Naftali ben Ezra Avraham ז״ל

15 Iyar, תשפ״ד

I keep forgetting and remembering.

Yesterday, my sweet nephew, Naftali Bortz (aged 7), was niftar in Yerushalyim, after a 3 week stay in the Shaarei Tzedek paediatric ICU.

After Pesach he contracted a severe and rare form of encephalitis, and what felt like overnight, he was on life-support, hanging on to life by a thread.

Hundreds of dear and caring family members and friends started saying the words of Tehillim, the composed verses of Dovid HaMelech laden with unimaginable secrets, full of emotion, longing, pain and hope.

Though so physically far, our hearts and minds were one with the suffering family of ever closer members.

The Yerushalayim area is stunned and mourning the loss of this little boy, the oldest boy in the family (two little brothers Zalmon and Velvel, and four sisters bH Sara Esther, Rivka, Devorah, and just born little Miriam).

Why?  We don’t ask why.  But in Hebrew, we can ask לְמָה (Le’mah)?  Though we can’t comprehend Hashem’s ways, we can ponder – to what end – לְמָה – could this potentially bring us to?  Though we can never understand Hashem, on this underside of the tapestry, behind the pargod [2], how do we begin to relate to this suffering, the unbearable pain for my brother and sister-in-law of losing their child, my parents a grand-child, my grandparents a great-grandchild, my children their cousin.

During the weeks while Naftali was in hospital, I started preparing the next chapter in the Rise! Series (Rise! II).  It led me into the book of Iyov, which strangely enough, felt comforting.  Sages differ whether Iyov really existed, or when he lived.  The whole book, one of Tanach’s twenty four, is shrouded in mystery.   But the theme of the sefer – why does the tzaddik suffer (while the wicked prosper), felt true.

My brother is a tzaddik.  I hope he doesn’t read this as he will be embarrassed.  But he probably won’t because he has chosen to opt out of the incessant demands technology makes on our attention via social media or personal messaging.  He is completely focused on his avoda –  his learning, his wife and kids, his davening; and is one of the few people I know who still knows how to pick up a phone and call someone to see how they are doing.

But that is not the only thing he has opted out of.  From his teen years, despite other opportunities to pursue the finer things in life (read:  materialism) – he chose to keep things simple.  His shoes were always “still fine”, and he, together with his wife Shana, only wanted one thing:  a life of Torah. 

My father, who has been with them the past couple of weeks, is seeing the astonishing response in the Ramat Eshkol/ Sandedria area to the family’s loss.  Something my husband, R’ Ari Taback often says about people that Heaven selects for the one in a million kinds of loss and grief – it’s the special ones. [3]

So, how do we begin to feel comfort for this loss?  A 7-year-old, free from sin, with his whole life apparently still ahead of him, suddenly stopped short, leaving his 3 older and 3 younger siblings and grieving parents, as it feels… overnight. [4]

I keep on forgetting… and remembering.

Yesterday, I called my grandmother.  She didn’t even say hello when she she picked up the line.  “Tamar?  Is… it… true?”

And here we are, so far away…

When I woke up this morning that’s all that filled my mind.  Naftali.  Is it true?

So, why am I writing this blogpost?

Because it’s healthy to speak.  This week it is a mitzvah to speak.  Or to be silent.

There is nothing to say.

But still, there are thoughts.

I pray that these thought help others who are still reeling from this loss.

(Ultimately, (sadly), it is through loss, or threat, or war that we unite, forgive each other’s rough edges, and choose to see the good.  There is so (so) much good to behold.)

Naftali’s soul departed on the first day of the week of Hod in the Sefiras Ha’omer.

Hod is about the mystical attribute of acceptance – and it’s corollary of silence – וידם אהרן.

The whole week before, he clung to life – my Dad relating updates to the family of his faltering heart.

But it was on Pesach Sheini, a holy day, as the energy of Pesach reverberates again, the first day of the 5th week of the Omer, that he passed away. [5]

So too, it is the energy of hod – of acceptance, despite our complete lack of understanding.

