THE MAN BEHIND THE “BURNT” FACE
July 11, 2018
Menachem Ziegelboim in #1126, Profile

Friends and acquaintances of R’ Shimon Pachima tell Beis Moshiach of his painful life story and about the Rebbe’s Ahavas Yisroel when he davened in the Rebbe’s minyan in the small zal.


PART I

Already during the nights preceding Shimon’s bris mila there was great anticipation, as every night neighbors and relatives gathered in the mother’s home and performed the tachdid ceremony, i.e., the reading of Torah verses to combat the evil eye, and the recitation of liturgical poems. As is customary among Moroccan Jews, Shimon’s bris mila was celebrated with all the liturgical songs and exclamations of joy. Afterward, all the guests blessed the father and mother with heartfelt wishes.

Shimon Pachima’s parents’ hearts were full of hope that he would grow to Torah, chuppa, and good deeds.

Nobody knew how much suffering this baby, who was just named, would endure.

Not long after Shimon’s bris mila, they were crushed to discover that the baby had been born with a rare syndrome in which his blood vessels burst. The direct consequence of this was that his face was abnormally red and swollen and even half his body was swollen and reddened. This is a progressive disease and even operations could not halt it.

Shimon’s parents took him to many doctors, but none of them were able to diagnose the child’s disease. His lips swelled and his face became distorted until it was unrecognizable. He lost vision in one eye and eventually in the other eye, leaving him entirely blind. There was no end to the suffering of the parents and their son.

Despite the many hardships that Shimon experienced and the painful teasing from his peers, he tried to adhere to his ancestors’ ways. He accompanied his father to shul and heard the nusach ha’t’filla from him until he knew it by heart. From his father he also heard the book of T’hillim in a sweet and gentle melody, and with his heightened senses he was able to absorb the entire book and store it in his mind. When he grew older, he learned many halachos and knew them well, even by heart. There were those who knew him who said that his blessings were fulfilled.

Not only his blindness and blemishes caused him to suffer, but people kept their distance from him since they were scared off by his appearance. People turned their heads and quickly departed when he walked in. There were children who burst into tears at the sight of him.

In 5722, when he was around 18, he left Morocco for Eretz Yisroel and settled in Migdal HaEmek. He tried to carry on with his life as best he could. This new routine wasn’t a bed of roses. Just as back home, he had to contend with his health as well as people who were not used to him.

In Elul 5741/1980, he went to the Rebbe for the first time. This short visit turned into two years, until 5743, and then he returned to Eretz Yisroel.

He often went to 770 and davened Mincha and Maariv in the Rebbe’s minyan.

PART II

Three year old Mendy Dickstein of Beer Sheva went to Crown Heights with his father, R’ Moshe. He would wake up at night frightened from nightmares and would cry out, “Abba, Abba! Is the burnt man here?” (That is what he called him, because of his appearance.) For a long time afterward, his father had to reassure Mendy that he was in his bed and the man wasn’t there.

The child’s fears began after he met R’ Shimon Pachima in the Rebbe’s beis midrash. R’ Moshe, seeing that his son was having a hard time, asked the Rebbe for a bracha that the fright not harm his son.

R’ Moshe related:

The Rebbe davened weekday Mincha and Maariv (in those years) in the small zal, while sitting at a table near the doorway. When the chazan would repeat the t’filla, the Rebbe would sit at the table, lean his head on his hand in a manner of concentration, and focus on the words in the siddur.

At a certain point, R’ Moshe noticed that the Rebbe wasn’t placing his hand the way he always did. He wondered about it and had a thought. Before sharing it with his friends, he decided to keep watch. Indeed, he was able to verify his hunch. On days when R’ Shimon Pachima joined the Rebbe’s minyan, the Rebbe did not lean his face on his hand. When Shimon was absent, the Rebbe did what he always used to do.

In a letter that R’ Moshe Dickstein wrote to the Rebbe, he asked for a bracha for his son Mendy, that he shouldn’t be traumatized. Since it pertained to this, he also mentioned “Along with a group of bachurim and young men, we noticed that during Chazaras HaShatz, the Rebbe does not lean and cover his eyes with his hand as usual. Some of us said it is so that the man should not think he is not worthy or scary.” R’ Moshe asked whether this was correct.

Within a short time, he was called to the office where the Rebbe’s answer was waiting for him. Regarding his request for a bracha for his son, the Rebbe said “I will mention it at the gravesite.” As for the Rebbe’s conduct in the presence of Pachima, the Rebbe responded with two words, “Ahavas Yisroel.” With these two words, the Rebbe displayed his endless sensitivity lest anyone think he was covering his eyes during davening so as not to look at the face of the “burnt man.”

The amazing thing is that Shimon himself was blind and still, the Rebbe was careful about his dignity, lest a guest at the davening interpret his covering his eyes incorrectly.

PART III

Every so often, Shimon went to France to raise funds for his expensive medical treatments. The ones who helped him were some Lubavitchers including R’ Aharon Sitbon, R’ Yaakov Bitton and others who lived in Paris. Despite Shimon’s tough situation, they hosted him respectfully. They also helped him with various medical treatments and raising money.

