April 24, 2024
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The Yigdal Initiative: A Tribute to the Faith Of Daniel Balsam, a”h

R’ Daniel Balsam, a”h, with his parents, יבל״ח, Rabbi Joel and Dr. Dvorah Balsam.

It is not often that the circumstances surrounding the end of a person’s life encapsulate the very way he lived. The morning of the day R’ Daniel Balsam, a”h passed away, family members were gathered, singing one of the songs that was most meaningful to him. It is a song that poetically represents all of the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith: the Yigdal prayer. Daniel Balsam lived his life through these tenets and described them as “the foundation for keeping the 613 mitzvos.”

When we think of the most moving and philosophical parts of davening, Yigdal rarely comes to mind. Many don’t realize the importance of this tefillah and its connection to the Yud Gimmel Ikarei Emunah. These principles were enumerated by the Rambam as the basic pillars of Jewish belief.

Daniel was learned in all elements of Torah scholarship, including Tanach, Halacha, Gemara and Machshava. He studied under and maintained a relationship with many illustrious rabbonim, including Rav Nachum Sauer, Rav Michel Shurkin and Rav Moshe Meiselman. Daniel delivered weekly shiurim on topics ranging from the Ramban on Chumash to the Zera Shimshon on parsha and Yomim Tovim. However, among all these pursuits, one area of learning was particularly important to him: the Yud Gimmel Ikarim. Daniel felt strongly and passionately that every Jew should possess a clear and active understanding of these fundamental principles of emunah.

Daniel’s desire to share these principles with others was apparent many years ago when he decided to teach them to his grandmother. Grandma Caroline Balsam was American-born, and though she had no formal Jewish education she possessed strong emunah and Jewish identity. As she was in her 90s, Daniel decided that it was important that she gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental principles of her Jewish faith. He taught her for many hours over the phone as she took notes in a small notebook. With great pride, she told other family members that “Daniel is teaching me the Thirteen Principles of Faith.” In addition to enjoying the quality time with his grandmother, Daniel viewed it as a holy mission, as he believed that her deepened understanding and belief would enable her to go straight to the Kissei Hakavod.

More recently, once he was already diagnosed with ALS and was physically limited, Daniel heard of a newly-published English sefer, “Kisvei Harambam” (ArtScroll), which contains an in-depth analysis of the Yud Gimmel Ikarim. He purchased it excitedly and was determined to learn it thoroughly. By having someone turn the pages for him, he learned the sefer more than once. At the shiva, Rav Yehuda Kielson, the author, reported that Daniel spoke with him “five or six times” to discuss various aspects of the sefer. Because he felt it was important to share this sefer with others, Daniel made a siyum upon completing it and sent the audio to his shiurim email subscription list. In the last shiur that he sent to his subscribers, he spoke about how important he thought it was for everyone to purchase and learn the new ArtScroll sefer that elucidates the Kisvei Harambam. Daniel stressed that it is not enough to passively believe and understand the Yud Gimmel Ikarim; it is important to engage with them and be actively, consciously, aware of them.

Daniel also spoke enthusiastically about the prayer of Yigdal, an abbreviated poetic form of these thirteen principles, as a way of bringing them into our daily routine and consciousness. Yigdal is simple in its language yet complex in its meaning and depth. In less than a minute, it encapsulates our belief in the following: God’s timelessness, singularity, incorporeality and dominion over the universe; the existence of prophecy and the uniqueness of Moshe’s prophecy; that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people and will never change it; the resurrection of the dead and the ultimate coming of Moshiach; that we worship and pray to God exclusively; and that God knows our thoughts and exercises reward and punishment.

Daniel requested from his family that if he were ever to lose consciousness, Yigdal would be one of the prayers they should sing for him, and it would be as if he were saying it himself. The night before he passed away, while he was in and out of consciousness, family members gathered and sang Yigdal, which he greatly enjoyed. On the morning of his passing, we were able to sing it for him one final time.

To maintain Daniel’s legacy, our family has started an initiative to share the power and meaning of Yigdal. It would be a true and fitting zechus for the neshama of this incredible person if people would accept upon themselves to say Yigdal daily.

  • יגדל בשביל שתתגדל•

‎‏לעילוי נשמת ר׳ דניאל יצחק בן הרב יוסף

In Memory of R’ Daniel Balsam, a”h

 

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