Benjy Rickman
Everyone can be inspired

Words from my heart – Part 1

My family is about to mark the first yahrzeit for our dear son, Naftoli Meir Z’’L. Unlike the death of a parent which every child should experience or the death of a partner which 50% should experience, the death of child is not expected. Time doesn’t make it easier. You live with a constant pain and every moment, even happy ones are filtered through the pain and emptiness of the loss. Our son, was tall and strong. He took ill with no warning. After a very long two months in hospital, Naftoli’s pure neshomo went back to Hashem at the tender age of 15, exactly a month before his birthday. The Shloshim coincided with his birthday.

The world Naftoli lived in, is almost unrecognisable from the one we live in today. The word pandemic was found in the dictionary not on the lips of everyone you meet. Masks were worn on Purim not by those doing a weekly shop. The idea of shuls being shut, was something our most brutal enemies did to us. There are so many things I wish I could share with him, as well as sharing with you the things he did  which fill us with pride. In this article and possibly future ones too, I am going to write him a letter.

Dearest Naftoli,

It is almost unthinkable that a year has passed since you left this world. Everything has changed, you would not recognise the world we live in. There are so many things I want to tell you, as well as telling others about you.  One of the qualities that really stood out to those who knew you was your midda of yashrus- truth, honesty personal integrity.  It is a universal truism that everyone has struggles, yet not all people are ready to admit or identify with their struggles. For some it is about a potential threat to a shidduch or their standing in the community. They seem to forget that Chazal tell us that Hashem decides shidduchim whilst the baby is in the womb and that Hashem runs the world.  You owned your challenge. You were so intelligent, insightful and deep. At the same time you were dyslexic and you were not ashamed or embarrassed to let people know. You did not use it as an excuse to avoid your academic responsibilities or to claim special treatment. You owned it. You understood that Hashem gave this to you and to think differently would be a denial of Hashem. Your friends loved you and appreciated your candour and integrity. They knew that a written or reading task would be very challenging for you. When they bragged about completing an essay in thirty minutes or less, you kept quiet accepting that it took you many hours to do the same task. Your teachers knew this too and appreciated your sincerity and application. They saw in you, qualities that are written about in biographies of our greatest personalities. How did you have the lofty qualities that so many adults have not learnt? How did you face a world that is set up to make you fail? Our schools work for round pegs in round holes, when a square peg presents itself our schools don’t really cope. So many young people fall through the cracks in our system, leaving the path of Torah and mitzvos because they are not able to function. You stayed strong, applying yourself in Kodesh and Chol and growing in both. What’s true of young people is often true of the adult world.  We hide, thinking our neighbours matter more than our relationship with Hashem or our personal integrity. In this area you showed others what to do. Perhaps as your father I can go further. The Gemoro references different people who overcame struggles and achieved greatness. For example, Hillel who was so poor, yet found a way to learn Torah. The Gemoroh uses Hillel to obligate all people to learn despite poverty. You too, our dear Naftoli obligate all of us to accept the challenges that Hashem give us, to own them and be successful.

A corollary of my first point was your hasmoda, diligence.  Driven by yashrus to do what was right even if not socially acceptable. How people are struggling with this today? It is shocking! You hear it in so many corners, we can get away with it therefore it must be ok, the police wont know, we wont get fined! Oh Naftoli, how you would cringe if you knew what is happening. I know we are supposed to be melamed zechus on people and you were quick to do so, but at times it is really difficult. In school, teenage peer pressure didn’t get the better of you. You diligently completed tasks because you knew you had to even if others tried to avoid completing them. Your teachers praised you for your effort even if the result wasn’t always as high as you wanted. How we sighed when you felt so low when results didn’t always go the way you wanted. But you actually came top of all exams by answering the one question that Reb Zushe asked many years ago. We don’t need to live someone else’s life,  we must be ourselves. You excelled in being beautifully you. How people loved you for it!

Finally, my beautiful son, I miss the time we spent together. Like Avrohom and Yitzchok who “walked together” you and I walked together. I called you my body guard even when you were little and were still shorter than me. After you grew so tall and strong post bar mitzva it was obvious that you could watch over me. My plea to parents is that you forge strong parent child relationships. We had that zechus for almost sixteen years. Today so many parents relegate child rearing to their child’s friends.  Rather than taking values from their families, children take their cues from friends and classmates. Family cohesion is undermined which interferes with healthy development.  Dr Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté wrote “Hold on to your Kids”, it is a powerful and worthwhile read. I urge people to read it and more important to learn from it.  I daven that all parents should have the privilege of walking together with their children, strengthening the bonds of love and you enjoying the zechus that Hashem has given you.

That is all for now. Be’ezras Hashem I will write again.


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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