In Memoriam: Michael Fox

By RABBI ADIN STEINSALTZ
May 12, 2009 22:48
3 minute read.

 
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It is difficult to make a eulogy for a living person. Michael Fox was always very much alive; not always lively, but his aliveness was possibly one of the main things that struck everybody who met him, and he is thus engraved in the memory of all those who knew him. Scripture (Psalms 101:6) says: "My eyes are upon the faithful of the land (ne'emnei eretz), that they may dwell with Me." What is ne'eman (faithful)? In Pirkei Avot (6:1) it says that the Torah makes a person "righteous, pious, upright and faithful" (tzaddik, hassid, yashar ve-ne'eman). According to the common, everyday usage of these terms, it seems that we have here a list in a descending order. Closer examination, however, shows that the opposite is true: it is clearly an ascending order. A righteous person (tzaddik) is not an ordinary human being; he is a person who is on the level of always doing what is right, in the religious as well as all other spheres of life. "Pious" (hassid) is one level higher: a person who not only follows the Halacha meticulously but also goes beyond the boundaries of what is prescribed by law, both practically and emotionally. While the first two epithets are usually used in the religious sphere, the next one, "upright" (or "honest," yashar), seems broader. In this context, however, it has a specific meaning: It does not designate a person who is not a crook, but rather a person with a straight heart, one whose inner being is not convoluted. It is the quality of having a pure heart which does not look for nor finds complexities, but always goes directly in the right way. Indeed, in the Book of Psalms (97:11), the "upright of heart" (yishrei lev) are placed above the "righteous" (tzaddikim), because it is such a rare quality. It is not simplicity born of ignorance, but the ability to know and understand problems and complexities - and yet remain simple. The last epithet, "faithful" (ne'eman), also has a specific meaning here. It is not only the sort of a person one can entrust one's money with, but the quality of total faithfulness, complete devotion. In fact, in the entire Bible there is only one person who is given this title: Moses (see Numbers 12:7). MICHAEL FOX was a very learned person; he knew many languages and was always acquiring new knowledge. He had the unlikely profession of a lawyer, and was seemingly very good in his profession. But above all he was "upright and faithful." From my personal acquaintance with him and what I know of him I can say that as a friend - which is what he was to so many - he was always there; never a broken reed, always a pillar of iron that one could lean upon with the certainty that it will remain steadfast. He had a very British sense of humor which he often used, but always without malice. He could be ironic, but never sarcastic; smile at things, but never laugh about them. Unfortunately, he had no children of his own; but he served as a father figure to many, both within his family and outside of it. And he was a superb husband. Seeing him and Sheila together made one want to send all the pairs of doves to them for lessons about behavior in a relationship. They actually embodied what it says in the ends of so many legends: "and they lived happily ever after." I first got to know him as a friend and partner, but in the course of our acquaintance I had at least a few glimpses at his personality. Michael Fox the person was far more important and significant than his many achievements. The verse "My eyes are upon the faithful of the land" seems to say that the Almighty is watching His world, and when He finds a beautiful flower He picks it, so that it can be with Him - surely a much more fitting place than our world. (Michael Fox, who made aliya from England in 1968 and founded the law firm of Herzog, Fox and Neeman, the country's largest, with the late president Chaim Herzog and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman in 1972, died Saturday at the age of 75.) The writer, author of more than 60 books, is best known for his translation and commentary on the Talmud.

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