A baby’s whimpering slices through the crowd, soon followed by another baby’s cries. The cries of the older children compete with the noise. Their father stands beside the eight-day-old twins, who look confused, and he declares, “Shechechiyanu, v’kiyemanu, v’higiyanu l’zman hazeh.”
But, the joy is bittersweet. R. Dovid had healthy twin boys, yet he was suspended between life and death, his body eaten away by chemotherapy. The mohel pronounced, “The father should rejoice with his offspring,” while everyone couldn’t help but wonder just how short-lived that might be—and who will take care of them afterwards?
The twins lay in their stroller, dressed in white, sucking on their wine-drenched pacifiers. The rest of the family looked at them and patted their soft cheeks. They wondered, “Who will look after you? Will you remember your father?”
Filled with Faith
A father of 13 walked towards the hospital exit. He clutched a bundle of papers in his hand and his face was glowing with a sense of serenity. “Hashem is with me, I shall fear no evil,” he reassured himself. He went home with the frightful results from his latest tests. The treatments that had so drained his energy and caused him so much pain had made no improvement.
Yet R. Dovid never faltered in his faith. His doctor was amazed, as he “never saw a patient like this before.” R. Dovid was a true warrior for Hashem; he did whatever Hashem wanted him to do, exactly when he was supposed to do it.
Visitors came and asked how he was doing. R. Dovid smiled back and answered, “Baruch Hashem, everything’s fine, everything will be all right.”
This was his attitude about everything. Everything was all right, even though his family of 13 children was cramped into a tiny three-room apartment. For him, everything was always good, and his whole family felt it.
But now the family is orphaned. 13 children grew up with the boundless love from R. Dovid and had him as a role model for total avodas Hashem and peace of mind under all circumstances. But now he’s gone and they are instead filled with tears and anguish. They suddenly see, for the first time, how poor-off they truly are.
Throughout his illness, Rav Dovid never stopped his avodas Hashem; he acted as if his sickness was just a distant theory—a diagnosis written on paper. While most people were still sleeping, he woke up for the early minyan, learned a while afterwards, and went to work to support his family. In the evening he learned as well. He made time in the middle of all this to learn with his children, too.
And he also made time in his day for another important cause—saving lives. He was a long-time volunteer paramedic for Hatzalah. Night or day, summer or winter, Shabbos or weekday—he was there to help. He not only provided first aid, he also stayed afterwards until the family felt reassured.
Suddenly he’s the one who needs help. He’s the one’s who’s steeped in sickness, traveling from one hospital to another. But no one is there to reassure his family.
Chemotherapy usually leaves a person weak, wanting to do nothing but lie down and rest. R. Dovid was different; he laughed at it, and kept on serving Hashem with all his strength.
At home, the newborn twins were learning how to smile, how to lift up their heads, how to roll over, and their first teeth started coming in. R. Dovid hardly got to know them. His 13th and 14th children have no memories of their father.
A month before his passing, R. Dovid became a grandfather. His oldest daughter, the only one he was zocheh to marry off, had a baby boy. At the bris, everyone cried for the young grandfather, only 44 years old, whose own days were numbered.
Shabbos, not a day for sadness
Since the bris, Rav Dovid rapidly deteriorated. He felt the end was near, and he began to prepare for it with the same faith that was so characteristic of him until now. He always expected the unexpected; he was always content with whatever Hashem had in store for him.
On Friday night all his children were home—from the little twins to his oldest boys in yeshiva, and everyone in-between; all 13 of them. They sat at his side, all wanting to spend just a few more moments with their father. He put his hands on their heads and blessed each one of them, “Yivarechecha Hashem v’yishmarecha.” Everyone was in tears.
All the children came home for Shabbos, knowing they might be orphans before the day was over. How could they possibly go to shul? What goes through their mind when one of their brothers has to make kiddush instead of their father?
At night, R. Dovid sang zemiros with his children. In the morning, he said Shema with his wife and children at his side. He put his hand over his eyes and said, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!”
And then he fell asleep.
Motzei Shabbos, they gathered a minyan together, and his soul departed.
Life and death
13 orphans tore their garments. They walked blindly after their father’s casket crying, “Yisgadal v’yiskadash.”
The cold Jerusalem air chilled their bones. The sky was a mournful grey, snow was piled up on the sides of the road, and in the middle of everything, 13 children were accompanying their father to his final resting place. The neighbors offered support to the new widow, but how can you console a mother of 13 who has no idea how they’ll survive.
As much as you try, there’s no way you can imagine. You should never know. Don’t think of the years ahead; just think of each moment without a father. Another day, another week, another month—with no idea how they’ll get through it.
A widow with 13 orphans, there’s no way we can comprehend her struggle. Yesterday her husband supported them, and she was completely devoted to the children. But now she needs to wake with new resolve and deal with a shattered world. How much does it cost to raise 13 children—to feed them, to clothe them, to keep a roof over their heads? How can she do it alone? Just think how much help they need, just to survive!
We should never know such difficulties. Let us always be the ones who can help, and let us keep on giving. Even if we don’t really understand, we should know that this is a critical moment for this widow and her 13 orphan children, and our donations are crucial.