Benjy Rickman
Benjy Rickman
Everyone can be inspired

In Memory of our dear son Naftoli Z”L

Dear Naftoli Z’’L

Two years have passed since your pure sweet neshomo returned to Hashem. You will remain forever 15 years and 11 months exactly.  You gave us so much joy and nachas, perhaps at times we didn’t realise just how much you had to offer.  But let me tell you, that you continue to give us nachas. Chazal tell us that “Tzaddikim, in their death, are called alive” suggesting that the impact they had when alive continues after they have left the physical. You too, continue to inspire those who knew you which gives us tremendous nachas. Let me share a message I received from a former classmate of yours.

“I thought I’d share this with you, that Naftoli is helping me get through the start of yeshiva. It’s quite intense here with the learning and I’ve struggled with both the learning and the early starts. But I see Naftoli who when in school persevered with his learning no matter what troubles were thrown in his direction, and seeing that he got through it, it is pushing me to live up to him. I’m learning in Yeshiva with Naftoli next to me.”

We can’t understand why you had to leave us. You are missed more than words can ever express but the impact you had lives on. We never had the zechus to send you to Yeshiva, to see you grow in Gemoro and generally in learning. I couldn’t dance next to you on Simchas Torah , but Hashem organised that your friends were next to me. Maybe you were there too standing between us. In some sense you are there, next to your friends, inspiring and encouraging them. We are proud of you, real nachas indeed.

A few weeks ago, Mummy and I had to return to that place, where we said goodbye to you. We never wanted to return to the hospital but Hashem has plans and one of your brothers needed to see a doctor at the Manchester Children’s Hospital. It was so painful walking back into a building that we know so well. Having spent just over two months there with you, we know every corridor of that building. We decided to go together. Whilst sitting in the waiting area, I noticed one of the staff who had been there with you. I walked outside and approached her. Lowering my mask ever so slightly I asked if she remembered me and my son, Naftoli. Her response was a huge smile as she recalled you and your beautiful middos.

We never got to thank her at the time and I felt strongly that this was now my chance. She spoke so passionately about you and she too misses you. I walked back with tears streaming down my face. These tears were a mixture of pride and pain. You touched the lives of an entire hospital. When a random  staff member heard me say your name, he too said that he knew you. I don’t remember meeting this man before, but he knew you. I received a message from one of the Doctors, he told me “ To be very honest with you, I have not actually met a patient who was so well known amongst so many different members of staff on so many wards- Naftoli  touched so many people in the hospital.” Again the nachas, fused with our pain and pride was there. In life you ran away from the centre stage, kovod and showing off where an anathema to you. A Chazal teach us, “if you run away from the fake kovod, for feeling superior to others, then respect and honour that you deserve will follow you.”

Both your friends and the staff in the hospital haven’t remembered the design of your clothes, or shoes or accessories you might have worn. They were not interested in where you went on holiday or the lavishness of your simchas, what school or shul you went to. They understood something purer more genuine in the life you lived and the essence of your sweet neshomo.

Chazal teach us in Pireki Ovos ““Receive every person with a smiling face,” (1:15) and it struck me that there is deep wisdom in smiling. To really smile at someone you must look them in the face. Doing so helps you see them as a fellow human being, someone who is like yourself, with their own thoughts, feelings and reactions. By smiling at someone you create a connection at a very human level which can span deep divides. One smile can heal a lot of hurt. In our highly fractured all or nothing culture, there is great power in smiling and communicating that message. You had this gift and used it to shatter the barriers that exist within our society.

The ways of Hashem are hidden from us. We have experienced this  every day for two years now. We don’t know why you were with us for such a short amount of time. But what you lacked in years you made up for in impact.

Allow me to attempt to make some sense of when you left us. You went on your new journey in the week of Parashas Lech-Lecho. Much like Avrohom Ovinu you went to a new land that Hashem showed you. In the Sedra, Hashem blessed Avrohom “I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing.”

The Seforno explains the posuk as “a true blessing by Hashem is when Hashem rejoices in our deeds and actions. You are a child of Avrohom, as Rebbi teaches us in Ovos: “which is the straight path that a person should choose for himself? One which is an honour to the person adopting it, and [on account of which] honour accrues to him from others.” The Tosfos Yom Tov understand this phrase as “discussing something optional and giving good advice, not explaining what the halacha obligates one to do.” You did all the right things even during the difficult weeks in hospital. Where you excelled was going beyond the ordinary, reaching out and inspiring others, leaving an impact on so many, without ever knowing you were doing it.

Finally, the Daas Zekeinim understand the posuk as “This is not so much to be understood as a blessing itself, but as a command to become the source of blessings. Wherever his journeys would take him, he was to make it his concern to spread the knowledge about his Creator and to bless the person with whom he came into contact.” By seeing everyone you came in contact with as being created B’Tzelem Elokim, in the Image of Hashem you brought Hashem closer to the world.

The stories people share with us about you continue to give us nachas and through streaming tears we continue to be so proud of what you achieved in a limited time. You enhanced the lives of so many, a true child of Avrohom Ovinu. So please do your Abba one favour. Go and find Avrohom Ovinu and tell him you followed his ways and together go beg Hashem to end the hester panim, the golus, the strife and divisions that separate people. Ask Hashem to make the month of Mar Cheshvan, which is so bitter for us into Ram Cheshvan an elevated holy month, full of the blessings of Hashem for us and the entire world.

With endless love and pride

Abba

About the Author
Benjy Rickman is an experienced educator and religious broadcaster. Currently he is Head of Religious Studies at King David High School in Manchester, assistant Rabbi and Baal Tefila at Holy Law Shul and Director of Think Tuition Manchester. Benjy launched an interfaith portfolio opening lines of communication between Abrahamic faith schools. He was praised by OFTSED School inspectors for his lead role in incorporating the teaching of British Values within a religious framework. He is an exceptional communicator of ideas. He is an expert educator and educational consultant.
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