A neighbor of mine passed away last week, a neighbor in shul, at the Breslov shtibel I daven at on Shabbos. I had the privilege of sitting next to him for over the last 20 years. When I found out, I went home and cried. If only I would’ve sat next to him for another 10 years, I would have learned how to open a siddur.
I won’t tell you his name because he wouldn’t want me to, but I will call him “Reb” because I don’t have it in me to not. He was born in Europe. When the gates to Uman opened 20 years ago so that it was again possible to be there for Rosh HaShanah, he went. And he went every year just as he had gone to Uman for Rosh HaShanah BEFORE World War II. And he went without fanfare, with simple ordinariness that Rebbe Nachman z”l asked of us.
Whatever time davening was to start, my neighbor was there a half hour earlier. That wasn’t early—that was on time. During the week he always davened with the sunrise minyan near his home. Whenever I saw him on the bus to or from the Kosel (he went everyday), or anywhere else, he was saying Tehillim.
He knew how to kibbitz. He didn’t flatter anyone. I learned a lot from him. I learned how to be a better Breslover. And for the sake of his neshamah—and mine—I’ve undertaken to come to shul early. May his memory be for a blessing.