!" (Grandfather!, Grandfather!)  called out Hadrian.  Why are you working so hard?  When you were young you had to work hard to make a living, but now it's time to relax.  Anyway -- you're an old man, and you'll never live to enjoy the fruits of your labors."


The old man answered, "My job is to try to accomplish whatever my age allows.  The Almighty will do as he sees fit."


"Tell me, please, Saba,"  Hadrian said, "how old are you?"


"I'm a hundred years old."


"A hundred years old and you actually expect to reap what you sow?"


"If I merit to eat the fruit of my labors, that's fine; and if not, my efforts will benefit my children just as I have benefited from the work of those who came before me."


At that Hadrian said, "Listen to me, Saba.  If you ever eat these figs you're planting, surely you must come and let me know."


Time passed, and the fig trees grew and became filled with ripe, delicious fruit.  The old man thought to himself, "I must go and tell the emperor."   So he filled a basket and traveled to the palace.   When he arrived, he announced to the guards, "The Emperor wishes to see me," so they led him before Hadrian's throne.


Upon seeing the old man, Hadrian said, "Who are you, and why have you come to see me?"


"Does the emperor remember years ago in Teveryah passing by an old man tending his figs?  That old man was me.  G-d has granted me to eat of those figs that I planted.  I have brought the emperor a basketful as a gift."


Hadrian turned to his servants and said, "Take the figs from this elderly man and refill his basket with gold coins."  The men of Hadrian's court questioned the emperor's generosity.  "Why give such a lavish gift for an old Jew?"


Hadrian replied to them, "His Creator honored him with longevity; is it not proper that I, too, should accord him honor?"


There are so many outstanding qualities and accomplishments for which we could honor Mr. Bremler.  We could honor him for his decades of dedicated service to his country, his community, and to his shul.  We could honor him for his brilliant  mind and vast depth of knowledge of both Jewish and secular history.  We could honor him for his piercing, incisive questions that buckle the knees of rabbis and guest speakers alike.  And we could also honor him for his pleasant demeanor, and his mentschlichkeit.


However, something that I greatly admire in Mr. Bremler, and something that I think we should all pay very close attention to in our own lives, is that Mr. Bremler has never retired from life.  He's a Jewish Timex watch; he keeps on ticking.  He's a Jewish Energizer Bunny:  no one outlasts Mr. Bremler.  He keeps going, and going, and going.  


Until the age of 100 Mr. Bremler has been in shul  virtually every Shabbos.  Until the age of 100 Mr. Bremler has been an active reader, writer, and thinker.  And until the age of 100 Mr. Bremler has been an active participant in the lives of his many friends in the shul, and his dear son, nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews, and so many other treasured family members.


Mr. Bremler has never given up, and although he's 100 years old, he has never retired.


We love you, Mr. Bremler, and admire you, and appreciate all the many lessons you have taught us over the years.  I dont think it's coincidental that today, following your aliyah to the Torah when we concluded the reading of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) that the entire congregation said  'Chazak, chazak v'nischazayk' -- 'Be strong, be strong, and be stronger.'   I'm certain I was not alone in intending those words to be a blessing for you, Mr. Bremler.   May the Almighty bless you and protect you, and enable you to celebrate many more birthdays in good health with your dear friends and family.


Rabbi Ze'ev Smason