By Tzvi Shuchat
Chof Gimmel Menachem Av marks 12 years since the tragic and untimely passing of Reb Shmuel Tanchum Shuchat OBM, at the young age of 46 after battling a terrible illness, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Reb Shmuel is remembered by family and friends as cheerful and infectiously happy. “His good morning and smile brightened anyone that crossed his path,” wrote a family member, who added, “his beautiful, sweet voice that he was blessed with was not only used for himself, but also for the sick and to enlighten a Simcha that was in need.”
19 years ago Reb Shmuel started a Minyan in the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical center, which he poured his life into, and the Minyan continues to this day. This was but one small act of his selflessness which expanded in his Bikur Cholim [visiting the sick] and providing aid to the needy.
From an early age, I learned the importance of discipline from my father. I watched my father, in all aspects of his life, walk on the proper Derech. Not only did he walk a straight path, never tempted to walk astray, but he made sure that we, his family, followed suit. The values that he instilled in us remain with us-the two overwhelmingly most important were Emunah in Hashem and Chesed, giving to others.
My father lived his life for his wife children and family, for Klal Yisroel and for every other living human being that Hashem created. As a Kiddush Hashem, one of the caregivers at the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, where my father Davened every Shabbos, put it best, while placing a tiny rock on my father’s Matzeva, he declared that this rock is symbolic of my father’s devotion to even the littlest person.
I chose to talk about Chesed first, since my father touched so many people throughout the years. His beautiful way warmed so many of us who had the good fortune of being in his presence. My father’s devotion to the sick people in the hospitals was marked by his regular visits to see them and sing for them. He especially concentrated his efforts on consoling those patients who were suffering from cancer or who were on life support machines and unfortunately had no family of their own to give them Koach.
He was there when no one else was, he gave them the feeling that there was someone left who cared; his singing strengthed them, bringing tears to their eyes. That strength is what helped them fight that extra day. In addition, he was responsible for organizing the weekly Shabbos Minyanim for all the patients at Kingsbrook who were now able to enjoy full Shabbos services. He was also a patient advocate constantly fighting for their rights-constantly fighting for better care and treatment with more dignity.
What was remarkable about my father was that he found the time to carry out all of this Chesed. He would come home from a long day’s work, tired and worn down. After eating a brief meal, he would gather the reserve amount of energy that he didn’t have and walk to the hospital. He never complained he was tired even though to all of us-he clearly was. He never thought about himself-the adrenaline rush of helping one more patient was his motivation. In the last few years of his life, when his fatigue was increased due to the beginning stages of his disease, ALS, his unrelenting nature persisted. He continued to visit the patients of the hospital and provide them with joy.
On one trip to the Ohel, when my father was already in the advanced stages of ALS, he prepared a pan, a letter to the Rebbe, we were all shocked to learn that the only thing he asked Hashem was to give him the strength to walk back to Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Hospital.
While he was suffering himself so much, most people would understandably think and ask only for themselves and their own health, he felt that his purpose in life was to help others and only wanted enough strength so that he could continue to carry out his duty on behalf of the patients. How inspirational he was!
In addition to all the Chesed my father did, his general way was one of kindness, giving and empathy for people. He would greet complete strangers, Jewish or non-Jewish alike, and he would offer his help to anyone in his path that needed it.
He opened his home to scores of children and people who had no other place to go. He used to take pride in the fact that people who came to his home felt so comfortable that they never wanted to leave. He truly executed the Mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim, with happiness and excitement for each new person who walked through his door.
My father’s unwavering faith in Hashem was so inspirational not only to us, but to anyone who visited him during his illness. He created an acronym for ALS, the deadly disease that paralyzed him, making it impossible for him to sing or eat and do Chesed. He decided that ALS meant Always Live Sweetly. While the disease was torturing him, he constantly smiled not letting anyone feel sorry for him. He always had a glow in his eye. He was more positive than ever, and his appreciation for every single visitor and visit was extraordinary.
Whenever someone asked him anything related to his illness he always pointed his finger to Shamayim-whatever Hashem wants and took it with happiness. So strong was his Emunah in Hashem that even through a gruesome illness, his love for Hashem did not decrease-if anything his love for Hashem grew.
There is a Pasuk that describes my father: “Mitzvah Buh Leyadcha Al Tachmitzenah” [Mitzvah that comes to your hands don’t squander it.]
Whenever an opportunity of a Mitzvah came across my father, he did it right away with a big smile and an open heart -never postponed it,
I want to leave all of you with a message from my father that I heard, and learned by example every day of my life-and that message is self sacrifice for the benefit of others. And even more so an unshakable Emunah in Hashem that even a disease like ALS could not change.
MAY WE ALL MERIT TO SEE THE ULTIMATE REDEMPTION OF THE COMING OF MOSIACH AND TO SEE ALL OUR LOVED ONES ONCE AGAIN!
Audio: Kol Nidre & Sim Shalom – Presented by Rabbi and Cantor Shmuel Shuchat