Sometimes you hear someone speak and it changes your whole perspective and helps you see what is really important. Chazaq’s Tuesday Torah Talks always hosts fascinating guests interviewed by Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of Chazaq. This past Tuesday night, December 27, Rabbi Meirov interviewed Rabbi Asaf Haimoff, rav of Beis Midrash Efrat in Brooklyn, and the result was a powerful life changing message for all of us.
Rabbi Haimoff shared that he was born in Queens and his father, Rabbi Yigal Haimoff, founded the first mekom Torah for the Sephardic community in Kew Gardens Hills, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha. His father’s students now head Sephardic synagogues and schools in Queens. “I am privileged to be the son of a father who lives for klal Yisrael and who still gives all his strength for klal Yisrael.”
Rabbi Haimoff then shared that four years ago he experienced heavy darkness that changed his life. He shared that this ordeal transformed him into a better, more sensitive person. His daughter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, which is the worst type. They found out on her 16th birthday and had to leave the party and go straight to the hospital for blood transfusions. She experienced a few remissions, but the cancer came back and she passed away two days before Rosh HaShanah, Erev Shabbos, two years ago.
“Since then, my life completely changed and I’ve noticed an abnormal number of blessings,” he said.
He then shared that the Make-a-Wish Foundation offered her to go anywhere with her family. She said, “Aba, I want a sefer Torah.” She wanted something everlasting. The family told the foundation that this way the patient would derive 100 percent benefit from the wish. The foundation never did this before, but they liked the idea that everything was going to the patient, and they agreed. There was a hachnasas sefer Torah for her. Rabbi Haimoff also founded a beis midrash in her memory in Brooklyn called Beis Midrash Efrat. It started Pesach time, and it has around 80 families. He shared how he took pain and turned it into purpose. “I was living in the hospital.” The doctor informed his daughter that her chances for long-term survival were close to zero. Chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants were not successful.
He shared that in the beginning of her illness he was angry. He asked Hashem why a tzadekes should have to go through this. He shared that he came to realize that cancer is not his nisayon. G-d runs the world, and his job was to procure the best doctors, and between G-d and the doctors he was out. During her second round of illness, he surrendered and said, “G-d, You run the world.” The third time, his rav, Rabbi Avraham Walkin, kiruv rabbi for Chazaq, taught him to just say thank you to Hashem. “Just say the words and eventually you will believe those words,” he taught.
Rabbi Haimoff shared that living in darkness, literally in a dark hospital room, with his daughter for an extended amount of time, he comprehended that he could do something for the Creator, and it was something only he could do. His daughter was a tzadekes leaving this world and she never complained. He shared that he realized that he didn’t want to live as a victim. Rather, he wanted to thank Hashem for giving him this daughter, and through her he could do kiddush Hashem. He had an opportunity to do a service for klal Yisrael. “I felt lucky to do a service for my Creator.”
Rabbi Haimoff went on to explain that Hashem created human nature only to do good for His people. “I know that what He is doing for us is best. And I said Mizmor L’Sodah every day.” When King David was running for his life from his father-in-law and his sons, his response was to recite Mizmor L’Sodah. When we are in pain, we read T’hilim, so we know that we are not alone. Rabbi Haimoff reminded himself that everything that happens to him is because Hashem loves him and cares for him. “The darkness allowed me to work on my bitachon. I was promised I would see brachah. I am lucky to have a daughter who is in the highest place in Shamayim. She’s with the Imahos for eternity. My daughter will pull me to where she is, because of her z’chus, G-d willing.”
He shared that his daughter’s last conversation was with Rabbi Walkin when she asked him what her avodah was for Rosh HaShanah, since she couldn’t daven or hear shofar. He told her that her avodah was to fight. Rabbi Haimoff shared that his daughter left this world with the question of what was her avodah for Hashem. We should each ask ourselves, “What is my avodah?”
He added, “I am lucky to be her dad.” Thirty days after she was nifterah, he and his wife were blessed with a baby boy. That same machine that showed her heart had stopped, now showed the beat of a brand-new baby’s heart. Spending two years in the hospital with no way to make a living, he wondered how he would feed this new baby. Two years later, he is working in real estate and teaching Torah, and he started a beis midrash. Seven months ago, his wife gave birth to a baby girl.
He shared that we all suffer pain in our lives. We need to look at it as an opportunity to grow. You can turn it around. Look at it as an opportunity, not a verdict. He said, “I’m a regular person. Every human being has light. Hashem created us with light.” Our vessel is not big enough to contain that light. Turn pain into greatest joy. Hashem is giving you the opportunity to create vessels to receive all the brachos He wants to give you.
He related that he appreciates that he has so much more. “We were blessed with three kids in three years.”
Hashem wants a relationship with us. You have to allow the light in and not block it and be a victim. You do this by accepting and being thankful and developing your bitachon in your Creator. We have to remember that as much as we want to do for our kids, Hashem wants to do for us.
Rabbi Meirov added, “We are not just going through life, we are growing through life.”
Rabbi Haimoff shared the following final message: “Be b’simchah. Know that Hashem loves you and wants to do good for you. Focus on your dream and don’t let toxicity or negative attitudes get in your way.”
By Susie Garber