I have some photographs taken just six weeks ago that I treasure.
During that morning, my husband and I visited the cheder kindergarten where our grandson learns and, together with his parents and teachers, we had celebrated his 3rd birthday.
A 3rd birthday is special for a Jewish boy, because it marks the beginning of his education and also is the first time a boy gets his hair cut. The other boys in his class sang to little Yaacov and they all danced together, cake and goodies were handed out. Then my son-in-law took him off to visit his Rosh Yeshiva to cut the first locks of hair from our grandson’s head and to give him a ‘bracha’a blessing.
How could I have known when my daughter later came to show me the photos of Reb Nosson Zvi Finkel ZT”L, the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, and my son-in-law’s Rosh Yeshiva, cutting my 3 year old grandson’s hair, that just a few weeks later he would no longer be amongst us.
I knew that Reb Nosson Zvi suffered from a very severe form of Parkinson’s disease. His decision not to take any medication in case it affected his memory and caused him to forget anything he had ever learnt, meant that he was wracked constantly by a shaking body.
All who had been privileged to watch him give a shiur, attested to the extreme difficulty he had controlling his limbs, but it didn’t stop him giving countless shiurim sometimes sitting on his hands to stop them from interfering with his delivery.
And he was known to almost never refuse a request to officiate at a student’s wedding, be sandek at a Brit Mila ( the one who holds the baby) or to cut the hair of a 3 year old at his first hair-cut.
How was it possible, I asked my son-in-law, for someone whose limbs were so uncontrollable to agree to perform these tasks which must have been so difficult for him?
My sons-in-law’s answer gave an inkling of the greatness of this amazing man.
If he exerted tremendous strength he could control his limbs for a few seconds, but the exertion was exhausting for him. Yet for his students and their families he was always prepared to go not just the extra mile, but what must have been for him the extra thousand miles.
Reb Nosson Zvi’s love for his students, and he had thousands of them, was legendry. No other Rosh Yeshiva, it was said, had so many private learning sessions with his students on top of his grueling schedule of shiurim. Anyone who asked to learn with him was almost guaranteed a time slot in his packed daily schedule.
How many of us have ever faced the 24/7 difficulties, challenges and debilitating pain that Reb Nosson Zvi lived with, and accepted them silently with such superhuman love for our fellow Jews?
Knowing what he was prepared to go through to bring happiness to his students and their families, even at such cost to himself, is an inspiration to all of us who sometimes find life a little challenging.