He was my neighbor. He was my study partner. He was my friend. He was my mentor.
Starting my mornings with this great man for many years injected me with a perspective and inner strength that enabled me to confront whatever each day would bring.
Murray Kleiman grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a very Zionistic home. He attended Jabotinsky’s funeral as a teenager in 1940, and described the impression it had on him to see all the Beitar youth in attendance wearing their Beitar uniforms. Mr. Kleiman was a math professor and an attorney, and made Aliyah with his wife in the early 1979.
I had the great honor of studying Torah with him most mornings. We studied Maimonides, the weekly Torah portion, and much more. But aside from our studying, I had the privilege of simply speaking with Mr. Kleiman and gaining from his simple but deep insight into life.
During the later years of his life, Murray Kleiman had plenty of reasons to justify becoming a bitter, old man. His wife, the love of his life, had passed away after years of her not being fully present. He tragically lost his son. He was a double amputee – requiring 24/7 help and assistance with nearly every aspect of his life – while living in a building with stairs at its entrance, essentially trapping him inside his apartment.
And yet, not only was Murray not bitter, he was happy. He always told me that there was “so much more to learn,” and he woke up every day ready to learn new things and see people he loved. Almost every day when I walked in he would say, “Rabbi, I have a question for you.” He was always thinking. Always questioning. Always eager to understand more. In his nineties!
The following are some of the gems that I heard from Mr. Kleiman. If you are having a challenging day, if you feel bitter about your life, please read and listen to Murray’s words. They will surely set you straight.
1) “I wake up every day and I feel, ‘Thank God, God has given me another day to live. It has been a wonderful life so far, and it will be good in the future. What is there not to like about life? What is there to be depressed about? There is a saying, ‘It’s a big mitzvah to always be happy.’ And in truth, why not? I want to live not until 120-years-old but until 2,020 years old! Why not?” (Video below)
2) “You must realize how short life is. I am in my 90s. I must have been young at one time, but it passed so fast. Where did it all go? Life passes so fast. Live life every day as it should be lived – with joy, and with respect for life. Respect what life has given us: our family, our friends, the food we eat, the very air we breathe. Life means not wasting it. Not wasting it on stupid hostilities that people feel toward each other. Not wasting it on idle thoughts or wasting it on ongoing grudges that waste time and spoil your life and poison the air. Live. We should be aware of the fact that we are alive. You know, we go through every day and we live through the day. We are not even aware that we are alive. Be aware. Live.” (Audio below – raise volume to hear)
3) Quoting his grandmother: “I cry when someone dies because when someone dies they can’t see the sky anymore, they can’t smell the flowers, they can’t hear the birds. So I cry for them.”
4) “At the end of every day, you must ask yourself: ‘What did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday?'” (Video below)
5) From the eulogy that he wrote at his children’s request a few years before his own death: “I regret deeply having to leave you. In spite of the spiritual joy in the thought that I believe my soul will be rejoining its Source, I cannot help feeling reluctant to leave a life that I loved to live and longed for more. I had a good life – good family, good friends, a long life with a beautiful, loving wife whom I never ceased to love and desire, many more days of happiness than of despair and sadness, more memories of triumph and success than those of failure.”
6) “Make amends right after we do something wrong. We should understand that we did wrong and make amends. We shouldn’t delay making amends. The time passes and you don’t, and you will regret it the rest of your life.” (Audio below)
7) “I live my life with my favorite sentence from the Jewish prayer book in mind: ‘Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit, when I go to sleep and I shall awaken. With my spirit shall my body remain, the Lord is with me, I shall not fear.’ God watches over me. Whatever He wants, I am ready for him.” (Audio below)
Mr. Kleiman passed away last month at the age of 95, a few days after sharing with me those last eight words. I had the chance to thank him for his friendship and inspiration, and to give him a kiss, hours before he passed.
I miss Mr. Kleiman terribly. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend time with this incredible man. I hope that his words resonate and lift up your spirits as they continue to raise mine.