There is a tradition during Passover to keep a full glass of wine on the seder table for the prophet Elijah, who is said to be responsible for summoning the arrival of the Jewish Messiah, and who visits every seder during the holiday. During the ceremony, the door to the household is opened to allow the prophet to enter and visit the seder and its participants.
This year, however, there was another wine glass missing a participant at the table. My father died a month ago and though we may have yearned for him to walk through the door and take his place at the table, only his wine remained.
We all have parents and they are all loving to us. But in our hearts and in those who only knew my father a short time, he was special. Though we knew he had a remarkable quality of life and spirit, it was not until after his death that we took note of the constant theme among relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even young children he spoke to: that my dad was a true mensch, defined as “a person having admirable characteristics, such as fortitude and firmness of purpose.” Such a person is also known to “radiate a fundamental sense of decency.”
What we all saw in him is what he saw in each of us: individual souls with hopes, dreams, and fears, placed on this earth alone, but always longing for trust, support, and, above all, love throughout the fog of life. When my father talked to you, no matter who you were, he really talked to you, because he had the keen ability, often lost by most of us, to tap into the core of who he was addressing or listening to, and allowing both to come away richer for it.
The joke at his memorial was that Dad would often introduce one of us to someone in public who appeared to be a close friend, when in reality he had just met him at the urinal in the public bathroom. Through the laughter that this image evoked, however, was the true sense of my dad: that he considered everyone, no matter their lot in life, to be someone precious with endless potential, especially the young people he spoke with, who spoke of coming away more confident and inspired after spending just a few brief minutes with him.
His name was Herman Resnick, and there should be more of him in this world. But in this age of narcissism and self-indulgence, men like him are a rare breed indeed.
Such people are not driven by riches or success. Rather they forever strive for that sense of decency and love which eludes so many of us as we spend our days on overdrive, hoping to achieve some unknown or unreachable goal.
I often think of the movie City Slickers when Jack Palance tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is “just one thing” and it was up “to you to figure out.” Though bewildered at the time, Billy realizes what Jack meant when he held his family close to him upon his return.
My father figured out what was important long ago, and he has instilled in each of us that remain his sense of love and decency that made him a true mensch.
So though his place at the table was vacant this year, we raised our glasses toward the door and breathed in his spirit, which will sustain us always.