Just three years ago, I attended a Saturday night funeral in Jerusalem of an elderly friend I thought I had known. The deceased had had his vocal box removed as a medical precaution twelve years prior to his death. He could barely be understood when he talked, as he tried to whisper blessings loudly to those who knew him. People would sometimes walk away or try to end the conversation with him, not understanding what he was saying as he continued giving his blessings. He had a hole in his throat in the place where the voice box was removed, making it even more difficult to look at him while he tried to whisper his blessings as loud as he could. He asked, before his death, to be buried before midnight. This gave us time for only one quick eulogy. The one story that was told left everyone shocked and tearful for having underestimated the greatness of the deceased.
Two years after the voice box was removed, this man’s family was informed by the doctors that it would be possible for him to regain his voice by undergoing an inexpensive, surgical procedure, necessitating being in the hospital for only one day with no risk involved. The man’s family believed that he would receive the offer happily. Instead, the man rejected it. He explained that now that he was obliged to speak sparingly and with great effort, and even so was understood by no one, he had not spoken loshon hora (gossip) for the last two years. Forced to remain silent while others spoke, he also realized how much people gossip, and he preferred not to be able to speak again, so as not to find himself once again in the test in which so many people fail. He lived another ten years of his life choosing not to speak, just because of his fear of speaking slander and other evil talk. He found contentment in doing the right thing. Ironically, the people at the funeral were left speechless. The few people who were at the funeral felt that if only they had known of his greatness, they would have wanted to get just one more blessing from this great man. It was already too late. Such great people do exist. We just have to open our eyes and recognize who they are and learn from them before they are gone.