|Reb Chaim Yechiel Rotman, HY"D|
About three months ago, I wrote a review on a new book titled A Boy Named 68818 by Mr. Israel Starck. Mr. Starck was in Eretz Yisrael last August as the first copies rolled off the press. I visited him during his stay and was fortunate to receive a copy of the book from the first palette. (I am told now that the book has just recently arrived in the stores).
In the book, Mr. Starck – Srulek, in his youth – relates that he had an older sister with severe physical and mental handicaps who needed constant care. With the war raging around them, his mother (hy”d) was at wits end how to continue caring for this daughter, then around 18 years old. His mother sought out advice from Rav Moshe Ziditchover of Munkacz and brought Srulek along for the consultation.
She explained to the Rav the infirmities of her daughter – which he was already aware of - and inquired as to how to care for her in view of all the travails that are being imposed by the war. The tzadik simply told her to go back home and not to worry, her daughter “will have a refuah sheleima”.
Little Srulek was confused because he was old enough to understand that his sister’s condition was not one that was reversible by contemporary medical standards. How can she possibly have a refuah sheleima?
About three days later, his sister did not wake up. And, with this, R. Yisrael learned that a “refuah shleima” means deliverance from illness, pain and torment but it does not always mean a return to full health in this world.
For just two weeks shy of a full year we have been praying for a refuah sheleima for the most seriously injured of the Har Nof Kedoshim – Chaim Rotman (hy”d) – Chaim Yechiel ben Malka. The women of Har Nof have held weekly Tehillim groups over the past year entreating for a refuah sheleima for Shalom Daniel (z”l) ben Baruch Yehuda Ray who passed away last summer along with R’ Chaim Yechiel (hy”d). Until now, the refuah sheleima had not come.
Last Thursday, however, something special happened. Har Nof held its chapter of the international Great Challah Bake. Hundreds of women (including my wife and one daughter) gathered at the Minhal (Community Center) to participate. Two large rooms were dedicated to the event, one for single girls and the other for married women. There were long tables with rows of mixing bowls stocked with flour, water, yeast and whatever else. The women split into groups of three for each mixing bowl.
The event was presided by Reb. Tamar Ansh, the renowned challah maven, and by Reb. Tzipporah Heller. Reb. Ansh gave instructions to the attendees and did a ceremonial hafrasha with a bracha. It was announced that this “Challah bake” is being done l’zchus a refuah sheleima for R’ Chaim Yechiel ben Malka. Mrs. Risa Rotman was then invited to do another “public” hafrasha.
Before she actually did the hafrasha, she made a few remarks. She mentioned that she is constantly being given accolades for the strength of spirit that she has in weathering her excruciating ordeal. In response to this she said that the inspiration for this strength should be attributed to her husband who, as is evident, is a true “fighter”. And then she continued that people are constantly commiserating with her over the fact that her life is in limbo, between heaven and earth. She has no husband and she’s not a widow. Children with no father but not orphans. A life on hold. To this she responded that after hearing this so many times she decided that this can’t be. One’s life is never on hold. If somebody’s circumstances are precarious, this is the situation in which HKBH wants them to continue moving along in life. So many people put off the changes they need to make until after their husband gets better, after all the kids are married, after the baby is born, after…after…after… We cannot live this way. We must continue moving forward no matter what.
She then proceeded with the hafrasha and the bracha to the sound of a resounding “amein” and the event went on to other speakers (Reb. Heller). This was done for a zechus refuah sheleima for R’ Chaim.
Less than 24 hours later, as most of the participants were setting their fresh challos on the Shabbos table and preparing to hear “Hamotzie”, R’ Chaim Yechiel ben Malka ZT"L (HY"D) was granted a refuah sheleima.
I wrote a bit about the massacre a year ago and I intimated that I am well acquainted with the “korbanos” (hy”d). I knew them all but wouldn’t consider myself a “buddy” to those of the original group. R’ Avrohom Goldberg ZT”L was about a decade older than me and R’ Aryeh Kapinsky ZT”L was about a decade younger than me. These were the down-to-earth guys. R’ Moshe Twerski ZT”L was just a bit older and R’ Kalman Levine ZT”L was about my age but these fellows were so “arein-getuhn” in Avodas Hakodesh and I am not worthy of placing myself in the same league.
But R’ Chaim was different. He was a friend. We are (were) exactly the same age, both born and raised in out-of-town North American communities, immigrants to E”Y, working class people with (bla”H) double digit kids, struggling to maintain jobs to support large families of kids who are not as American as we are, while we try to incorporate as much growth in Torah as we can. He was a malach in midos but still a very Human person. As opposed to the others, he wasn’t a melech. He was an eved. An “eved Hashem”.
I wrote one post about the Har Nof massacre last November. I titled it Har Nof Massacre I. Why the “I”?
I had originally intended to write about 2 or 3 posts. One was to be about some of the nissim that happened and another to be my characterization of the victims. I did not write those two posts because so many others “beat me” to it, saying almost exactly what I had planned. to write. Many others wrote then that it is ominous that the four initial victims were totally outstanding in a major area of Judaism:
- Rav Moshe Twerski ZT”L was a gadol in Harbatzas Torah.
- Rav Kalman Levine ZT”L was a gadol in Avodas Hashem.
- Rav Aryeh Kapinsky ZT”L was a gadol in Gemilus Chasadim.
- Rav Avraham Goldberg ZT”L was a gadol in Yiras Shamayim.
So I wanted to say (I haven’t heard anybody else say it this way) that:
Rav Moshe Twerski was the Kesser Torah - Rav Kalman HaLevy Levine was the Kesser Kahuna - R’ Aryeh with his chassadim was the Kesser Malchus - and R’ Goldberg was the Kesser Shem Tov that rides on all of them.
But now R’ Chaim ZT”L joins this distinguished crowd. Where does he fit in?
R’ Chaim has no use for a Kesser. He is not a melech. He is an eved Hashem. R’ Chaim was a Shulchan Aruch Yid. He lived and breathed the Shulchan Aruch. From page one. Literally.
What do I mean?
I heard a story about a Jew who was very meticulous about getting out of bed promptly and rushing to get ready for his seder hayom. When asked why he was so strong in this department he explained:
After 120 years I will be brought before the Beis Din Shel Maala and I will be handed a Shulchan Aruch. I will be asked if I complied with the rules of this code of law. I will naturally answer: “Yes”. They will then say, “Okay, let’s check it out.” And they will open it up starting at the first page to see if I was in compliance. What does it say there? It says: “One must galvanize themselves as a lion to arise for the service of his Creator…” Woe is to me if I can’t even make it past this first section!
All of the maspidim noted (not in these words) that R’ Chaim was the undisputed champion of the 100 yard dash. This is the approximate distance between 14 Agassi (his house) and 5 Agassi (the shul). 15 seconds or less. Nobody could do it faster. He was a regular at the hashkama minyan and he was on time.
He took page one of the Shulchan Aruch very seriously (halevai auf mir gedached…) and every page after that. When it came to Rav Rubin’s Shlita Friday night and Shabbos afternoon Halacha shiurim, he was mekayem הוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם ושותה בצמא את דבריהם.
He was just what a Jew is supposed to be. To HKBH he was an eved. To Harav Rubin he was a talmid. To his wife he was a husband and to his children a father.
And to me he was a friend.
Yehi zichro baruch.