Avraham ben Zev
In the Book of Samuel, there is an interesting conversation between King David and a very wise woman. King David had exiled his son and the woman had been sent by Joab, the king's general, to plead with him to forgive his son. In the course of the wise woman's plea, she refers to the brevity of life, saying, "Ki mot namut u'kha-mayim hanigarim artza asher lo yai-asfu," "We must all die, we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up." (2 Sam 14:14)
"Life," the wise woman says, "passes quickly; it is like water spilled upon the thirsty ground. It sinks into the earth and soon is no more." This metaphor for life is troubling. For if life is like water absorbed by the parched earth, does this mean that all we are and all we have done and stood for, is gone forever, absorbed by the sands of time?
I do not believe so. For implied in the words of the wise woman of Teko is a consoling truth. Even if our lives are like water absorbed by the parched earth, it does not necessarily follow that our lives are therefore futile. Is water spilled upon the ground lost? Is it not true that it is precisely this submerged water that makes life possible? It is the rain and the dew that falls on the ground and ceases to be that makes for life. Without it, we would perish.
And this is the way it is with the life of the spirit. Our fathers and the many generations who preceded them, poured out the water of their lives, their dreams, their ideals and their hopes, and they have been absorbed by the hungry earth of life.
You and I are the harvest. They have given us not only our bodies; they have given us our minds, our appreciation of the good and the true, our will to live and to achieve. We have absorbed into our personality, the spilled waters of their lives, just as we, in turn, will be absorbed in the lives of our children and our children's children.
What is true of each of us in our individual lives is even truer of a teacher, whose life reaches out into many lives and helps shape the spirits of several generations. The fresh sweet waters of knowledge that flow from her lips helps awaken the seeds of idealism, of goodness, of devotion to God and Israel and country in the hearts of children and adults alike.
Now, Andrei Zelevinsky’s years have come to an end. His life is like water spilled on the ground that cannot be gathered again. But, what he has watered with his life has grown and developed and continues as a force in the lives of those whom he has touched. "Utzror bitzror hahayim et nishmato." "May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life eternal and may his memory always be treasured as a blessing."
It was just a few short months ago when we gathered for your mother’s funeral, Galina. We come together again…you, your in-laws Vladen and Natalya, your children Leo and Katya, with broken hearts…yet, thankful for the gifts and sheer brilliance that Andrei brought to this world, his profession and his family whom he taught just as zealously with even greater love, devotion and concern.
I have only heard stories regarding the difficulties endured by Jews in the Soviet Union regarding education and professional advancement. He excelled at the Moscow “Second School,” graduate Moscow State University and was even more concerned about those who followed who suffered blatant discrimination, he and mathematics colleagues organized the Jewish People's University for mostly Jewish students denied similar educational opportunities. What an act of courage and defiance not only against state-sponsored anti-Semitism but also against totalitarianism.
Andrei reveled in the success of others and his students with the pride of a distinguished educator. It is as if he understood the Rabbinic aphorism “I learned much from my teachers, but most from my students” underscoring his selflessness and dedication, how he touched the minds and hearts to many people the world over. It really does denote what an exceptional person he was to so many.
Galina, Andrei was your partner. Dmitry, he was a very loving brother. Leo and Katya, he gave from his heart. Vladlen and Natalya, he was a devoted son. He was a compassionate grandfather who wanted his family’s future here. For many years, his life involved teaching, and being a teacher. I know how it can become your entire life.
Andrei Zelevinsky lived well and made a mark on too many lives to count. Indeed, his life was like water covering a field, giving life to so many whose lives he touched. May he now rest in peace as his memory will be a blessing in time to come. Amen.