A Chossid's Last Days
A Chossid's Last Days | Oro shel yoseph > Commemoration > Yossie, My Best Friend 22

Oro shel yoseph > Commemoration > Yossie, My Best Friend > A Chossid's Last Days

A Chossid's Last Days

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The aggravating cough that started around Purim 5766 was the first sign. The beginning of the last chapter of Yossie's life.
At the beginning it didn't seem serious; when in addition to the coughing, Yossie found it hard to breathe, and friends asked more frequently: "Yossie why are you coughing so much?" and pushed, "Go to the doctor, Yossie!" Yossie went for a C.T. that showed signs of lung disease.
"We did not show the diagnosis to anyone," says his wife Dinah. "Not to the children and not to any close friends. The doctors clarified: this is a disease that at the moment has no cure. It can develop very slowly, but when G-d forbid it begins to accelerate – we recommend a lung transplant. Yossie and I decided, as mentioned, not to say a word to anyone, and to daven that the disease would be halted or slowed down as much as possible."
In part, the prayers were answered. For two and half years Yossie was able to continue his life as usual, the coughing and breathing difficulties a part of him. Even if his friends or associates began to suspect something, no one ever said a word. Now we are told that some felt something was amiss but never imagined something so serious.
After Pesach 5768, there was a real deterioration, and the Raichiks flew to North Carolina, in the United States, to a hospital specializing in lung disease. Two days after the 3rd of Tammuz, recalls Dinah, after the examination, the doctors informed them that they were admitting Yossie, and his name was placed on the waiting list for a lung transplant.
"It was a bolt of lightening, an absolute shock," recollects his wife. "We never thought it was so serious, and everything happened so quickly…we thought we were travelling for some more tests, and suddenly they say 'hospitalization', in addition to the difficult diagnosis. We did not have time to absorb this."
Throughout the traumatic experience, she tells us, her husband focused on other matters entirely. "We sat facing the top professor, a Jew who was very far from Yiddishkeit and while he was explaining the severity of the case, Yossie turned to him and said: 'Here I am, a Jewish Chabad Chossid, on the 12th of Tammuz, trying to fathom why G-d has sent me today, just on the 'Chag HaGeulah', a time when I planned to be by the Rebbe…Apparently," and he focused his green clear eyes on the professor, 'it must be to credit you with the mitzvah of putting on Tefillin. Would you oblige?'
"The doctor was at a loss,"Dinah continues. "Apparently he had never put on Tefillin, not even on his Bar Mitzvah. However he agreed, but on one condition – that he do so behind closed doors, where he would not be observed. So while my very ill husband was in the hospital, he made sure another Jew had this mitzvah."
Dinah says that not long after, another Jewish doctor appeared in their room and asked to put on Tefillin. Two souls awakened in one day, by another Jew who had just found out that his life was in danger. Yossie's priority was definitely not the many pages of medical notes, written in a foreign, threatening-sounding language. His question was, "Why did the Almighty send me here? For what reason?" and he did not rest until he found an answer.
At the same appointment, reports Dinah, we were told that Yossie had another four to six months before he would need a lung transplant. The doctors in Duke Hospital did not realize that the situation was far more critical.
The doctors in Israel thought otherwise. Yossie came back to Israel and returned to his busy schedule. The only difference – the appearance of the oxygen balloon which he was forced to use from time to time. The plan was to return to the hospital in North Carolina after Tishrei (5769), and continue the treatment; the results of the C.T. taken in Israel confirmed that there was no time to wait.
"Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Aronow took the results and travelled with them to North Carolina, where they still insisted that the transplant could wait. The professors in Israel, however, concluded that a lung transplant needed to be done very soon or Yossie's life would be in immediate danger.
"We decided to advance our trip to the hospital in North Carolina, and were given an appointment for Wednesday. We ordered plane tickets for the Thursday before. I must say," admits Dinah, "I very much wanted to board a plane and be at the hospital already. However Yossie and the Almighty apparently, had different plans."
"I have many ends to tie up in Israel," Yossie claimed, "and if we travel on Thursday we will have to wait a week for our appointment." So the trip was delayed to Monday, and Yossie took advantage of this time to work energetically. On that Friday, he was seen standing in the center of Kfar Chabad, speaking with one of his many friends. A photographer passing by caught the moment, without knowing that this would be the last photograph of Yossie. Did the photographer know him? Perhaps. People just loved photographing him, a Jewish Chassidishe person with a radiant expression, sparkling eyes and a delightful smile. A photographer looking for someone photogenic always found Yossie.
 His Last Hitva'adut
Exactly two weeks earlier, Shabbat Parshat Ekev, Yossie had arranged a large Hitva'adut in the Nachum Yitzchok shul in Kfar Chabad. It was not Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh or any other special date, but rather, Rabbi Raichik's invitation that filled the shul to capacity.
During the shiva, Yossie's friend, Rabbi Zalman Ruderman, with whom he davened, wrote an article describing the Hitva'adut, some of which is excerpted below:

