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Inscribe Me in the Book of Life

Nosson Weiss

In these days preceding the Day of Judgment, Rav Chaim Yisroel Pesach Feinhandler reflects on his own days of judgment and of the Books of Life and Death which he has seen open every day for the past two years. “Thousands of people are walking around healthy, yet He chose me to cope with the nisayon of this disease.”

Monday, September 06, 2010


He counsels others in times of trauma, writes books about emunah, maintains an international forum for questions on halachah and hashkafah, is a published posek, and and has helped hundreds of people navigate the fear and confusion of critical illness. Now the tables are turned, and Rav Chaim Yisroel Pesach Feindhandler, rav of Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood, has found himself on the other side of the crisis.

When his cancer was diagnosed two years ago, was he able to tap into and take strength from all the advice and support he’s dispensed over the years to so many others?

It isn’t easy to stand before this prominent rabbinic figure and ask him to relive the roller-coaster days of his disease. I am almost tempted to ask him a halachic question or some advice, as people have been doing all morning. But with the knowing smile of a great man, he takes advantage of the opportunity to add messages of encouragement and hope to others undergoing complicated challenges in their personal lives.  He is the one who prods me on, saying, “Perhaps someone will find chizuk in my words.” If his words will help, it’s worth the painful reminiscence.

Rabbi Chaim Yisroel Pesach Feinhandler was ushered into a world of pain and suffering two years ago, as his family sat before the doctor who prefaced his words with a brief apology, then let the ax fall.

“When a doctor utters such a devastating announcement, what can one say? Nothing,” says Rav Feinhandler. “In an instant, you join the society of those suffering from the disease which people are afraid to even mention by name. We sat there, dumbstruck and petrified. I couldn’t even cry. It took me ten minutes to come back to myself. Finally, I was able to say, `Now I have a different mission in life.’ And I knew that, as in every new situation, I would invest all my power in making the best of it.

“After I left the office with my family, and even before I had really digested the frightening news, I felt I had to say something. My family was waiting to hear something reassuring. It was really very elementary: everything is in the hands of Hashem, including all the pain and anguish. Hashem provides a person with the tools to serve Him. Pain and suffering are also tools and, I explained, if this is the challenge presented to me now, I must use it to serve Hashem in that manner. I told my family that precisely at this difficult juncture, I feel the Hand of Hashem much more.”


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