Transcript of a hesped for Rabbi Chaim Yoel Feldman, Z'L, written by his daughter, Mrs. Aviva Orlian - read by her son, Shalom Orlian, at Rabbi Feldman’s levayah on 4 Teves, 5779.
During these past 2½ years since my father’s tragic fall and resultant brain injury I did a lot of gazing at the tall, strong and handsome man who gave me life. I gazed at the tall and strong father who enveloped me with love, guidance and Torah values for as long as I can recall… eich naflu giborim?!
I tried to see beyond the tubes, beneath the lack of cognitive skills, beyond the blank stares and instead focus on the man whose entire essence embodied kol haboreach min hakavod, hakavod rodeif acharav. Despite his tall physical stature, his stately and regal demeanor…despite his chochmah, despite his Torah knowledge, despite his pedigree, despite his being sought after for advice and counsel, my father shunned the spotlight. He dismissed compliments with a wave of the hand. He did not look for thank you’s or fanfare when engaging in countless chasadim in the community; when being in leadership positions; when caring for his elderly parents; taking charge and assuming equal responsibility with my mother, A’H in caring for his mother-in-law and for my mother’s elderly Aunt Ida. My father embodied v’hatzneiah leches im Elokecha.
The last 2½ years of my father’s life, to the superficial observer, did not appear to be productive years.
- He could not walk
- He could not care for himself
- He could not move his arms or his legs or his body
- He could not communicate.
These last 2½ years appeared unproductive…
- He could not be engaged in offering a lending a hand as he once did
- He could not listen to people’s difficulties as he once did
- He could not intercede on people’s behalf as he once did
- He could not be engaged in learning and show his hana’ah from that learning as he once did
- He could not be engaged in countless act of chasadim b’seser as he once did
- He could not make emotionally needy people feel chashuv as he once did
- He could not be seen sitting and humming over a piece of Gemarah as he once did
- He could not ease the tension of those going through difficulty by exuding confidence as he once did
- My father could not be the voice of calm and reason at times of panic as he once did
- He could not schmooze or tell a good (and oft repeated) joke to others (particularly his grandchildren) as he once did
- My father could not express his encouragement to others who watched him go through his own difficult periods in his life – with his life’s conviction of gam zu l’tovah as he once did
- He could not get excited about sharing a good vort as he once did
- My father could not demonstrate that he was an ish tzadik v’yashar - honest to the core - as he once did.
- He could not tell over with longing about his younger days in Ponevizh, Chaim Berlin and Ner Yisroel – and the interactions he had with great Torah personalities as he once did
- My father could not demonstrate his emunah by engaging in mitzvos and learning of Torah as he once did
- He could not advocate for the underdog as he once did
- My father could not demonstrate his conviction to preserving other’s welfare even at the expense of his own kavod as he once did
- He could not demonstrate his devotion to his children and grandchildren as he once did
- He could not demonstrate that he was a baal tzedakah as he once did [That he was a giver of matan b’seser he never demonstrated to others anyway, but proof of this was found amongst his things.]
- My father could not show his appreciation of chochmas hagoyim of classical music, literature and history – and use that to gain a deeper appreciation of chochmas haTorah as he once did
- He could not demonstrate his expression of mah rabu ma’asecha Hashem and his love of beautiful landforms as he once did
- He could not exhibit his chochmah and sensitivity when helping so many with their personal problems as he once did
- My father could not reminisce about how when I was in high school he would spend hours studying for Navi tests with me as he once did
- He could not regale us with his beautiful voice and sing on my demand his soulful nigunim that he would use as a ba’al tefilla for Yamim Noraim as he once did.
- My father could not talk with longing about the brilliance, ahavas haTorah, chesed and wit of his late wife, Imi Morasi Bluma Shoshana bas haRav Avraham Aryeh as he once did
For the last 2½ years not much exited my father’s mouth. There were some rare moments when he was able to visually connect with others, some rare instances when he smiled, murmured a few coherent words, or made facial expressions that made us think that he was going to give us some sage advice at any moment. But mostly, he just “existed”. Yet, that existence was not unproductive at all. It was saintly, it was holy – for he was able to demonstrate not in words or action, but by mere “existence”, what the ratzon Hashem was – that he was meant to live, even though it was painful, even though seeing him in distress was more painful to his family than death itself.
