Jack Gubbay Farewell

By Rabbi  Shoshana Kaminsky

Deciding which particular part of this week’s parshah to read this morningwas a daunting challenge. Should I read the dramatic verse in which the floodgates of the heavens are split open—using the same verb as is used for splitting the Red Sea? Should I skip all the way to the upbeat ending, in which God swears over the rainbow never again to destroy the world? It is a pity that this morning’s celebrations are not taking place two weeks from today, when we will be reading Parshat Vayera, the portion that Jack read and spoke about at the seventieth anniversary of his bar mitzvah. I chose to begin at the start of the portion purely for the first verse: Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. The medieval commentator Rashi cites two contrasting interpretations of this verse: it could mean that if Noah was this righteous in such a wicked generation, in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more so. But most rabbinic commentators see this verse as casting Noah in a negative light: in comparison with the others
of this generation, he was righteous. But had he lived in the generation of Abraham, he would not have been seen as righteous.

The rabbis admired Noah because he took care of all those animals on the ark. But they strongly rebuked him because he failed to question God’s intention to wipe out all life from the rest of the earth. As it says at the end of our passage this morning: Noah did exactly as God had commanded. Add in brackets: but without questioning. By contrast, Abraham unflinchingly challenges God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gemorrah. Abraham thunders: “Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?” Most of us would be like Noah, meekly doing what God had asked despite any misgivings. But Abraham’s moral compass is so straight, so uncompromising, that he has no hesitation in confronting God.

The same can be said of Jack Gubbay. I have had the pleasure over these years of seeing how Jack understands Torah. He holds the Torah to exactly the same high moral standard that he applies to himself and to the world around him. At the same time, he reads and interprets with a deep compassion, which is also such an integral part of who he is. I have shared widely Jack’s insightful understanding of Joseph’s inscrutable actions towards his brothers in Egypt, which appear to be cruel and arbitrary. On the contrary, says Jack. Joseph manipulates circumstances so that his brothers are placed in exactly the same position as many years earlier: he presents them with the ideal opportunity to rid themselves of the other son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. Will his brothers act the same way as when they cheerfully sold Joseph into slavery? Only when Judah’s moving speech shows that they have changed does Joseph unveil himself to them. Jack’s reading of the text reveals the depth of Joseph’s trauma so many years later but also allows for the possibility of repentance and healing. It speaks in the nuances of human emotions, rather than in the absolutes of cruelty and power. Jack speaks softly, but it’s important to listen: those quiet words often hold extraordinary wisdom.

A leaf has been placed on our Tree of Life to honour Jack. The inscription reads: “Jack Gubbay– Foundation Member. A shining light and an inspiration.” Jack was one of the visionaries who created this congregation more than fifty years ago, and he has been an active member ever since. In addition to participating in many parts of the community’s life, he has been unstinting in his efforts to make sure that our history is preserved and cherished. In his late eighties, he remains as intellectually curious and engaged with the events in the world as ever. Just this last week has seen an email exchange between us about the marginalisation of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel and other worrying trends. He continues to advocate passionately for the Youth Achievement Award, arguing that we spend far too much time honouring older members of our community and not enough time recognising the accomplishments of our young leaders.

Jack, this congregation will not be the same without you. On behalf of everyone, I thank you for your devotion and commitment to Beit Shalom and its members over the entire length of its history. I wish you blessings on your move to Perth and much joy and continued opportunities for learning and growth once you arrive.

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