I was in shiur beis of Cincinnati when Rabbi Baras was diagnosed. At that time, he was teaching us perek chof beis of Tanya, which discusses how human suffering is an unearthly expression of G-d’s love and that, therefore, you should feel happy despite and even because of the pain. This was a very difficult idea for me to accept, and I remember having long discussions with Rabbi Baras about it.
Soon afterward, he was diagnosed.
A few weeks later, Rabbi Baras called me over. He told me that while he was teaching this perek, he kept asking himself, "If I had pain in my life, would I actually believe that it is not something bad—the 'bad' actually being a hidden good?" He then said, "Now that I am ill and going through actual pain, I feel a certain joy. I feel that it is an opportunity for me to prove to myself that this concept is real to me."
There are two things about this story that I feel portray who Rabbi Baras was.
The fact that, while he was going through a terrible illness, all he was thinking about was how it could enhance his connection with G-d. Rabbi Baras was a man whose Yiddishkeit was completely real. He was a passionate Jew. He was a happy Jew. He was a real Jew. He didn't just teach. He made what he taught come alive. He lived it.
The fact that, despite all that he was going through, he made it a point to talk to me. Rabbi Baras lived a selfless life. He didn't live for himself; he lived for others. He made every person he came in contact with feel valued and important. When you spoke to him, he made you feel like the most important person in the world to him.
I am truly grateful to have known him.