Then came a turning point and he found a new, unique path in life. But before we get to that, we have to go back a few years.

At Migdal Or (an institute for the blind, near Haifa) where he was staying, he met R’ Shabtai Visheki, also blind, who struggled with his blindness. Shabtai married Tzippora, also blind. They settled in Kiryat Yismach Moshe in Ganei Tikva.

About a year after his marriage, Shabtai wasn’t feeling well. Tests showed that his kidneys had stopped working and he began undergoing dialysis. He also started looking for a kidney donor.

His wife also got involved in looking for a kidney donor. She told her friend Shoshana, a girl who made aliya from the United States and lived nearby. Since they were both new immigrants, they felt a common bond.

Shoshana offered to be tested. She knew Tzippora’s husband and knew him to be a fine man and a yerei Shamayim. She considered it a great mitzva to help Shabtai. It was a long road ahead for her though, since in those days doctors refused kidney donations that were not from family members, but they were finally convinced to help. The tests showed that she was a very close match.

After the operation and recovery, Shabtai returned to normal functioning and his Torah study and chesed.

PART IV

Shimon had not given up hoping he could marry, despite his chronic condition and blindness. He asked the Rebbe for a bracha and the Rebbe blessed him (as R’ Yaakov Bitton affirmed).

Shimon heard of the segula of reading the book of T’hillim near the Kosel for 40 days in a row. To accomplish this, he left his home in Migdal HaEmek and rented a room in the Old City. Every day, he would go down to the Kosel and pour out his heart in the chapters of T’hillim, word by word, for six hours. He wouldn’t budge from the Kosel until he finished the entire book.

One day, Shabtai invited his friend Shimon for Shabbos to Yismach Moshe. It was an uplifting Shabbos that the two friends shared after not having been together for a few years. They discussed the parsha and sang niggunim and songs in honor of Shabbos. After parting from his host on Motzaei Shabbos, Shabtai suggested to his wife that Shimon marry her friend Shoshana.

This wasn’t a simple proposition at all, both because of Shimon’s limitations and because of Shoshana’s deteriorating health that started after she donated her kidney. If that wasn’t enough, doctors told her that she would not be able to have children.

Obviously, being blind, Shabtai and his wife had never seen Shimon and did not know how he really looked.

When Shoshana heard the idea and how special Shimon was, she agreed to meet him despite his condition. She had already learned that those with vision limitations had sensitive souls.

The shidduch happened! Shoshana was impressed by Shimon’s warm, sensitive heart and said she paid no attention to his appearance.

You can imagine how emotional their wedding was, which was attended by relatives, neighbors and acquaintances. Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, rav of Migdal HaEmek, arranged the chuppa and kiddushin for the couple.

Shimon invested his entire self into establishing his home in the way of Torah and mitzvos and spared no effort in tending to his wife’s needs devotedly. When he heard that the doctors said she could not have children he said to her, “A doctor is given permission to heal, not the opposite. I promise you that in the merit of Dovid HaMelech and in the merit of the chapters of T’hillim that I read every day, you will give birth without difficulty.”

Indeed, Shimon’s heartfelt promise came true and they had a son, to the delight of all. Years later, they merited grandchildren who go in the way of Hashem.

The two couples lived in Yismach Moshe, with Shimon and Shabtai davening together in the same minyan.

PART V

Years passed, not all easy. Shabtai had to deal with kidney problems again, along with his blindness.

Three years ago, his condition deteriorated, and on Erev Shavuos he passed away after much suffering. While dealing with his serious medical problems, he found enjoyment in Divrei Torah, vertlach and new insights, as he had all his life. Even on his deathbed he asked one of his visitors to say Divrei Torah, which gladden the heart and restore the soul.

R’ Shabtai, son of R’ Shmuel a”h, was buried on Motzaei Shavuos in Petach Tikva in the section of rabbanim and dignitaries.

***

Erev Shabbos HaGadol 5778. Shimon Pachima was in Los Angeles for family reasons. At a certain point, he tripped and fell down the stairs at his host’s house and was badly injured. He was taken to the local hospital in critical condition. Shimon ben Chaim and Suleika Pachima a”h passed away on Shabbos Parshas Emor (Acharei Mos-K’doshim outside of Eretz Yisroel).

Matters came into the hands of a friend of the family, R’ Shlomo Miller, and in extraordinary Divine Providence, he asked the chevra kadisha in Petach Tikva for Shimon to be buried in the dignitaries section near his good friend, Shabtai Visheki. Rav Miller, with the help of Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, appealed to the hearts of the chevra kadisha but they said the section was full.

A moment before his plot was to have been assigned elsewhere, they opened a map of the cemetery and discovered two more places near Shabtai’s grave – “The beloved and the sweet, who did not separate in their lives and in their deaths.”

His wife, Shoshana, emotionally said, “I donated a kidney to Shabtai and gave him life for 33 years. In exchange, Hashem gave me life with Shimon for 33 years.”

Thanks to the shliach R’ Yaakov Bitton and to R’ Shlomo Miller for their help with this story.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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