Then, there was the recitation of the Akeida.

My sister asked us if we could help say the Akeida 792 times.  Why that number? She didn’t know – she heard it was a segulah. [6] But we started (in addition to the books of Tehillim that were being recited around the clock the world over.  Our gratitude to those who contributed to these tefilos is profound.)

It was intense to say the Akeida.

וַיֹּ֡אמֶר קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֙בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק וְלֶךְ־לְךָ֔ אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּ֑ה וְהַעֲלֵ֤הוּ שָׁם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ה עַ֚ל אַחַ֣ד הֶֽהָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ׃

“Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you…”

Yes, this felt like an akeida.  My brother, Ezra was being asked (of course not in a way that he was given any other option, and of course he wanted to hold onto him at every cost), to release his son.

We were davening…. And davening…

And yet, no prayer went unanswered.  Every prayer was heard, we know, and cherished by Hashem.

This leads me to his name.

Naftali. (Rafael was only added on three weeks ago).

The name Naftali was originally given by Rachel to the 6th son of Yaakov (one of the shevatim born from her handmaid, Bilhah.).

Rashi explains this beautiful name with several references and allusions that portray the essence of the name.

Firstly, it is related to the word פתיל – a wick that is twisted, or closely bound (so it is prepared to catch the light). It is also related to the word פתלתול which means to be persistent and “wrestle”, against the obstacles of life.

Unkelos translate the word as תפילה – prayer as in; נפתלתי – prayers that were pleasing to G-d, and were accepted.

And finally, the Midrash connects the name to the word נפת, the sweet drippings of ripe fruit, an allusion to the teachings of Torah that will be found in the portion of Naftali. [7]

All these meanings are striking a chord in me, though we grasp to find comfort,  joining with the grief of my brother and sister-in-law, parents and extended family, and all of Klal Yisroel.

Which leads me to my final point.  We have no way of knowing… and in no way is this a consolation, nor does it eliminate the searing pain of loss, nor do we have any faintest idea of Hashem’s ways.

We pray that perhaps amid all this war and suffering of the Jewish people since Oct 7 with ripple effects of magnitude we can’t comprehend, as the Shechina sheds a tear together with those that are feeling pain and loss of this precious child, that the light that is generated by the caring, the Emunah and the Tefillos that accompanied the loss of Naftali stand as a meilitz (advocate) for the entire nation and bring the days of Mashiach closer, when we will be united with our loved ones in techiyas hameisim , and the whole world will be filled with what Naftali’s name stood for:  connection and knowledge of Hashem that fills the world like the oceans fill their seabeds.

Post script

No amount of “spiritualising” will take away the pain.  The only way out is through.  May Hashem comfort the aveilim and may we share in the ultimate simcha of the coming of mashiach soon in our days.

~ ~ ~

[1] Heard from Chevi Hochstadter, wife of Dovi Hochstadter z”l

[2] the division between the affairs of our world and the goings-on of Shamayim

[3] My husband lost his mother and two sisters suddenly in an accident before we were married.  His mother, Chaya Esther (Adele) Taback a’h was legendary in the South African community as a woman who took a stand for empowering Jewish women in childbirth and breastfeeding with an incredible love of Hashem and Torah.

[4] though his heart kept beating, al pi derech hateva (according to nature), a recovery by medical standards would have been a Nes.  היפלא מד׳ דבר. – is a miracle beyond Hashem?  We continued to daven… had things improved, the doctors would have just said;  “incredible.  But sure, its possible…”.

[5] It was also the yahrtzeit of ר’ מאיר בעל הנס, R’ Meir Ba’al haNes.

[6] I since discovered that עקדת יצחק = 792 in numerical value (Gematria).

[7] Noted as the area of Tiveria, where R’ Meir Ba’al HaNes is buried.  It is interesting to observe that though we were all davening for a “Nes” (a miracle), according to the Ramban, the word “נס” also has another meaning:  a banner.  Perhaps Naftali’s petirah is a banner that is proclaiming the Kiddush Hashem that my brother and his family live with.