Yoni's Final Dayby Rabbi Gideon Black, Yoni's cousin

One of the many inspiring things we can learn from Yoni is what he did on his final morning before Yoni and I embarked on the journey that would ultimately cost him his life.

We davened Shacharit (prayed the morning service) at a shiva house. It was a Thursday morning and when we came to kriat haTorah (reading from the Torah) there was nobody able to lein (chant) the appropriate section. Yoni stepped forward and leined V’zot Habracha the last parsha in the Torah on his last day. He was fluent in much of the Torah as he leined almost weekly in Glasgow.

Then, before going to the bus station, Yoni went into a second-hand bookshop. Three weeks earlier he had bought a book there, and after signing a cheque with the shopkeeper’s pen, he accidentally slipped the pen into his pocket. He had kept it with him all this time, just in case he would get a chance to return the pen that was not even worth fifty pence. I remember his relief after giving it back to the shopkeeper, such was his desire to return the pen to its proper owner.

Both these acts are deeply rooted in Torah values. In Kiddushin (30a) it says: “The Rabbis taught in a Braita: The Torah says ‘VeShinantem’ which means ‘And you shall teach them’. This conveys that the words of Torah shall be sharply honed in your mouth, to the extent that if someone asks you something you will not stammer before answering, but rather you will be able to answer immediately.”

Clearly the words of Torah were sharply honed in Yoni’s mouth. He was able to lein fluently without preparation. Furthermore, while in Yeshiva, whenever I asked him to explain something that I didn’t understand in the Talmud, he would confidently clarify the issue without hesitation, but always in his very humble manner.

At the beginning of Parashat Ki Tetzei we are told of the Mitzva (commandment) of returning lost items to their original owner. It did not matter to Yoni that the shopkeeper would not have noticed that his pen was missing, nor did he feel that the hassle of going back to that shop was too much to justify keeping the pen. If something is not yours, you cannot use it without permission and you have an obligation to return it.

These are my last memories of my dearest friend and cousin Yoni on our final day together.