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Living the Chaburah

Shraga Simmons

Rabbi Aryeh Nivin had been teaching strategies for coping with life’s difficulties for years. Then he faced a crisis that put him to the ultimate test

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

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NEW LIFE After a life-threatening challenge, Reb Aryeh is leading his chaburah groups with a new fire. “I don’t see with the same eyes anymore” (Photos: Shraga Simmons, personal archives)

I t was the fall of 2013 and Rabbi Aryeh Nivin was lying in intensive care, his body ravaged by a killer bacteria. His sickness had begun with a difficult two-week flu, followed by severe heart pains. Before he knew it, Reb Aryeh’s legs had filled with 20 kilos of water.

“I woke up one morning and felt like my body was literally being attacked,” says Rabbi Nivin, relaxing in his spacious Torah library on a recent winter’s day in Ashdod. “My system began shutting down and my kidneys stopped functioning. I was hospitalized and they couldn’t pinpoint the problem. They ran a bunch of tests, and finally discovered a bacteria that could not be treated with antibiotics. Apparently, the flu I’d contracted — in combination with medication — had weakened my immune system and enabled the bacteria to take hold.”

The bacteria had completely overwhelmed Reb Aryeh, who eventually suffered from multiple organ failure — heart, lungs, kidneys. He was hooked up to dozens of wires, tubes, and machines to monitor his system and keep him alive. In addition, except for movement in his arms and toes, he was paralyzed from the neck down.

“That’s when the doctors turned to my wife and said, ‘We’re sorry. There is nothing more we can do.’”

Hashem was sending the ultimate test of emunah — a “Rabi Akiva moment” facing the angel of death.

Fortunately for Reb Aryeh, known in the frum community for decades of teaching self-development chaburahs, he had a safety net consisting of Torah tools for vitality, transcendence, emunah, and joy.

Now those ideas were being put to the test. Principles of inspired living he had gleaned from the work of the Ramchal, Arizal, and the baalei mussar all came crashing to the fore, playing out in real time. Theory was now reality.

“Early in this ordeal, my wife told me that the only way to get through this is to mafkir everything to Hashem. The Torah tells us to love Hashem ‘bechol nafshecha,’ with your entire life. So I did a serious cheshbon hanefesh and in effect went through an emotional process of aveilus — thinking about everything I hold dear in life and letting it go.”

What screams out: ‘This is what my life is all about’? These are the questions to explore”

As I sit with a healthy Reb Aryeh, his calm description of these events spanning six months attests to the integrity of his emunah. Having “talked the talk” for so long, Reb Aryeh was now called upon to “walk the walk.”

“Hashem had taken away my parnassah, taken away my mobility, taken away my organ function. Plus, I was on medication that made it difficult to even think. My entire morning revolved around just sitting in a chair. There was nothing left of me.”

Reb Aryeh shares how one familiar vort took on new meaning:
“After every davening we say ‘Aleinu,’ which speaks about v’yadata hayom, the ideas we know in our head. But then we say, v’hasheivosa el levavecha, put them on your heart. I felt like the Torah ideas in my head were now being laser-etched onto my heart.”

Amidst this harrowing medical experience, Reb Aryeh had responsibility for his wife and 14 children — one who was engaged to be married. The future of the Nivin clan was imperiled.

Tefillah would prove the key. Fortunately for Reb Aryeh, as a Pittsburgher chassid, he had access to powerful resources. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 697)

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