We all know the notion that when we see someone else's struggles we realize that ours are not so difficult. Yet it is an entirely different lesson when we witness how great people go through those challenges. I went to Florida along with so many others to show my love and support. The truth is that we all ended up being lifted and held by the Sterns. The strength and dignity that not only Mike and Denise displayed but their children as well was profound. From the very beginning of the ordeal, Denise had the fortitude to show concern about the drivers state of being. Upon hearing that it was not a result of drunk or reckless driving she beseeched the officer to inform the driver that he shouldn't let this ruin his life with guilt. Mike stood in front of the thousand people attending Shoshie's funeral and earnestly informed us all that he was privileged to have had Shoshie in their life for these past twelve years. This continued throughout the entire funeral and shiva. Each one of us that came ended up being the ones comforted. What struck me most though was something else; the overwhelming outpouring of love.
When the little boy from Brooklyn was taken and brutally murdered the entire Jewish world mourned. There was a worldwide response of love and support as a result of that heinous act. This was something different. This was not a response to an attack against us or some unbelievable abnormality, this was a tragic accident that sadly does happen occasionally and yet the response felt similiar. As I watched the Stern family it became clear to me why.
In Pirke Avos it states: "Who is honored? The one that honors others". The Sterns have a gift of not only caring about the countless people that have walked into their home but making sure that each and everyone of them knows that they are loved. Mike and Denise see no denominations nor distinctions, only people created in the image of Hashem and deserving of our love and concern. It is no wonder that the funeral and shiva were filled with a spectrum of people ranging from Belzer Chassidim to tye-dye tzi-tzis wearing individuals to the most unafilliated. Each one of them came as a result of the tremendous love they had for the Sterns. This ability to show our love is one of our greatest insecurities. We are all too often afraid to let those dearest to us know how we feel about them. We hide within self imposed walls that trap in our emotions and lock out those close to us. This very insecurity is what prevents us from seeing Hashem's love for us. Mike and Denise clearly have the ability to knock down those walls not only with their guests but with their children. It is no surprise that Mike calls his organization Rabbi Without Walls. His ability to break down any emotional barriers are what enabled Rabbi Goldberg from Boca Raton to exclaim that this was the first time all three distinct Boca Raton communities came together as one. The overwhelming outpouring of love is because of the tremendous love the Sterns have for everyone else.
Mike commented at Shoshie's funeral how at a mere twelve years old she got it. She figured out what life was all about. I'm sorry Mike, you're wrong. You figured it out! You and Denise figured out that life is so simple, just live with the reality that Hashem loves you and share that love with all those around you. Not to be scared of being hurt or rejected. To allow ourselves to experience the greatest of all traits, to be like God, loving everyone regardless of classification. To be close and open with those dear to you before it is to late. Because you two figured it out, all of your amazing children got it as well. Now hopefully some of us will too. Thank you.