In biblical terms, the import of the title go'el is more than its literal translation, "redeemer". A go'el is someone who feels a close connection to someone who is suffering, and who therefore acts on his behalf.
In Vayikra 25, a go'el redeems the property of an indigent relative, who had been forced to sell it.
In Bamidbar 35, a go'el avenges the murder of his relative.
In Ruth 2, Boaz is described as a go'el because he is a close relative of Naomi's family, and he will marry the widow Ruth and take her into his protection.
In this week's parshah, Moshe sees a Jew beaten by an Egyptian and he steps in to halt it. The Torah doesn't use the term go'el, but this, too, is an act of geulah, performed by the greatest human go'el.
Jay Scherline, a beloved friend, was a go'el. He passed away on Monday. I will not be able to make it to his funeral, and I need to express what I am feeling somewhere, so on the blog it goes. I know many of the blog's readers are friends from Allentown; you will know what I am talking about.
Jay cared for everyone, but particularly for those in need. Russian Jews. People who needed legal help, of all kinds. A family he knew couldn't afford an expensive kiddush for their special occasion, so he wrote a check anonymously to upgrade what they had. These were his people, and he loved helping them.
Jay would cut off his right arm to help you, and then he would plead with you to take his left arm as well.
Jay cared for his shul. He raised funds. He single-handedly created a philanthropic society to encourage people to leave bequests to the shul. He took on minyan when he could over the years. He called me up a few weeks after I arrived in town, to make sure I knew about different groups in the shul who might not be in shul regularly but who needed my attention. He sat opposite me at the negotiating table at contract time - and even though it was at my expense, I couldn't help but appreciate his sincere concern for protecting the shul's funds.
Jay was forever asking if I needed anything; he used to joke with me that every rabbi came to him for help eventually. I know I frustrated him by declining, but he still found ways. When I came to give a shiur at his office, he would arrange to have food for me, making sure I noticed the kosher certification symbol, and he would also make sure I left with a check for the Benevolent Fund.
There is so much to remember. Without any effort, the memories come flooding in; Jay is that type of guy, you don't forget a minute with him. The first time I met him, on my proba (tryout) shabbos, when he buttonholed me right after davening on Shabbos morning and introduced me to one of his sons. Those Bnai Brith Chanukah dinners he put on, with their remarkable entertainment. A kosher business card networking event for Bnai Brith – at Lobaido's restaurant, of all places. Political fundraisers. A Jewish Federation mission to Israel together. Jay and Lorrie coming to Toronto for Amram's bar mitzvah. The text messages wishing me a good whatever-the-day-was. And always talking about Lorrie and the boys.
I just scrolled through my archived emails that include his name, and all sorts of additional stories were brought to mind.
Helping an immigrant from Eastern Europe looking for work.
Fixing graves in disrepair at the shul cemetery.
Volunteering an engineer contact of his to help with a child safety issue in shul.
Writing a legal letter on behalf of a woman whose former employer owed her money.
Or this one, when Jay found out I was headed to Toronto: "Mazel Tov on your new adventure. I love Toronto, and I'm sure you and your family will too. If you want me to review any documents concerning your new position, please advise. I am running a special-no charge. Best of luck, and please teach me as much as you can before you leave."
And on, and on, and on.
I suspect many people only saw Jay superficially, a good-natured, talkative local celebrity, and didn't see what was underneath. People should know what the world has lost. A true shirt-off-his-back go'el. A man who felt a close connection to anyone in need, and would immediately pull out all the stops to make things happen. I can't tell you how many times I saw it over the years, the checks he wrote, the legal work he contributed, the events and organizations to which he gave his name and his time.
Gd is the truest Go'el, the One who is close to everyone, and will act for everyone. I can only pray that the Go'el will look after the go'el and his family, and send the rest of us more such go'alim. We need them.