The doors on the bus closed as he answered my question, “Come to see me on Sunday at 10 a.m.” I have told this story many times about Reb Yossel, a chassidic Rebbe in Jerusalem who I was privileged to know when I was studying in Israel at age 17. The bus incident occurred when I was in my forties on a business trip to Israel. I had accompanied my younger brother to a lecture given by the master kabbalist Rav Moshe Shapira late on a Thursday night in Jerusalem. As we were leaving I was sharing with my brother my disappointment that I would not see Reb Yossel on that visit—I had not had time to track him down to arrange a meeting (he does not have a phone). As we headed down the darkened street two shadowy figures walked toward us and then, “Reb Dovid”—the distinctive voice of Reb Yossel pierced the air. We hugged and as always, in the presence of this great man, I felt loved and admired.
Before I could ask him if and when I could come by to see him, the bus pulled up, as we had been positioned on the corner, and Reb Yossel began to ascend—backwards onto the bus, maintaining eye contact with me. I had wanted to ask whether I could come see him at 10 a.m. on Sunday as it was the only time open prior to my planned departure that coming Sunday. The doors were already closing but the invitation landed perfectly without any need to RSVP.
Reb Yossel died a week ago Shabbat. The funeral was on Saturday night, burial on Mount of Olives. My youngest brother, a Rabbi in Jerusalem, developed a very close relationship with Reb Yossel over the last twenty years. I made the match between them and Reb Yossel served as a surrogate father to my brother. My brother reminded me that Reb Yossel would always tell him, we are together because of Reb Dovid. As my brother entered Reb Yossel’s Sukkah last month–it was the seventh day of the holiday—the day assigned to King David as the honored guest, Reb Yossel smiled to see him and said—“On David’s day you come—in his merit.”
There is no entry on the internet about Reb Yossel and I could not find an obituary. He entered quietly and exited quietly. We have a tradition of the hidden “36 tzaddikim” who, in each generation, sustain the world through their elevated consciousness. Reb Yossel never left Jerusalem—he was born there and died there but his light shines across our world. Death cannot contain his presence—the bus doors open and it is 10 a.m. as I look into the deep sea of his blue eyes.