On Friday night, Yossie invited each person individually for Shabbat morning, "The first Yahrzeit for my mother is next week, and I would be pleased if you would attend the Hitva'adut tomorrow." Despite his difficulties in breathing and his bad cough, he continued to invite people.
People's admiration and appreciation of Yossie, his shining face and his personal invitations – especially on seeing the efforts he made – drew a positive response and everyone attended. Even those who usually run home immediately after the davening stayed in shul for another hour, and those who normally take longer over their davening, adjusted theirtimetable and joined in.
The gathering was special, especially because its organizer, Yossie, despite his breathing problems, did not stop wishing everyone L'chaim and making sure that everyone drank a L'chaim. He kept everyone mesmerized with stories of his late mother and father.
"Everyone knew and remembers with much admiration my late father, Reb Shmuel Dovid a"h, who was the shadar (emissary) of the Rebbe HaRayatz," he started, "but only few knew how much my mother, Rabbanit Leah, a"h, devoted her entire life to let my father live his life as he lived it. Her dedication – her mesirut nefesh – was no less than his."
For hours he reminisced – about his parents' shidduch when his mother who was a simple Jewess, simple in the pure and dignified meaning of the word, was interested in the shidduch with the person she eventually married. However her own mother wasn't quite as pleased. This is America," she told her daughter. "You need a husband who is a scholar and has a profession, not a yeshiva boy with a long beard and long coat!"
Her daughter responded, "I want a husband who looks like your parents and grandparents in Poland. I am sure they would be very satisfied if I chose a Choson like that."
On Yossie's father's side, there was also a story regarding the shidduch. "Each time a different girl was suggested, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid would present the name to the Rebbe HaRayatz to receive his approval and blessing. The Rebbe said no to each name and the "bochur" who wasn't that young anymore, walked away depressed every time. One day the Rebbe HaRayatz passed a message through his secretary telling him not to worry – soon a girl from a family of Polish Jews would be suggested and that would be his Shidduch, and so it was. Not many days passed, and Miss Leah from the Rapaport family, Yossie's mother, was suggested and the shidduch was on.
"My father spent many years as the emissary of the Rebbe HaRayatz, and then of the Rebbe," Yossie told those present. "For my mother, it was not easy at all, but she never complained, she remained home to educate us. Sometimes my father was away from home for months. He did not call often – to 'save the Rebbe's money'—in his words. If my mother needed to contact him, she did so through the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Chadakov, with whom her husband was in regular contact.
"Once, some time before Yud Shevat, someone asked my mother when her husband would be home, and she answered, 'In the next few days.' When later asked how she knew, she answered, "Easy enough…For Yud Shevat he goes to the Rebbe, and from where do you leave when you go to the Rebbe if not from your home, so obviously he will come home before he travels to the Rebbe."
"Despite all the difficulties, my mother never thought that what she was doing was mesirut nefesh. She lived her unique life with simplicity. When she was filmed for a program on senior Shlichim, and asked how she felt about being the first Shlicha on the West Coast, she did not understand the question. 'I don't know what it means to be a Shlicha, and what the implication of being the 'first Shlicha' is. The Rebbe sent us, so we went."
Those present at the Hitva'adut remember the wonderful story Rabbi Yossie told about his father from Tishrei 5711. The Rebbe instructed him to stay for the first half of the month in 770 where he received special attention from the Rebbe, but for Succot, he returned home.
"On Simchat Torah, my father wanted to fulfill the mitzvah and dance like they danced in 770, but the shul in Los Angeles was conducted American style and after short Hakafot, everyone went home. My father wanted to dance with all his might and pleaded with one of the congregants to stay with him. He refused, yet my father pressured him and in the end the man gave in, but asked for a high price: 'I am prepared to stay on one condition. Promise me a son!'
"My father was in shock and tried to get out of it. 'What do you make of me – a Rebbe, that I give out blessings!?', but the man held his ground" 'You want me to stay and dance? Promise me a son,' and so my father found himself with no option but to promise him a son."
"The man stayed to dance for over an hour, and within that year he and his wife were blessed with a son. When I heard the story directly from this man," added Yossie, "I asked my father, how could you accept the challenge and promise him a son?"
"I remember my father looking at me straight in the eyes and answering, 'If the Almighty commands a Jewish person to dance and the only way is by promising another Jewish person a son, he is helped from Heaven and the blessing is fulfilled.'"
And so the stories continued. Yossie saying L'Chaim, coughing and breathing heavily, but not stopping. "My mother deserves a lot more than this," he answered someone who gently suggests that he stop and rest for a while. More people come to join and he makes sure that they have Kiddush and two loaves for Hamotzi," – he sends his son home for more wine and a box of matzot.
When someone in the crowd suggested that he start the tune for the month of Elul, Yossie answered with a smile, "How about skipping Elul, skipping Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and going straight into Simchat Torah? "Did his heart tell him that the upcoming days of Elul and the month of Tishrei and the Chagim were going to turn into Yamim Noraim for his family and thousands of friends and therefore he wanted to skip them and arrive at days of Simcha?
