All of us are in shock over the loss of a truly great Tzaddik, Rav Yehuda Simes, who passed away on Tuesday morning. His love of Torah, love of all Jews and Judaism, love of family were boundless, and our hearts and prayers go out to Shaindel and her wonderful family. His students, young and older, will never forget him, as he personified Torah and its values in the way he conducted his life.
Our congregation and clergy as well as community paid tribute to Rav Simes the other night, as over 450 people braved the terrible weather to mourn together for this great and humble rabbi, teacher and leader. We heard words of Torah and messages of tribute from different rabbanim and lay people. As a congregation and community, we were heartened by the words of Rabbi Yonah Burr of the Kollel of Ottawa, Rabbi Zischa Shaps of Torah Day School and JET, Rabbi Yaacov Harris of the Ottawa Torah Institute, Bram Bregman, community leader, Rabbi Vinitsky, Rabbi Simesâ€™ father-in-law and Rabbi Eliezer Lehrer, Rabbi Simesâ€™ brother-in-law. Shmueli Simesâ€™ words of tribute to his father were especially meaningful and moving.
Prior to the memorial, Cantor Subar remarked to me that the parsha of the week, Beshalach, carries the theme of Emunah, faith, as it is written that in the aftermath of the splitting of the Red Sea, the people of Israel believed in G-d and in Moshe, His servant. How true that was of Rabbi Simes, an Ish Emunah, a man of faith, and Ish Halacha, a man of Jewish law.
Drawing inspiration from this week’s parsha recounting Moshe’s sweetening of the bitter waters to enable the people of Israel to drink, Rabbi Shaps described Rabbi Simes amazing ability to reach people of all walks of life through his teaching and personal example. His positive feeling to all Jews touched the lives of so many, and brought them the beauty of Torah. The waters of Torah were sweetened by his explanation and emulation of Torah values.
The morning after the funeral service in our shul, CBC Radio played an excerpt of a speech Rabbi Simes gave the students of Hillel Academy when he returned to teach sometime after his terrible accident. Rather than ask G-d why this catastrophe happened to him, he wanted to know what G-d expects of him. What should he do for the sake of G-d? Rabbi Simes influenced thousands to greater observance through his words, through his actions, through his smile, through his love of Judaism, the Jewish people, and his family.
Yesterday, that excerpt was replayed for the older students of OJCS who remembered him. That same day, CBC Radio called to tell me that the CBC corporation decided to replay an interview that he conducted with their reporters, because of the impact he and his story had on them. His words of inspiration reverberated over the airwaves across Canada and elsewhere.
We will remember him always, and we will take his message to heart that he expressed when our community engaged in the Shabbat Project a few years ago. He said that he wanted each Jew to take on a new mitzvah, and to rededicate himself or herself to a greater commitment to Hashem and to Torah. That is the greatest tribute we can pay to the memory of Rabbi Yehuda Simes, a tzaddik of our generation and of our community. May his memory be for a blessing.