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Says who?

by Ozer Bergman

In memory of Y”M ben A”Y

A good friend of mine was niftar (died) last week. It was sort of sudden and unexpected, even though he was 65 years old (he didn’t look it) and even though he had cancer.

Well, besides that I miss him and will miss him—we were chavrusas (study partners) for a long time and on weekday mornings we often had a post-davening (prayer) shmooze—I’m a little annoyed. Why? Well, not because I’m going to miss him. That’s not his fault. But what’s bothered me is I think he could’ve tried harder to stay alive.

The Shabbos after he was niftar, I’m on my way to shul and I pass a Satmar friend. He stops me and asks, “What happened to your buddy?” I shrug and answer, “He had cancer.” Pretty self-explanatory, right? Says it all. So the Satmar guy looks up at me—he’s about 5’6” and I’m 6’5”—and in typical Jewish fashion shoots back:

“If someone has cancer, he has to die?!”

And that caught my feeling. Rebbe Nachman teaches again and again: Don’t give up! Never despair! A diagnosis is not a death sentence. It’s certainly a challenge. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hear a doctor telling me such a diagnosis or how I would react. I saw my dear buddy move more slowly, heard him tell of how weak he felt, and how cold. I don’t judge him, but still I think, “If only he had tried.”

So I learned a bit more about how and when to apply Rebbe Nachman’s teaching, that the Rebbe tells us we must be brave even in the face of death. “Even if a sword lies on your neck, don’t hold back from [praying for] mercy” (Berakhot 10a). Easier said than done. But that’s a challenge we may face.

It takes courage to live.

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