My brother was niftar just two and a half weeks before his 16th birthday. In these short years, he accomplished so much. Let me tell you a few of the things that we got to hear about him-some we had known from before and some we only got to hear after he was niftar.
First of all, I want you to know that my brother was not a wild boy who was just climbing the tree to act up. He was very careful with what he did at all times.
In fact, my neighbor told us that even as a little boy, Shalom a"h was extremely gentle. When her son was born, Shalom was still young (about 1 ½ years old) and he would sit near my neighbor and just look at him and rock him in the infant seat. He would stare at him and watch him gently, never once pulling out his pacifier or shaking the infant seat.
Also, he always wore a helmet whenever he rode his bike (even when no one was watching). He always used his bike to help and so we called it the “mitzvah bike.” Whenever we needed something to be done, Shalom would always offer to do it because it was “no big deal.” When his bike was stolen we made sure to get him a new one right away because he always used his bike for mitzvos.
After his bar mitzvah, he even put together an “invention” of his own to be able to keep his hat in the basket of his bike while riding with a helmet on his head. He opened up the inside of his hat box, cut open the middle circle and used duct tape to keep it on his basket. This way, whenever he was going to do favors for other people, which is primarily what he used his bike for, he wore his helmet while riding the bike and then would be able to go into the stores/houses with his hat on.
My brother was also very careful to always kiss the mezuzah. Even when he was much younger, he was careful with his special mitzvah. He used to like to go to sleep in my mother's bed and then someone would "transfer" him by walking him into his own bed while he was half asleep. Even while he was being walked into his own bed, he would ALWAYS stretch out his hand and kiss the mezuzah! Imagine! He was half asleep and he still kissed the mezuzah! Do we remember to kiss the mezuzah when we are fully awake?! It's just a quick way of saying, "Hashem, I love you. Thank you for always watching over me and protecting me at all times!" (and if you have an extra minute, you can also think about what is written inside each mezuzah…Shema…V'ahavta…V'haya…schar v'onesh…but that's a very high level…let's start with small things!)
Shalom really and truly cared about each one of Hashem's creations. One day, he came home with a swollen hand. When we asked him what had happened, he said, "Oh! Nothing! I was just riding my bike and a bird flew in front of me so I didn’t want to hurt the bird. I quickly pressed on my brakes and missed the bird by an inch and I fell off my bike. But I'm fine! As long as I didn’t hurt the bird!"
After my mother insisted that he go for x-rays (and Shalom insisting that he was fine…), we found out that he broke his arm!
He broke his hand so as not to harm the bird physically…let us make sure not to break other people's hearts and hurt them emotionally – that's much worse!
While he was in camp, he did a lot of amazing and unusual things (unusual for someone his age) – it was the last summer of his life and he really used every minute to the fullest.
He would wake up every morning at 6:30 and go to the mikvah. (My older brother says he can almost say he is sure that Shalom a"h never missed a day in the mikvah since his bar mitzvah! And that is not easy to do!) Then, he would learn with his chavrusa for ½ hour before davening.
We also found out that he would say tikkun chatzos before he went to sleep every night.
One night, while he was in camp, a friend of his saw him saying Shema slowly and carefully. He asked him, "Why are you saying Shema so slowly? Aren't you tired after such a long day??!!”
To which my brother replied, "I might be tired but a yid never knows when his last Shema will be. I make sure to say Shema with kavana every night because I never know when it will be my last time to say it!"
Imagine if we were to perform each mitzvah and daven each tefillah as if it were the last one! What a difference it would make in our avodas Hashem if we kept this thought in our mind, even once a day!
I just heard a great quote for this –
"Live each day as if it were the last because one day you are going to be right!"
Shalom was always looking to help others. While he was in camp, he overheard a boy saying that he forgot to take special staples for his staple gun to camp. (They are not the regular type of staples you could pick up in any store, it's a certain brand and we "happen" to have them in our house because we use them when we decorate the succah.) Anyway, my brother called up our house and asked me if I could please send a few things to him in camp and he gave me a small list… (a na nach yarmulke…for fun at night/plays and a few other stuff…) One of the things he asked for was these staples for the staple gun. We sent them with the next package and he gave them to the boy who had mentioned it in passing…as if it was NO BIG DEAL and so NORMAL to do this "tiny" favor!
His name was Shalom, kishmo kein hu; he was always trying to make peace. At the shivah, many boys came and told us stories about how he had lifted their spirits. And they all said that when Shalom was around, there was a certain "geshmak" in the atmosphere. He always made everything so exciting and fun, even the boring hikes or activities.
That reminds me, the boys once went on a hike and one boy stepped on a beehive and got terribly bitten. Shalom lifted the boy up and carried him ALL THE WAY back to camp!
My little brother, Yitzy, was in camp for first half and came home for the second half of the summer. He told us that Shalom came to his bunkhouse and helped him pack up the night before he left. He gave him all the time he needed and advice as well. (He had a siddur that was a little torn so Shalom told Yitzy to leave it for the kids who come second half…) That was the last time he got to see Shalom…
The shabbos before he was niftar was Shabbos Nachamu…which he spent in Skolya Bungalow Colony, with the Skolya rebbe and many other Chassidim. They had a very nice shabbos and on motzei shabbos, all the men danced until the wee hours of the morning. After the dancing was over, everyone left except for one boy. My brother stayed in the bais medrash, put all the seforim away and neatly arranged the tables and chairs so the shul would be ready for the men to learn the next morning.
The next day, Sunday, was Visiting Day. Really, that year Visiting Day came out on Tisha B'av so some camps moved it back one week and some pushed it forward. His camp, Stolin, pushed it forward one week. Meaning, Visiting Day was about a week and a half before the boys were scheduled to come home from camp. Since his camp is very far out and not near any other camp, we did what many families did. We said to ourselves, "Why should we shlep all the way?! We'll see him in another week anyway!"
Or so we thought.
But my sister, brother-in-law and niece were in the country for Shabbos Nachamu and so was my older brother. So, the four of them took Shalom out for pizza on Visiting Sunday.
While they were there, my sister insisted on taking pictures so finally, my brother-in-law went to the car to get the camera!
And because of them, we have a whole bunch of beautiful pictures of my brother a day before he was niftar. He was happy and smiling and this gave us such a nechama! We were so comforted when we saw how he spent his last summer in camp and that he was REALLY happy!
On Monday morning, the last day of his life, he was very tired. He had been up really late on Motzei Shabbos Nachamu and again on Sunday night, after Visiting Day. Shalom asked his rebbe if he can please stand during learning because he was afraid he would fall asleep if he was sitting. He stood the entire time, leaning on his shtender and learning with an extra "bren," his rebbe said.
Read part 3 here.