In Ethics of our Fathers, the great sage Hillel tells us, hevi m’talmidav shel Aharon. Be among the students of Aaron.
I was blessed to follow that advice, as I became the student of Aaron. Aaron Ainbinder, the incredible human being who was taken from us much too soon.
I met Aaron a few years ago, as he attended our Partners in Torah program, and I had the wonderful fortune of becoming his chavrusa- or study partner. During these study sessions I felt like we were close friends. After hearing eulogies at his funeral I realized that he had the unique uncanny ability to make everyone he interacted with feel like his best friend.
Every Tuesday night we would sit across from one another, and learn Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis, a guide to Mussar and self development. Each week we would tackle a new area where we could grow, and we would work on it for the whole week, often checking in with each other during that week.
Over the course of the year or so that we studied together, I learned some profound wisdom from Aaron, and was deeply inspired by him. He stood out to me for his dedication, his strength, and his passion.
From the first time I met him, his refreshing dedicated nature was extremely obvious. He was in the midst of being a full time caretaker for his mother, suffering from dementia. It was a gut-wrenching job, but one that he took very seriously– as a dedicated son would. He would go on to write a book, Just Before the Stroke of Seven: A Caretaker’s Tour of Stroke, Aphasia, and Dementia about the experience, in doing so, guiding many other full time caretakers. According to one Amazon reviewer, “As I read through the pages, the love he expresses towards his mother is palpable. She was a blessed woman to have a son so completely and totally dedicated to her well being.” Another reviewer says, “Thank you, Aaron, for sharing your intensely personal journey! And while you may not be a saint, you may be on your way. ;)”
He was dedicated to everything he did, including our learning. Each week we would read a few pages about the character trait we were working on, and we were meant to read the rest of the chapter for homework. As prescribed by the book Everyday Holiness, We picked 13 character traits to work on over the course of the year, and we would repeat each one 4 times over the 52-week span of the year. Whereas my homework completion sometimes lagged from week to week, Aaron never missed a beat, read each page with a highlighter, and applied the wisdom to his life. He worked diligently to master the mussar character traits, and in doing so, became more patient, humble, forgiving, etc… Despite my shoddy record of keeping up with the homework, he was always understanding, attributing it to my busy schedule, my involvement with family and communal matters. He never judged me for my less than ideal dedication to the endeavor.
Aaron was also an incredibly strong man. He did not have an easy life, and from an early age he struggled with addiction. He openly described the situation to me, and he quickly became involved in regular AA meetings. He courageously, heroically became sober, but didn’t stop there. He regularly attended meetings, and actively sought opportunities to mentor people who needed someone to help set them straight. Someone to be there for them, to help guide them, and to be a loving, listening ear to them. He spent a tremendous amount of time seeking to share the wisdom he has learned from experience with those who so desperately needed his help. The way he overcame so many challenges– that for so many of us would be insurmountable– is a testament to his super-human strength.
The third thing that stood out about Aaron to me was his passion. He lived life with a passion, and whatever he did, he did with passion. Whether it was the passion for his music, for mentoring those in need, or learning, he was extremely passionate. He was passionate about maintaining his health and fitness, frequenting the JCC. Whenever he would see me there, I could tell he was proud that I was taking my health seriously, and he would ask me about my basketball pickup games.
He was also passionate about certain beliefs he held. For example, when one goes to synagogue to pray to G-d, he understood that it was vital to maintain silence, and uphold the decorum demanded of being in the presence of the Almighty. He was passionate about articulating one’s prayer in a slow and clear manner, as one would address a king. He inspired me to work on this for myself– to slow down when talking to G-d through prayer, and to maintain the holiness of the experience through refraining from speaking. As a merit to his soul, I intend on trying to improve in these areas even more. He was passionate about his work, about burying the dead with dignity and respect. He was truly passionate about everything.
While he leaves behind no biological children, the Talmud teaches us that one’s students are like one’s own children. He thus leaves behind dozens of bereft children, as he taught and impacted everyone with whom he had interacted
May his memory be a blessing, and may the neshama of Aharon ben Tzvi have an Aliya.