Rabbi Chaim Yechiel Rothman, zt"l
When King David bemoans the untimely death of Yehonatan and his father King Shaul, he cries out, "I am so distraught over you, my brother Yehonatan – you were so dearly delightful to me…" (Shmuel II 1:26)
I believe that this verse is very apt for our dear friend and alumnus Rabbi Chaim Rothman, may Hashem avenge his blood. He loved his fellow man and he cared like a brother for every fellow Jew. We are so pained, our dear brother. You were so “delightful” to us!
Chaim, zatzal, (or Howie, as he was affectionately known at the Yeshiva) developed his commitment to the love of Torah and mitzvot as he stepped into the open door of Ohr Somayach back in the early 1980s. He had spent a year at Hebrew University after he had volunteered at a religious kibbutz. He had shown an interest in yiddishkeit back in Toronto, the city of his birth. The Yeshiva, however, was his springboard for a path of constant spiritual growth that accompanied him throughout his life in this world.
His mother, Mrs. Millie Rothman — may she blessed with a long and healthy life — told me at the shiva that Howie made his commitment to Torah and mitzvot when he came to Ohr Somayach, “and from that moment onwards he was flying!”
And what a commitment! In his application form as a young student Chaim wrote, “A life without helping others, what is it worth?" Along with his constant growth — growth in love for Hashem, love for Torah, love and pursuit of good character traits, hakarat hatov (appreciation for the good done by others), meticulously fulfilling the mitzvot — his motto was: “Help whomever you can and do chesed (acts of loving-kindness) with everyone!”
His integrity and righteousness were imbued by his parents, and he remained true to those values throughout his life. At the Yeshiva he built the basis for his continued spiritual development and his yearning to build his life in Israel.
After a year at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, where he developed a very special relationship with his rebbe’im, Chaim returned for a few years to Toronto, where he married his eshet chayil Risa, may she be blessed with a long and healthy life. In 1985 the young couple made their dream a reality when they returned to Jerusalem to build their home and family here.
For his livelihood Chaim found a post at the State Comptroller’s office where he was personified the holy Torah every day for 30 years. Until the day when he was hideously massacred while in the middle of praying Shemoneh Esrei, along with four other holy souls, at their shul, Kehillat Bnei Torah in Har Nof. For almost a whole year Chaim Yechiel ben Malka was “purified with suffering” (in the words of our Sages), as we all prayed for his return to good health, until Hashem took back his neshama on the night of Shabbat Parshat Lech Lecha.
This parsha signified his life's journey: “Go from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's home to the Land that I will show you.” Chaim, zatzal, followed in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu. Chesed, love of Hashem and love of people, together with his sterling honestly and his belief that everything that Hashem does is for the good, were his hallmark.
His dedication to Torah learning was outstanding. Never was a moment wasted. Every moment that he did not require for his work or for attending to family matters was occupied with his study of Torah, literally running from one chavruta (study partner) to another, and from one shiur to the next.
The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 243 codifies that a person who is totally devoted to Torah learning, as Rabbi Rothman, without a doubt, deserves the lofty status of “His Torah is his livelihood”. He truly fulfilled the precept to “Make your Torah study primary and permanent, while your work is secondary and temporary”. (Avot 1:17, Mishneh Torah 3:7)
Chaim's goal was “to learn in order to fulfill” (Avot 4:5). He always wanted to understand more — and then put that learning into practice.
His manner of serving Hashem in tefilla (prayer) was also enviable. He would rush to prayers, to be there early and be able to daven every word with kavana. Each word of tefilla was so precious to him.
For many years Chaim was a staunch member of the Ohr Somayach alumni gemara shiur in Har Nof. Every member of this shiur always drew tremendous chizuk (encouragement and strength) from Chaim’s determination and perseverance. He may have been exhausted after a long day's work in his office, but that would never be a reason for absence. If necessary, he would stand, or even walk around in the shiur room, to improve his concentration and utilize these moments that were so precious to him.
Although the family lived through certain hardships — in particular the death of their eldest son Eli, zatzal, whom they lost over 10 years ago in a tragic accident in the Jerusalem Forest — Chaim always showed simcha; he radiated joy and happiness. He even “infected” others with this too. At the same time, Chaim cared so much about other people's needs and bent over backwards to help all. If he, however, ever received anything from anyone, his hakarot hatov was boundless.
Chaim was medakdek b’halacha, scrupulous in observance of Jewish law. Every doubt was brought to a posek, mostly to the Rav of the shul in which he was so active — Kehillat Bnei Torah. His extreme integrity in monetary matters and giving tzedaka was also incredible.
Chaim and his wife Risa merited eleven wonderful children and were blessed with their first granddaughter shortly before the brutal attack of 25 Cheshvan 5775. During the year of his coma another two grandchildren were added to their illustrious Torah family. Chaim was a source of love and inspiration not only for his wife and children, but for all of us.
The Torah tells us, “And Chanoch walked with Hashem, and he was no longer (in this world — Rashi), because Hashem took him” (Ber. 5:24). So too did Hashem take this great tzadik who lived amongst us, together with the four other kedoshim of the Har Nof massacre.
May he continue to a meilitz yosher for his entire family, for the Ohr Somayach family and for all of Klal Yisrael.
.תהא נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים