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Polish Your Diamond

Yisroel Besser

Moshe Lax is in the diamond business. But really, he’s a musician who’s an author who’s a real estate developer who’s a philanthropist who’s in the diamond business. He’s fought hard to broaden his horizons. And he isn’t done exploring yet

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

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FREE SPIRIT Moshe grew up the son of a legend, an opportunity not without its challenges. Although proud of his free spirit, his father Chaim’s influence is everywhere. “He taught me how to live,” gleaning the Tosher Rebbe’s valuable lessons (Photos: Amir Levy)

O n the lower level of an elegant Manhattan building near Central Park, an electrician crouches near an exposed wire, the air heavy with the smell of paint and sawdust. In a small office to the side, designers sit in glass-enclosed rooms reviewing plans, colorful prints spread out before them.

My host walks quickly through the commotion, answering, instructing, joking with a food-delivery boy: It’s not our first meeting, or even our second. I’ve been after this interview since the first time I met him in November, and at this point, I know enough to understand that Moshe Lax is in his zone: To him, the opportunity to be creative, to make new things happen, isn’t just a real estate developer’s tool. It’s what makes him who he is.

Industry analysts describe his plans for this particular building as visionary and innovative, but if you look closely, you can see that his face is colored not by ambition, but by a childlike delight: He’s building something new. That’s what it’s always been about.

The first time I met him, months earlier at the Trump victory party, he intrigued me. It had been a long, long night and I’d passed some time by locating the yarmulkes — and there was no shortage — identifying the various frum attendees at that gathering. I noticed the unfamiliar young man, and tried to peg him and his role. He didn’t have the smug, self-satisfied air of a donor, but rather appeared bashful. He didn’t seem to be a business associate — he wasn’t doing the back-slapping, loud-laughter drinks-at-the-bar thing with fast-talking New York real estate types. I’d covered the campaign for long enough to know that he wasn’t part of the political team.

I introduced myself and found out that the affable man with the easy smile is an author of a sefer on the Rambam. He is also a composer of Jewish music. The sefer and the songs are marked by intense creativity and a desperate quest for truth.

Oh, and Moshe Lax is both a Trump business associate and close friend, so I was wrong about that, too.

While he doesn’t radiate the haughtiness of an intellectual, the affectation of a musician, or the assertiveness of a tycoon, there is something else that marks him: a quiet thoughtfulness and easy honesty.

“But Rebbe, I already gave generously for this very cause,” Chaim Lax pointed out. “Ah, Reb Chaim, it’s hard for you? You don’t want to give?” the Rebbe asked gently. “In that case, you should certainly give!”

Over several conversations, I got to hear about the father whose story is so much a part of Moshe’s own. Reb Chaim Lax, a noted philanthropist and diamond dealer, wasn’t just respected for his generosity, but for his genuine ayin tovah — the willingness not just to help others, but the desire to see them succeed.

Moshe grew up the son of a legend, an opportunity not without its challenges.

“My father understood it, too. He appreciated that it wasn’t easy; we would speak about it. He would tell me that he hoped I wouldn’t just be content to be ‘Chaim Lax’s son.’ I once read a ma’amar written by the Rebbe of Levertov — he’s a Peshis’cha descendant — which affected me deeply. He describes a neshamah that comes down to This World that is placed in the perfect home, with loving, attentive parents. The child is bright and obedient and follows the proper path, becoming a scholar and devout Jew. He marries well and succeeds in every undertaking, living a full, productive life.”

Lax pauses for the punch line. “And then, this neshamah goes up after 120 years, and as the Rebbe writes, the malach pinches him on the cheek and says, ‘Good boy, you listened to your mother.’ ”

He laughs. “It’s a shame if the most someone can be is a good boy, you know? Placed in the right position at four years old and never veering from it. When are we supposed to become people?”

So Chaim Lax’s only son forged a path uniquely his own.

Primarily, in learning. He attended the standard chassidishe schools, then learned under Rav Shaul Brus in Beis HaTalmud, a yeshivah known for intense, rigorous learning and deeply analytical shiurim. After his marriage, he settled in Boro Park and learned in kollel, but once he joined his father at Dynamic Diamonds, he found himself looking for something different. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 655)

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