Photo Credit: Israel Bookshop Publications

Title: Rolling Rabbi
By Shaindel Simes
Israel Bookshop Publications, 380 pages

 

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There are few books I can say this about, but my wife and I both read Rolling Rabbi in one session. The emunah, the depth of emotion, and the honesty captivated us.

The cover says that it is the story of Rabbi Yehuda Simes, authored by his wife Shaindel. Rabbi Simes was a successful mechanech, living in Ottawa with a tremendous impact on the community. As a result of a car accident, he was left a quadriplegic. As a Chofetz Chaim alumna who had crossed paths with Yehuda, I clearly remember davening for him through the years of his situation.

The book describes his ability to not give up and to keep his sense of humor. It shows how he managed to continue his life goal of teaching Torah, and his efforts to figure out new ways to spread Torah. This part alone is extremely inspirational.

But there is another aspect to the story. Even though his wife says that it is his story, and she is the author, it is also her story. It is the recounting of her journey of emunah and dealing with such an upheaval in their lives. She writes an open book. She charts the ups and the downs, the medical challenges and the emunah challenges. She describes pivotal moments when her realization of Hashem reached a new level. Even though she does not cast herself as the main character, it is as much her book as his.

There are many moving scenes in the book, but perhaps the most moving is the recounting of his passing away. I am not aware of such an honest and detailed description of a true Torah death experience anywhere else. For that alone, it is worth reading this book. It is not depressing but uplifting to see how there is a true moment of transition as the soul leaves the body.

When Balaam is cursing/blessing the Jews he says, “Let my death be like that of the patriarchs.” The teachers of Mussar say that wanting to die like that is commendable, but more important to live not only the last day of your life like that but that every day should be lived like the Patriarchs. Balaam should have said, “Let my life be like theirs.”

Yehuda was a student of Mussar yeshivas – WITS of Milwaukee and Chofetz Chaim of Queens, heirs to the tradition of Slobodka. He taught us not only how to pass away, but how to live like the Patriarchs. We learn from him not only how to pass away with a Kiddush Hashem, but also how to live that way. How to make sure that every medical professional, driver, and the random person you meet, sees how you live with Hashem in your life.

And even though this is not a “shalom bayis” book, in the deepest way it is. Without the years of creating such a marriage, there is no way to survive such a challenge.

There is a specific reason my wife and I identify. Baruch Hashem I am well, but several years ago my life also changed as a result of a medical condition. This development required us to change many aspects of our life and our marriage. Mrs. Simes’s description of her path is something that could have been our blueprint. Her story is specific, but it is a universal lesson in emunah for a spouse dealing with a medical life-altering situation that changes their marriage.

But since emunah is generic, anyone can benefit from reading this book. Everyone needs to have the insight that Hashem is with us. As she writes so vividly, each neshama, before it is born, willingly chooses its path through life. Reading this book shows you how not just one person, but a couple functioning as one, came to realize this in their lives.

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Rabbi Rudman lives in Jerusalem and teaches in Michlalah and other seminaries. He was an editor of the Tur of Machon Yerushalayim and has written an annotated edition of the Sfas Emes.