To the casual onlooker, to the observer who did not have the benefit of a Torah perspective, these years may have indeed seemed unproductive. To the myopic individual, words such as “What a waste!” may have exited his lips. Indeed, I too was guilty of such sentiments. “How unproductive!” “What’s the point?!” However, my parents’ (A’H) chinuch would invariably override these emotions so that instead of seeing a lack of purpose and productivity, I saw a neshama – a life – a tzelem Elokim who was given 2½ years of precious life to live after his accident. Precious indeed, simply because HKB”H granted him those years.
Unproductive? A waste? What for? – Not at all! As a man who was nursed on a steadfast diet of avodas Hashem by his parents Rav Yosef and Rebbitzin Shaina Golda Feldman, Z’L, as a man who together with his life’s partner, my mother, Imi Morasi Bluma Shoshana bas HaRav Avraham Areyeh (Z’L), my father lived and breathed steadfast emunah, steadfast acceptance of any gzar din that came their way and any nisayon they faced; a man who together with my mother maintained a simchas hachaim despite personal hardships and disappointments; this man, this ish gibor chayil in every sense of the words, would be the first to correct those that felt that these last 2½ years were unproductive or not worth anything at all. UVACHARTA BA’CHAIM! He would be the first to chastise such thoughts and say that chas v’shalom we should use a secular lens to determine productivity. We use only a Torah perspective. He lived his life doing the ratzon Hashem – and yes – even during these last years – in sickness and lack of faculties, my father demonstrated ratzon Hashem by just “existing”.
I want to thank all who have helped us get through this trying ordeal. The shock that was experienced upon hearing the news of my father’s fall and subsequent severe brain injury 2½ years ago in Eretz Yisrael is hard describe. All those relatives and friends in Israel, Baltimore and in Monsey who came to our aid offering so much in way of support, coordination, referrals, meals and a listening ear will be forever appreciated. Time does not allow me to mention everyone by name. I do want to particularly thank my two children, Yosef and Shaina, who despite their young age (Shaina was in seminary and Yosef was (and still is) in Yeshiva in Israel at the time), stepped up to the plate until (and indeed for weeks thereafter) I was able to arrive in Israel 48 hours after his fall. It was painful for them to witness from up close the transition of my father from a vibrant and energetic Zaidy to one who was completely incapacitated. Despite their young age and lack of life experience, they displayed incredible gevurah and selflessness, being thrust into the world of emergency rooms, neurosurgeons and medical jargon in a foreign environment. Shaina shed copious amount of tears as she read through sefer Tehillim a few times in those first two days. My son Yosef was the last one to have a conversation with his Zaidy, much of which encompassed how proud he was of his choice to continue learning and settling in EY after he got married. What a tremendous zechus!
I want to note my hakaras hatov to my dear uncles, Uncle Manny (HaRav Menachem Feldman, sh”lita) and Dod Aharaon (HaRav Aharon Feldman, sh”lita). Your and your children’s support, encouragement, hadracha, constant phone calls and visits despite the difficulties of travel and distance is a role model for brotherly love. Indeed, my father so looked up to, and was so extremely proud of, his two older brothers. Most times, when referring to either of his brothers, it was not “Uncle Manny” …. or “Uncle Aharon”; rather, it was “My brother, Manny…”; “My brother, Aharon…” My father was without a doubt full of pride to regard you both as his ‘brothers’.
I want to express my hakaras hatov to my brothers and sisters-in-law for their devotion and attending to my father’s every need. To my father’s grandchildren, (my children and nieces and nephews) and of note, my husband, Moshe – your constant visits, your singing, your one-sided conversations – and most of all, your Tefillos and tears on behalf of your Zaidy/father-in-law is the biggest gift you could have given him.
It is difficult to watch anyone suffer, particularly someone of such stature and grace – particularly someone who is so dear to us. But in the words of Dovid HaMelech – od’cha ki anisani vatehi li lishua –I thank Hashem despite of (or because of) that affliction, because in all probability that very affliction provided a salvation – we hope it provided my father with a direct entrance into Gan Eden.
It is difficult to lose yet another piece of oneself; but – ki avi v’imi azavuni va’Hashem ya’asfeini. May Avi Mori HaRav Chaim Yoel ben haRav Yosef continue doing his chasadim in shamayim and be a meilitz Yosher for all of Klal Yisrael.