I want to do something for my friend. But given the grim reality of death, how does one honor or remember a loved one? What is Rabbi Butman’s legacy to us; what did he leave me? My Rabbi in Cincinnati, Hanan Balk helped me out. He says that in memorializing someone, the greatest thing one can do is to live your life as a model of what that individual has passed on to you, to live the way he lived, to be dedicated to his ethics, to his values and to adhere to those views that he deemed most important. If a person can do that, then it could surely be said that the person continues to live on in the daily life of those who have lost their beloved.
These are some of things that I personally remember about Rabbi Butman that serve as a model for me in living my life, things that I want to pass on to you:
Rabbi Butman served our country. He was a different kind of a rabbi. Rabbi Butman was an officer in the IDF, both in active duty and 30 years in the reserves. He once told me this story about qualifying for the IDF: It seems that the IDF had or has a scoring system in order to determine a candidate’s eligibility for service. You need to score at least a 65 to qualify for enlistment. Rabbi Butman was virtually blind in one eye, but he scored a 67, and as he said it: “I’m qualified to drive a truck”. In hindsight it was a good thing that he was not chosen to drive a truck. I know for a fact that he had been ticketed several times for moving violations. And although hesitant to mention it, because of the number of points on his driver’s license, he had to take special classes on the rules of the road in order to keep his license intact.
As a rabbi and an officer in the IDF, Rabbi Butman’s responsibility was to head up the Kevra Kadishah, the group that prepares bodies for burial, one of the highest if not the highest of all mitzvahs. However, he was once approached by his commanding officers who wanted him to head the group that gathers up body parts and spilled blood for proper identification and burial. Rabbi Butman said no thank you; he was quite happy with what he was doing. A week later they came again and made the same request, and received the same no thank you reply. The commanding officers came out a third time. In this instance they reminded Rabbi Butman that they were through engaging in niceties, that he was in the army and was obligated to follow orders, which he did.
Despite having a demanding schedule, Rabbi Butman always showed up at the weekly Torah shiur prepared, written notes in hand, and we always all came away knowing a little more than what we started with. He made everyone feel at home, and gave everyone a place at the table, not an easy feat. There was one time however, when he did not show up. His wife Shifra and some of the children were on vacation, and one of their sons who was attending yeshiva had fallen ill. Rabbi Butman dropped what he was doing, drove to the yeshiva some distance away and brought the boy back to Nahariya for some TLC. He was a good parent. At his Shabbos table, he was a nurturing father, always encouraging the children to give over word of Torah.
Rabbi Butman had a way of diffusing potentially embarrassing situations without hurting someone’s feelings: It’s a fact that when you get a bunch of Jews together around a table, there is a least one guy who takes pleasure in trying to stick it to the chief. The weekly torah shiur was not any different: Some years ago, there was an incident involving an IDF assembly where there would be singing by a group of female IDF soldiers. For Halachic reasons some male IDF soldiers protested and walked out. At our shiur, this troublemaker asked Rabbi Butman if anything of this sort happened to him when he was serving in the IDF. Nonplused, Rabbi Butman disarmed the troublemaker with humor responding, “What are you kidding me? That was the only opportunity I ever had to hear women ‘s voices”.
Rabbi Butman taught us not to jump to conclusions or be hasty in rising to a judgment against a person. He used as an example the instance when you might see an elderly woman picking through a trash container looking for cans or bottles that she could exchange for shekels. “Don’t look at this person who is going through smelly trash unfavorably. She just may be trying to accumulate some money to help pay for her grandson’s yeshiva education.”
Rabbi Butman was not afraid to take a stand and express himself politically. During a recent municipal election he came out against the incumbent and supported an opponent whose integrity he viewed with much favor. Rabbi Butman expressed his views at political gatherings. In a small town like Nahariya taking a stand in local politics is sure to have negative consequences. But Rabbi Butman being the man that he was did not flinch or hesitate to do the right thing. It was a lesson for all of us.
There were many occasions when I had to go to his office, not to schmooze; I did not want to take up his valuable time with trivial incidentals, but for matters involving the community. It was always a hardy: “Mick, come on in. Take a seat; I’ll be with you in a moment”. But there were those instances where he really just wanted to relax and chat, and we did so. Invariably, there would be someone who came in with his hand out. Rabbi Butman knew who was who and what was what. Not everyone with his hand out had a favorable outcome
Rabbi Butman was always giving us lessons in Torah. As the Shliach for the Nahariya community, he had many responsibilities, many of which required funding. Once in a while there would be a cash flow problem: a bill had to be paid this week, but the money to pay the bill was not going to arrive until two weeks down the road. He would say to me, “Mick can you help me out, and if you cannot that’s ok too”. If I was able to come up with some cash, he would write out a check for that amount, payable in a month’s time. One time when he handed me the check he pointedly exclaimed, “I’m not saying Thank you”. I looked at him with some surprise – where is this man coming from? Then he explained: “When a Jew lends another Jew money, the lender is forbidden by Torah law not to charge interest and likewise the borrower is forbidden to pay interest. If I was to say to you – “Thank you” – that would be bestowing a benefit upon you, and that benefit is tantamount to paying interest”.
There is no question in my mind that I am a better person for having had Rabbi Butman in my life. And I am not alone in that perception. After his passing wherever I would go, people from all walks of life and different affiliations would tell me how they were touched by him. While I’ll never understand why Hashem took him when he did, I do take comfort in another thing that Rabbi Butman taught me: “Mick, gam zu la tov, it’s all for the best”.