Reb Shimon gives a popular weekly shiur in his kehillah in a small neighborhood of Jerusalem. One week, Yaacov, one of the shiur’s regular attendees, approached Reb Shimon afterward, clearly very upset.
He explained that his father was very ill in the hospital and didn’t appear to be improving at all despite receiving medical treatment. That alone was enough to explain Yaacov’s consternation, but Reb Shimon sensed there was more to this story. He waited patiently for it to unfold.
Yaacov continued in a quiet voice, “Last year, my father’s brother passed away. Although my father is traditional, he didn’t sit shiva. My cousins, my uncle’s children, are totally secular and also didn’t sit shiva for their father.
“Last night, my late uncle appeared to my sister in a dream and said that the reason our father is ill is because he didn’t sit shiva for my uncle.
“Rabbi,” Yaacov cried, “what can I do?”
Reb Shimon felt totally out of his depth with a shayla like this, and so he took Yaacov to one of the famous rabbanim in Jerusalem. That rav in turn told them that this was a matter for Rav Chaim Kanievsky.
Reb Shimon secured an appointment for Yaacov with Rav Kanievsky. The Rav listened to the story and told Yaacov that his father must learn hilchos aveilus, the laws of mourning.
“But Rav Chaim,” Yaacov protested, “my father is barely conscious – he’s too sick to learn anything.”
Rav Chaim merely repeated what he had already said. And so, on his return home, Yaacov took a sefer of hilchos aveilus from his bookshelf and set off immediately for the hospital. He sat down next to his father’s bed and began to learn all the halachos out loud, slowly and clearly, one by one.
A few weeks later, Yaacov returned to Reb Shimon even more agitated. “We have to return to Rav Kanievsky. I did what he said. We are learning hilchos aveilus, but my father’s condition has worsened. The doctors say he’s dying.”
Later Reb Shimon admitted that he has no idea what made him reply as he did to Yaacov, but that Hashem must have given him the words. “Wait,” Reb Shimon said. “Before we go back to Rav Kanievsky – did you tell your father why you were learning hilchos aveilus with him? Did you tell him the whole story?”
Yaacov answered that he had not. He explained that he didn’t even know if his father could hear him as he learned the halachos out loud. His father had been unable to communicate with him for weeks even though he was conscious.
At Reb Shimon’s insistence, Yaacov rushed back to the hospital and carefully and clearly told his father the whole story – starting with the appearance of his father’s late brother to his sister and what the uncle had told her in the dream. When he had finished the story, he opened the sefer and continued learning the halachos at his father’s side. His father’s situation slowly stabilized and gradually started to improve. Three weeks later he was discharged from the hospital, with no sign of any illness nor any medical explanation for his recovery.
As Yaacov’s father looked at his discharge documents, he realized that it was exactly 11 months since his brother’s passing. He hadn’t missed the chance to say Kaddish for him.
On the night of his brother’s yahrzeit, Yaacov’s father stood in shul and loudly and clearly recited the ancient Kaddish prayer to help elevate the soul of his deceased brother. As the congregation responded with the words “Y’hey Sh’mey rabbah,” he prayed fervently that his brother would now forgive him for not having observed the laws of mourning which he now knew so well.
That night, his brother appeared to him, smiling, and Yaacov’s father understood that his prayer had been accepted.