Benjy Rickman
Everyone can be inspired

Words from the heart: Part 2

Words from the heart part 2

Mother in laws, so often the butt of a joke or the {unjust} cause of a complaint in a marriage. Whilst chatting with my own mother in law last week (never joked or complained about), I was asked every so politely to continue telling the world about our son Naftoli Meir Z’’L.  A loving mother in law and grandmother totally broken over the death of a treasured grandson.  She spoke to me of the pride she had after reading the first letter. As a good son in law I have penned a second letter.

Dear Naftoli,

In our continual struggle for authenticity in every area of our lives we often come up short.  Whether it’s our relationship with Hashem or human interaction. Some people aren’t bothered. If they look the part and people assume they are the part, then they are happy with that state of affairs. They settle for fake goods; keeping up appearances at the cost of being inauthentic. It is difficult to imagine why you would wish to give a false impression for the fleeting approval of society. We might aspire to be better versions of ourselves but surely the new version must express the inner you and not someone else’s life. I learnt this lesson when I was about your age. It was a Shabbos morning and I was davening musaf. As teenagers, we often mimic the behaviour of role models, Rabbis, Rebbes or older bochrim  and that’s what I must have been doing albeit subconsciously. My body in full shockle arms flying around, caught the attention of a little kid who stood in front of me and copied my every action. What I thought was an act of piety or devotion was being mocked by a little kid. I recall thinking maybe Hashem is laughing at me too, the silly teenager flapping like a bird, punching the air like a boxer and swaying quicker than a wind turbine. Thankfully, as we mature we become more refined versions of ourselves. Of course not everyone succeeds in maturing but that’s a different letter.

You however were guided by the characteristic of truth, which expressed itself in all areas of your life.  You didn’t do fake, you were genuine and your family, friends and teachers all loved you for it.  You excelled in being a true and loyal friend. In the age of connectivity, we have more connections and friends than our ancestors could possibly imagine. We can communicate with multiple people all over the world in an instant. At the same time, people are more lonely and isolated. We crave genuine companionship or as Tzadikim explain we need Chaveirim Makshivim, friends who will listen and be attentive to each other.

Your close friend wrote in a message after the shiva that you were “ such a kind gentle and genuine person and I’m struggling to get over it because there is no one like him in the universe he would do things for me that I probably wouldn’t have done for him had the tables been the other way round.”

This friend described the hours you spent together working on homework and also having fun. He was particularly good at a game and would often beat you. However, at a certain time, you got better and in fact, you started to beat him. Bragging rights were yours, but in keeping with your inner values, you kept quiet, never sharing your victories. How your friends miss you and cherish the memories and the time they had with you. You presented them with something genuine and authentic.

The years spent at school are for some students very traumatic. The academic demands, the social struggles, their own growing up process and wanting to be normal can at times be overwhelming.  Add to the mix the stress of moving school midway through a year. The new pupil needs to learn a new school system but also must learn how to fit in with defined social groups that are already established.  This happened to a friend of yours. But he was lucky that he had you in his life. You were paired as study partners for Chumash. You learnt so well together and both of you made progress. The real impact which of course you hid from us was that you transformed his life. He grew and settled and found happiness. We didn’t know this story till after you left the world. You kept quiet, never wanting to brag. We know that Avraham transformed the lives of the people he encountered “V’et hanefesh asher asu b’Charan”. We assume that transforming lives is something that great people do. You showed us that when you want real genuine friendship and when you live authentically then you have the potential to impact the lives of those around you in the most incredible way. Please don’t think me bias, let me share with you the closing lines of your friends’ letter. “I have Naftoli z’’l  to thank for how I am today. He has changed my life perpetually. I will always remember him as the kind friend who did the job of a loving, caring psychologist for free with love. Thank you.”

Your care and concern for those around you was so much a part of you that hours before you left this world you were still able to be true to yourself. You were in pain and struggling to breathe. The doctors wanted to x-ray your lungs, but that meant that the boy next to you on the ward would need to move out the room.  You didn’t stop apologising for causing him temporary discomfort. We tried to calm your mind and remind you that you mattered too and had the right to get medical treatment. Yet you persisted in your inimitable way.  My job title is a teacher, but I think at times you were our teacher, a very good one too!

Finally for now, there are events in life that bring you to greater clarity concerning the fundamentals of Judaism. It’s easy to say we want Mashiach without realising what it is that we are asking for. There is so much pain both national and individual. We yearn for better times.  What image do you have in your mind when you think of Mashiach? Will it be determined by your community and the Rabbis or leaders you admire? I really don’t know. But I do know what his eyes will like.

I am not talking about their colour or if he will wear glasses. The eyes of the Mashiach will see us for who we are and not for what we look like superficially.  They are eyes that love. When we are taught that eyes are the window of the soul, it means the soul of the person who is doing the looking.  What you see is a reflection of who you are. What soul you have is identified by how you use your eyes.  Naftoli Z’’L you had the eyes of the Mashiach.  You loved and cared for everyone you saw. Perhaps if we all learn to have the eyes of Mashiach, we will merit to see him right now!

We hope and daven that Hashem gives all of us the eyes to see Hashem’s return to Zion, with open eyes, eyes of love, eyes of the Mashiach.

For now, Naftoli, be an advocate for our family and for the entire Jewish world, we need to get back to who we really are and where we ought to be.

With Love


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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