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There is something particularly painful about Yosef’s passing


Challenging emotional experiences are a constant in the life of a rabbi.

However, the ten-week period beginning after Yom Kippur and climaxing on Erev Chanukah made me realize just how onerous and distressing life can be.

Immediately following Yom Kippur, the COVID virus invaded my body, leaving me fatigued and listless.

On Succos, I suffered from horrific back pain, which ultimately made my left knee begin buckling, and I began to regularly fall to the ground, hard and fast and uncontrollably.

On Shabbos parshas Noach, I underwent emergency back surgery.

On Shabbos two weeks later, foolishly thinking I had completely healed, I again fell on my way to comfort Chayaita Lapides, whose husband, Yitz, had passed away that Shabbos morning.

Over the next four weeks, I officiated at the funerals of four members of the shul.

On Sunday, November 8, Yitzchok Lapides’s levayah took place.

Two weeks later, on November 26, Shalom Dreyfus succumbed to COVID at age 42, leaving a wife and five orphans.

Less than a week later, a long-time member of the shul, Arthur Rand, passed away at 77.

The following week on Thursday, Erev Chanukah, Yosef Segal (name changed) passed away in his sleep at age 26.

As I lit the menorah that Thursday evening, the brachah of shehecheyanu took on a new dimension.

From Yom Kippur until Chanukah, I was sick with COVID, officiated at four levayahs, and married off my daughter.

The roller coaster ride of emotions from sadness to joy and back to sadness was daunting.

Every levayah is sad, and every death is saturated with grief. Yet the death and funeral of Yosef Segal on Erev Chanukah were excruciating. Of course, his passing at the young age of 26, having never married, and leaving his parents and siblings devasted, is tragic enough.

However, there is something particularly painful about Yosef’s passing.

Yosef did not die of COVID.

Yosef was a bright and cheerful boy. I recall his poise and joy when he celebrated his bar mitzvah. Yosef attended yeshivah just like your son or my son. He was accepted into a fine mesivta and began high school with high hopes for success.

It was then that his troubles came to the forefront.

Yosef was never part of the cool crowd. He never had a flock of friends. He was always a bit socially awkward. However, in high school, painful loneliness plagued him. And so commenced a harrowing downward spiral of social alienation.

Yosef so wanted to be a part of the crowd but never quite succeeded. He bounced from one school to another, and after struggling with his loneliness and emotional pain, he finally made his way to Eretz Yisrael a few years ago.

However, the pain and loneliness continued.

Yosef was stricken with coprolalia, a characteristic of Tourette syndrome, which caused him to involuntarily utter inappropriate and embarrassing words. Coupled with his already agonizing social awkwardness, the coprolalia further contributed to Yosef becoming a social outcast, alone in his pain.

With few friends and never knowing whom he could really trust, Yosef, who by nature was kind, caring, and compassionate, became paranoid as he felt like an alien in a cruel and painful world. He ultimately turned to whatever he could obtain to alleviate, albeit temporarily, his existential turmoil.

His quest for relief and alleviation of his pain ended on Erev Chanukah.

There are no fingers to be pointed, and there are no institutions to be blamed.

His parents went to the ends of the earth to help and mitigate his lonely desolation and pain. Yet solace proved elusive, and self-medicating was his method of coping with the pain.

Never think you know the pain of the person sitting next to you.

Reach out to him.

Love him.

We cannot afford to lose another Yosef.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 849

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