Thursday, December 03, 2009

My Father In Law A"H and Deveikut.

Rambam explains that a person is born with a שכל בכוח – a mind in-potentia – and the lifetime goal is to develop oneself so that one has a שכל בפועל – an in-actu mind. It is that developed mind that makes a person into what he is, it is the essence of a man and that is what differentiates man from all other living creatures. The manifestation of that mind in-actu is the ability to comprehend the מושכלות – abstract thought and knowledge and the highest and most advanced level of that type of knowledge is the apprehension of God.

When a person acquires knowledge, that knowledge becomes one with him. The brain, the physical entity that gives man the ability to think, absorbs that knowledge and in that process, it becomes a part of the person. It is through knowledge that the knower and the subject that is known become one. In the same sense, when one apprehends God, at whatever level of sophistication that apprehension is achieved, that apprehension becomes part of the person. That state is metaphorically referred to as Deveikut – attachment or bonding with HKBH.

The problem with human beings is that their need to take care of their physical and material needs clouds their thinking and distracts them from their goal. This is metaphorically referred to as the dividing curtain – Massach Hamavdil. The goal of Torah and Mitzvot is to help a man overcome that weakness and train him to keep these material needs in their proper perspective, dealing with them only as needed. However, the human condition is such, that even the greatest of men, Moshe Rabbeinu, could only achieve the ultimate apprehension at the time of death. For as life ebbs, material needs slowly diminish. It is only at those times that a clear apprehension of the non-material can be accomplished. Rambam explains that that type of death is referred to as Al Pi Hashem, or as the Rabbis call it metaphorically Mitat Neshikah – death by a kiss.

I had the privilege to attend to my father in law ע"ה during the last ten days of his life. He came back to my brother in law’s house from the death trap that is Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, (more on that in a separate post), in terrible shape. Because of the mistreatment in the hospital, he had developed a fungal infection that had flayed his entire lower back. In addition to his body being riddled with cancer, he also had a pathological fracture in his arm. He had to be moved every few hours notwithstanding the excruciating pain every small movement elicited. Washing and cleaning up in the morning was pure torture. It was a testament to the fine gentleman he was that after suffering excruciating pain to the point of crying during the process he would not fail to thank the aide and everyone that helped move him or clean him. As he was crying out from pain, I held his hand and told him that we were cleaning him up so that he could daven. Hearing that, he would temporarily become stoic. One touching moment was when after one of these painful episodes he spontaneously made a Bracha with Shem and Malchut –

ברוך אתה ה"א מלך העולם שהכל ברא לכבודו

On another occasion, after another painful episode, he suddenly insisted on immediately making a mitzvah. As he had difficulty consuming the Ensure that was his nourishment, I suggested he have some and make a Bracha. He did so with alacrity and began eating.

But the most touching was when I davened with him after the cleanup. I would ask him whether he was ready to wash his hands and start davening. At that stage, he had difficulty talking and would nod his head in acquiescence. I held his hand and said Birkat Hatorah starting with Al Netilat Yadayim and Asher Yatzar, at which point he squeezed my hand and you could see his complete concentration. We then said Birchot Kryat Shema and the Shemona Esreh holding hands. He kept on nodding off because of the painkillers and arousing himself to continue davening. While Davening you could see his face light up, and I felt how he was connecting with HKBH. I have never before experienced such an intense davening. He was so thankful that I gave him this opportunity to serve HKBH that he started kissing my hand. There are no words to describe the emotions that I experienced. As he had lost his appetite, I told him after davening that to continue serve HKBH, one has to stay alive which requires eating. He immediately forced himself to take in nourishment.

The last day of his life, when his breathing was already quite labored and he had lost the ability to communicate verbally, I still had the great Zchut to daven with him. He kept up with the davening crunching his eyes and squeezing my hand at the appropriate parts of the Shema and Tefilah. He passed away surrounded by his family, children, grandchildren and great grand children, after partaking in Mincha and Ma’ariv Betzibur. I learned in these few days more about Deveikut and what it means to become attached to HKBH than in my whole life. I think about these ten days as my personal Asseret Yemei Teshuvah.

One does not arrive at this level of Deveikut without a lifetime of preparation. My father in law was a person that did not waste a minute. Though he was a businessperson all his life, he never missed a day that he would not be in the Beit Hamidrash way before dawn. He would give Shiurim in Gemara and Ohr Hachaim and would prepare for them intensely. I never attended a shiur but I heard from participants that he was very clear and his Shiurim were well attended. After retirement, the last 14 years of life were spent in the Beit Hamidrash from before dawn to night, learning with Chaverim and preparing and giving Shiurim.

He was a great medakdek in Mitzvot all his life. He was very attached to the Mitzvah of Tzedakah. He would not turn away a poor man and treated everyone with dignity. He considered himself as the secretary to his wife, my mother in law Tibadel Lechaym, who is the president and one of the founders of the Satmar Bikur Cholim. He was also involved in the founding of Tomchei Shabbat in Boro Park.

During his last days, he made sure to show how much he loved all his children and grandchildren. His face would light up when one of them would visit. Although he was an authoritarian figure when healthy, all that melted away at the end and all that was left was love and affection. We will all miss him very much.

יהי זכרו ברוך.


  1. Reb David

    What a story of courage! Thank you so much for sharing this glimpse into the life of your Father in Law, someone we all have so much to learn from. May this memory help us all to do Teshuva and dispel the deep slumber that prevents our focus on Talmud Torah, tefilla and Miztvot during the precious easy times that we are all granted by Chasdei Hashem.

  2. Very beautiful article grandpa. It truly demonstrates how big of a tzaddik zaidy was.
    - Gavriel Guttman

  3. Refreshing,in a time where the term "chussid" is becoming a disparaging and abusive epithet.

  4. Thank you for sharing your profound thoughts and observations with us. We all heard that your father-in-law was a truly devout,highly intellegent man, with many outstanding endeavors during his lifetime. It is clear to us,that two of his best accomplishments are his wonderful daughter Ruchi, and his excellent choice of you as his son-in-law.
    Brenda and Efraim

  5. Thank you all for your kind words, in the name of my wife, the family and I.

  6. I davened in Satmar Boro Park in the morning of the 'levaye' and out of respect of the niftar I stayed to listen to listen to one of the hespedim by one son, and it was very moving. He spoke with such clarity, and nostalgia, weaving in words of torah with personal stories. I also noticed an unusual large crowd.

    My wife tells me I must of have known him. If you would post a pic of him, maybe I will recognize him.

  7. lovely story - you are lucky to have enjoyed him til the very end.

    but. why do you associate sechel with the brain? what happened to the nefesh? sichli is part of nefesh, not brain.