Unquestionably, there will be many tributes and testimonials to the beloved and hallowed memory of Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski in the weeks ahead. His wife, his children, and his brothers are currently sitting shivah (observing the mourning period) and are inundated by people from around the world seeking to express their sympathies.
I am only a sister-in-law, but my sense of grief and loss is all-consuming.
“Sheeku Oitzer” is what the family called him. Translated, the words mean “Shea,” his name, and “our treasure.” And a treasure he was.
I asked my husband, shlita, what he would identify as his brother’s most outstanding quality. He replied that his outstanding quality was that he was outstanding in everything.
He was a rabbi and an extraordinary talmid chacham. He was a mohel. He was a shochet. He was a psychiatrist. He was one of the foremost authorities on addiction and substance abuse in the country. He founded Gateway Center for addiction in Pittsburgh. He was a composer. He was a prolific writer of more than 60 books. The list goes on and on.
Instead of canceling my Sunday evening class on Zoom last night, I decided—as difficult as it was—to teach and dedicate the learning to his memory.
I shared one of his transformative insights given during a casual encounter in my kitchen. I was discussing with him the Twerski lack of self-esteem despite their intelligence and accomplishments. I asked him how it was possible that he, more than the others, seemed to suffer from this very same ailment and, what’s more, he authors book after book on the topic of self-esteem. He thought for a quick moment and replied, “Yes, it’s true that I suffer from a lack of self-esteem, but I don’t let it get in my way.” Indeed, he did not let it get in his way.
The impact of his countless achievements gave many a new lease on life.
In the class last night, a few people shared their experiences. One said that he saved her life. She was an addict and had come to the end of her rope. He gave her the tools, the hope and the courage to re-engage life.
Another woman spoke of the fact that she had been a substance-abuse counselor and had brought Dr. Shea to speak to her community to address substance abuse and addiction. Her grateful words were that at long last someone had the temerity to give the Jewish community “permission to be human.” He brought the issue of alcohol and substance abuse out into the open and most importantly made people aware that there were both resources and support available to them.
A third person commented that his encouragement and endorsement of the 12-step program provided her with a lifeline.
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