I'm just prefacing this by saying that any inspiration and growth you get from the next few posts should be a zechus, l'ilui nishmas my brother, Shalom ben Chaim Nosson.
Before I tell you the story, I want to share a thought I heard from Rabbi Jonathan Rietti. He is quite a famous speaker and I think this has a very powerful message.
When someone has a tzarah, it is natural for them to ask, “Why?!”
In lashon haKodesh, there are two ways to say “why.” One is מדוע and one is למה. The first one, מדוע, comes from , דע, to know and understand. A person who asks this type of why wants to know all the details of the story, like how the person was niftar, what did the doctors do, how did he fall, what time did it happen and all sorts of questions that don't accomplish anything. These questions just keep him lingering in the past. But the second why, למה, comes from ל מה, (Li’mah) “to what?,” which means the following: Yes it’s true that Hashem just gave me a hard test but what is this bringing me to in the future? What did I change because of this nisayon? TO WHAT am I bringing myself to now that I heard about or went through this tzarah? This kind of why is a productive question which causes a person to look into the future and make real changes in their life, whether in middos, tefillah or anything else.So when you hear about or go through a nisayon, you may ask מדוע and try to find out the details of the story, but make sure you are also asking למה and you are thinking ahead and making changes in your avodas Hashem by becoming a better person!
Now, here are the details of the story...
My younger brother, Shalom, who was 15 years old at the time, (it was 2 weeks before his 16th birthday) was climbing a tree in Camp Stolin on a regular Monday afternoon. This was the tree all the kids had climbed many times to see the view of the lake. The boys were sitting on different branches when, after 10 minutes, the branch my brother had been sitting on cracked and he fell down.
As soon as he fell, my brother got up and said to the boys around him, “Don’t worry! I’m fine,” and he started to walk while being supported by two boys.
Now here’s one amazing part. My brother a”h was always doing chessed for other people. When he fell down, his friend who was still up in the tree was sooo shocked, he was ready to jump…to his death. But when he saw that my brother was still alive and okay and walking around, he gathered the inner strength to climb down from the tree and remain alive!! So even right before his death, my brother was doing another chessed, saving his own friend’s life!
Another scary thing…right before the branch cracked, my brother and his friend were sitting up on the tree talking about nifla’os haborei, and my brother said, “Look at Hashem’s beautiful world...and look at how the clouds are moving so quickly. It’s amazing how things change from one minute to the next.” Those were the last words he said before the branch cracked and he fell down from the tree.
It was obvious that this was meant to be. There is no way to think otherwise! It was as if my brother was specifically chosen as the one Hashem wanted back, next to him in the next world!
When the EMT in the camp heard what happened, he quickly got his equipment and told the boys to make sure my brother does not walk-it could be dangerous for his back and spine because if there is a spinal injury, the most important thing is NOT to move the patient so he shouldn’t chas v’shalom become paralyzed for life. After a few minutes, the EMT started performing CPR on my brother because he lost consciousness and wasn’t awake anymore.
Before he lost consciousness, my brother asked the EMT, “Do you think I’m gonna make it?” (meaning:do you think I’ll survive?) Of course, the EMT answered, “Yes,” because what else should he have said?! By the way, we found out afterwards that this part of the story was not true…you see how people make things up! The EMT told us specifically that my brother never said that!! People like to spice up the story…so don’t believe everything you hear!!
My brother was brought to the hospital’s Emergency Room and the doctor saw he was not going to make it. One of his rabbeim from camp tried to get into his room to be able to stay with him. The doctors didn’t let until he insisted that he was a “representative of the family” They couldn’t refuse and let him in. Then the doctor told him, “It’s his last minutes, say your prayers.” So his rebbe said vidui and Shema with him. He wasn't totally awake but he was opening and closing his eyes so obviously he heard everything. Who knows what thoughts of teshuva were going through his mind at that point! After he got to hear those special tefillos being said, my brother’s pure neshama left his body and was reunited with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
It is very interesting that the year before he was niftar, my brother had wanted to go to Eretz Yisroel with the Skolya Rebbe a little after Lag Ba’omer. The rebbe’s son was having upsherin and my brother wanted to go very badly. (He was a Skolya chossid. Not to be confused with Stolin - the yeshiva he went to and the camp he was in.) His yeshiva wasn’t very keen on the idea and said the only way he would be able to go was if he went from Wednesday until Shabbos. He would miss very little yeshiva and would only get to spend 4 days in Eretz Yisroel. We told my brother, “Neh! Don’t go now! You’ll go when you are older, with your wife…for a much longer amount of time! It’s not worth it to go for only four days…you’ll go when u grow up, for 10 days or 2 weeks or something!”
But my brother insisted on going.
We asked the rebbe and he said my brother should go, gave him a bracha and said that this trip would be very good for him and for his ruchniyus.
So when my brother went, one of the places they went to was the mikveh ari. He went into the mikveh (which is very cold) and it is a known thing that anyone who goes into the mikveh ari will not die without doing teshuva first.
And my brother was niftar only after his rebbe said vidui and Shema with him!!! AMAZING!!
I just want you all to know that when someone loses someone close to them, it helps them remember to stay focused on the important things in life and on the things that really matter. I realized that life is so short and we must use every minute we have to do mitzvos and get closer to Hashem. Every person thinks they will live until one hundred and twenty (it is my bracha to you that you should live past that because moshiach will come so we will live forever) but remember to think every day that this is my last day to make Hashem proud and then you will really use your time wisely!
It is known that when Hashem gave the malach hamaves his job, he didn’t want to do it. He said, “I don’t want a job that will make people look down at me.” So Hashem told him, “Don’t worry. Every time you do your job, whenever you take someone’s life away, people wont even realize that it was you who did it.” And that’s why whenever a person is niftar, we find someone or something to blame. We blame the doctors, the illness, the driver who was driving too fast, and in this case, the tree. But we are forgetting who was really behind it! Hashem wanted my brother back and his time was up so there’s nothing we could have done to stop it!! Hashem has his plans and when he picks flowers for his garden, he always picks the most beautiful roses. My brother was a beautiful rose and Hashem wanted him to be part of his garden in gan eden.
When my family found out about it, it was a HUGE shock for all of us. It was a real test from Hashem…which I hope we passed. Actually, we never really passed it because it isn’t over yet. We have to live with it every day and still accept Hashem’s ratzon even when it is hard for us and we start being overcome with emotions of missing him…and now that his fourth yartzeit is coming up, it’s another test for us to smile and continue accepting it because this was the best thing for all of us. Because through this tzarah, we can now understand and give chizuk to other people who went through similar things, such as losing family members and we definitely became closer to Hashem from it as well. Isn’t that one of the main purposes of all pain and yissurim in this world??
Read Part 2 here.