Yale was an avid reader. We shared a lot of books together that we both enjoyed and loved to talk about. I’d like to read a short excerpt from one of his favorite authors Daniel Silva as a way of introducing you to the core of the man I came to know and admire.
It was the Rembrandt painting that solved the mystery once and for all. The man’s neighbors would chide themselves for having missed the telltale signs, and they would share a good natured laugh at some of their outlandish theories about the true nature of his work. In their wildest dreams, there was not one among them who ever considered the possibility that the TACITURN man was an art restorer, and an Israeli undercover agent.
Yale may not have been Gabriel Allon, Israeli super spy but he was one of the most reserved people I’ve ever known. And yet, in his quietness, resided a deep reservoir of knowledge, compassion and most of all displacement of his self in favor of those around him. It is rare to have met such a selfless person as Yale.
Near the end of the Torah in Devarim there is a phrase which reads “Eish da'at, The fiery law.” The Midrash Tanhuma in Breishit says that this phrase is talking about how the Torah is written "black fire on white fire."
There are the black letters which form the words we read and then there’s the parchment with all the white space around the letters which the Rabbis call the white fire.
Yale was the white fire.
He let others do most of the talking. He was a man of actions, and mostly selfless actions.
I don’t think I ever heard him say anything critical about anyone. You didn’t’ come to Yale if you wanted his opinion. Far be it from him to tell you what to do. You came to Yale to tell yourself what to do.
Coming to Yale for advice was like going to a therapist. You would have to do most of the talking because he generally appeared to trust you to make the best decision on your own. He didn’t need to interject his advice. He just needed to be there to help you reason things out and then support you in your choices. You grew up real quickly in Yale’s house because you were treated like an adult and given your independence early on.
Unlike most of us whose reaction might be to give a suggestion or to give advice. That wasn’t Yale. Rather he’d let you consider your own thoughts and wait for you to come to your own resolution. And he was always happy with your choice. It’s a trait that has been inherited for sure.
Even yesterday when we told Gideon the news and Sari asked are you sad, in his innocence he exclaimed I’m not sad Mommy, I am always happy. Why should I be sad?
Yale was always happy too.
And you know where he was happiest in these last few years. It was in front of his computer. That was his black fire. Nothing stoked his fires like browsing the Internet to find the most obscure pieces of information and then sending out these videos, articles and blog postings to people all over the world. And people listened and looked forward to his messages.
If he had wanted a second career as a research analyst he would have had no parallel. His letters to the editor were often published because he knew what to say and how to say it.
It’s no wonder that his name resides on a plaque at Hastings law school where he was the winner of the first moot court in law school.
Yale Harlow was an extremely intelligent and accomplished person. He had the black fire when he needed it as he proved at Hastings and yet he never really let on how smart he was because his humility was like the music of Miles Davis. They say about Miles that his genius was in the silence between the notes. Yale too was a musician who played the trombone. And in living his life, he definitely knew something about the silence between the notes.
Yale put aside the parlor tricks of words and opinions and instead demonstrated the real power of the white fire by choosing to express himself with acts of kindness and compassion.
I think that to live righteously and make good honest choices in life, we are ultimately judged by the things we say and the things we do. Kohelet says that a good name is better than the best oil. Yale’s mandate as a man living a Jewish valued life was never motivated by the more pedestrian things like money, fame and honor.
His prime directive was to commit himself to his family, his friendships, his community and his fellow man. And you are all here because you have seen this commitment in him at all times.
It’s no coincidence that Yale returned to our creator on Shabbat Hagadol right before Passover.
In the moments of his passing yesterday I was in Shul reading the Haftorah which describes how Elijah was prophesying how in Messianic times the hearts of the children would be connected with the hearts of their parents. Family was everything for Yale and for Michele too.
They also redefined what it means to be included in their family. There are many people here who consider both Yale and Michele to have been something like foster parents to them. It really didn’t matter what you needed, he was always there whether you were related to him or not. It was just how he defined himself by meeting the needs of others.
I asked my kids on Shabbat to tell me things they remembered most about Zaide.
He drove me to my acting classes in Santa Monica every week.
He took me to ballet.
He took us to the airport whenever we on vacation.
My favorite is something Michele told me years ago. Jason, I’ve never filled a gas tank because Yale always filled the tanks.
I am not suggesting that he felt his purpose was to be a Chauffer. Rather, these examples just highlight how Yale simply lived to be the white fire around other the black fire of other people’s needs and desires.
I’d like to say one last thing about Yale because this is something that many of us in the family have already integrated into our lives and it’s an easy custom to emulate.
If you knew Yale on the Sabbath or Holidays, you’d relish in knowing that his favorite moments in all of the blessings he would recite was when he would thrill us all in Kiddush with a loud and pregnant pause as he would practically scream BOHRAY Peri Hagafen. It seems that for all these years, he’s been trying to get the attention of his creator.
Well he’s finally going to meet him now.
He won’t be there tomorrow night at the Seder or in the future to give us those momentary thrill rides but Sari and I and the rest of our family for sure will be remembering him as we look at all the kids around the table and recognize that his legacy does live on and that his life made a difference and was valued and that the doors are wide open upstairs waiting for him with a brand new virus-free laptop and free wifi.