 We Can't Understand
On Shabbat Kodesh, Parshat Shoftim, Yossie's condition deteriorated further, and on Motzaei Shabbat, the evening before his planned journey, he was taken to Beilinson Hospital. The trip abroad, which was thought, perhaps, to be life-saving, was cancelled. Would his lungs have survived the long airplane trip with its meager supply of oxygen? We will never know the answer.
"On Sunday morning, his condition deteriorated even more, and the doctors wanted to sedate him," relates Rabbi Yitzchak Har Tzvi, one of his closest friends. "I arrived that morning, and he was already using an oxygen mask. He asked me to wash his hands and prepare coffee. Hardly breathing, he requested that I please call his secretary in Kfar Chabad, ask her to open his e-mails, translate the letter that had arrived that morning and send it to someone—he gave the person's name – and to please let him know when this was attended to.
"I thought it was a formal matter that could not be postponed and did as he asked. One and a half hours later, his secretary called that the matter had been taken care of. When I told Yossie, I saw that he was relieved.
"Only at the funeral did I hear the other side of the story, from the person to whom the e-mail was sent," continues Rabbi Har Tzvi. "Apparently this person and his relatives in America are planning on publishing a book together, but he does not know a word of English and the relatives do not know a word of Hebrew. This person approached Yossie and asked a favor, and Yossie agreed to be the translator…the last e-mail arrived that morning, Yossie knew and wanted to make sure that the work was completed. He lay in his bed," he continues emotionally "his hours were numbered, and all that was important to him was to complete the favor that he had begun."
Moments before being sedated, Yossie asked Rabbi Aronow who was there, "Put my Tefillin on me." His eyes closed, but his hands still held the Kuntrass HaAvodah.
Meanwhile, the battle to save the life of Rabbi Raichik was on. It was a very complex matter, technically and procedurally. Rabbi Aronow took this nearly impossible mission on himself and gathered information from medical centers around the world. There was extensive media coverage. The fact that the person whose life was in danger was the director of the Children of Chernobyl project, and one who had given life to so many children, was emphasized in all reports on the topic. The thousands of people who knew Rabbi Raichik all over the world prayed around the clock for his well-being.
During the uncertain days of his hospitalization, Mrs. Raichik's niece sent a Pidyon Nefesh to the Rebbe, appealing for a Refuah Shlemo, for a full recovery for her uncle. She inserted this letter into the Iggeret Kodesh ("Holy Letters of the Rebbe") and to her amazement, in-between the pages that she had randomly chosen, there was an emotional and surprising letter: a letter that the Rebbe sent to Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, Yossie's father, over 50 years ago, when Yossie and his twin brother were a year old. 'I am surprised that since the day he asked about the health of his son and about the doctor's opinion, by telephone via Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Chadakov, I have not heard from him of what is happening there, and that is certainly a sign for the good" and on the margins of the letter, the Rebbe added: "My letter was delayed and meanwhile Rabbi Chadakov has informed me that the surgery has been postponed and every postponement is for the good."
The family were very moved by this and tried to clarify on what occasion this letter had been written—apparently (Rabbi) Shimon, Yossie's twin was facing surgery, which was postponed and then cancelled. "We showed the letter to all the visitors and we all drew strength and encouragement from it during those difficult weeks," Dinah tells us. "We saw the Rebbe's indication of postponing the operation as connected to the postponed transplant and we clung to the holy words, 'All postponements are for the good.'" She concludes with perfect faith, "We do not know G-d's ways and we cannot know why there was a postponement, and what would happen – if. We are commanded to believe that everything is for the best, even if we are absolutely unable to understand."
On the last Motzaei Shabbat of Yossie's life, Professor Kramer spoke on Kol Yisroel radio on the news round-up. He spoke of the efforts that were being made to save his patient's life and of the many in Israel and throughout the world that were anxiously following the health reports and fervently praying for his recovery. "I believe that Rabbi Raichik has approximately 48 hours to live," the Professor said when asked as to the gravity of his patient's situation, "unless something most extraordinary takes place at the last moment."
Less than a day later, on Sunday, 21st Elul 5768 at 7:00 am, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Halevi Raichik returned his pure soul to his Creator.
After his passing, his niece Mushky Raichik, wrote the following poem describing her feelings.
 Where is the face that upon entering a room
Would shine with radiance that chased away all gloom?
Where is the mind that would understand indeed
My personal struggles, my individual need?
 
Where are the eyes that looked and saw
Only good in people, no existence of flaw?
 
Where is the smile that was given to all he would see
That passed on the message you mean something to me?
 
Where is the voice that would constantly say
Compliments and praises to brighten any one's day?
 
Where is the heart unique like no other
That cared for each person like a sister and brother?
 
Where are the hands that were only used
To give more and more but to receive they would refuse?
 
Where and why we do not know
Ad Matai? Till when?
Must our tears continue to flow?
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