Category Archives: Finding Comfort

My Father

לעילוי נשמת אליהו בן שמואל יעקב
כ”ט ניסן תשס”ט

Remembering My Father
My father was a real family man. He loved when yom tov came around and his married children overran his home. The madness of everyone squished together gave him only pleasure. He especially loved giving each and every one of his children and grandchildren a berachah on Friday night. Each son-in-law became a son, and each child was a precious gem.
My father was a working man. He had a store and put many hours into his work. He was also a man who always had a joke to share. Wherever he went, whomever he spoke to, he always had something funny to say. He wasn’t a great rav or a rebbi. He wasn’t a rosh yeshivah or a rosh kollel. He wasn’t a big askan or a big leader. Yet, he could never be called simple. He wasn’t just a balabus. He was a simple person on the outside, and a person full of tochen on the inside. He was someone who constantly worked on himself and grew closer and closer to Hashem as a result. When a nisayon came his way, he took it and grew from it. He changed himself because of it. We could never praise him when we saw something great in him. He was too humble. He didn’t think there was anything to talk about and loathed the praise. He didn’t need people to see his growth. Everything about him was very low-key.
At one point when he was unemployed he spent his mornings learning. He loved finally having the time to do this and was hoping to finish all of Shas. Although he could have chosen to do this in a shul or bais medrash, he chose to learn at home. No one had to know that he spent all

of his time learning.
How typical of him to be niftar in Nissan when we couldn’t say hespedim. There was so much to say, but it all had to be toned down. But my father had a zechus that most niftarim don’t have. A few minutes after he was niftar, Radio Kol Berama in Lakewood played a speech by Rabbi Peysach Krohn; in his talk, he shared some divrei Torah from my father, as countless people tuned in. Could it be he was zoche to such a thing because of the high madreigah he was on? As R’ Dovid Goldberg, the Rosh Yeshiva from Telshe Cleveland said, “He didn’t just say the ani ma’amins; he was the ani ma’amins. He learned them and lived them.”
As a little girl, I loved waking up on Shabbos mornings to the sound of my father’s voice learning. As an adult I am really able to appreciate all the time he spent learning, especially the mishnayos he learned to make a siyum in time for my brother Chesky’s yahrtzeit.
As a little girl, I marveled at his kibbud av v’eim. When Zaydie called for him, he ran to pick up the phone, no matter how busy he was. As an adult I realize I never knew the true extent of his kibbud av v’eim. I only found out after his petirah how he drove Zaydie each morning to shul, how he decided whether the weather was good enough for him to go out or if he should encourage him to daven at home, and how he always showed up at his house on Friday afternoon to make sure everything was ready for Shabbos.
As a young child I didn’t appreciate how he always wanted us home for Shabbos seudos and would be upset if we ate at a friend’s house. As an adult I realize how lucky we are to have had such a strong, loving relationship.
As a young girl I didn’t appreciate the stability in our home. B”H, I had two parents and siblings. This meant we were a normal family. As an adult I can appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up in a healthy home permeated with love.
As a young girl I didn’t know to be happy that my parents didn’t fight with each other. As an adult I know how fortunate I am to have had parents who had shalom bayis and always displayed concern for one another.
As a young kallah, I thought it only natural for my father to accept my chassan as his son. As a married woman I understand how lucky we are that each son-in-law became a son and that they in turn looked at my father like another father. He never judged and always accepted each person despite his/her shortcomings. Maybe that is the reason he stayed so close to his children. Maybe that is why to so many people he was a favorite uncle, and why so many people gravitated to our house.
As a teenager I knew there was no way to understand my father’s pain at losing his only son. As a mother, I realize I could never begin to understand the searing pain that he experienced.
However, I think I was able to appreciate how he took such a painful experience and grew from it. He asked, he learned and he changed. Many people mentioned at the shivah that they remembered my father’s hesped for Chesky. They remembered how he took something so painful, and through his tears he was mechazeik and continued to be mechazeik his family for the next eleven years. Our family knew of the many different nisyanos that came his way. Our family also saw his pain and fear. But our family saw how he grew closer and closer to Hashem. It was like climbing a ladder. He started off on one of the lower rungs and climbed and climbed one step at a time, until he was on the highest step – so, so close to Hashem.
He didn’t bury his pain. He faced it, he grabbed it and he became better from it. Each Succos we saw his hurt as he relived Chesky’s last Succos, two weeks before he was niftar. But despite his pain he made coming home so enjoyable and fun. We laughed at his predictability. We rolled our eyes at his corny jokes, and we groaned at his idiosyncrasies, such as comments about the garbage can that filled up too quickly.
The children coined the name “Funny Zaydie” as soon as they learned how to talk. They called him this because that is what he was to them. He joked with them, he played with them and he laughed with them. Funny Zaydie had a place in their hearts that no other Zaidy can have.
On the other hand, we knew whom to call when we were down and in need of chizuk. We reached out to our father who had a depth to him that not many could match. With wisdom that only life’s experience can bring, my father was able to encourage us and countless others.
Before the levayah my husband asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted him to say in his speech. I responded, “Everyone knows my father as someone who is funny and always had a joke. But he was such an anav. Tell the world who he really was. Tell everyone about his unwavering trust through so many hardships because they don’t know.”
But I see how wrong I was!
The deep void of losing this special person is felt by so many people. Nephews we never knew he had a relationship with. Brothers and sisters-in-law who were so different from him. And friends who couldn’t walk into the house without crying. All these testify to the fact that many people did realize his tochen. Yes, wherever he went he brought laughter.
Yet, people realized he wasn’t just a man who loved a good piece of cake and a good joke. He was a man who always aspired to be more. People realized that his davening took longer than most because he really had the connection that we all crave. People realized that they could ask him for money from the Zichron Tzedakah Fund that was set up l’iluy nishmas my brother because he would help out quietly and discreetly. People realized that they could do business with him without any contracts because honesty would always come first. Yes, friends and relatives all over knew him and realized who he was. And the pain of losing him is so strong and so deep.
When my son Yecheskil was born, it brought some nechamah to my father for the loss of his son. Right from the beginning, my father introduced him to Chesky’s tefillin and Chesky’s bike. He talked to him about the day that he would be old enough to inherit Chesky’s prized possessions. But my father wasn’t here anymore to give my son his only son’s tefillin. He wouldn’t be there for any grandson’s bar mitzvah.
We always enjoyed a close relationship with my grandparents, and of course I thought our children were going to enjoy that type of relationship with my parents – forever. But during shivah, Yecheskil, then a third grader, started learning mishnayos, and he couldn’t share the news with his Zaydie. Moishy and Dovy had just started getting to really know their Zaydie over the Pesach that had just passed, and now that relationship is over – forever.
People trying to be menachem us said, “At least you have good memories to hold onto.” But I wanted to shake them. Didn’t they realize my father is too young to be a memory?! We – his children – were too young to be without a father and Mommy was too young to be a widow. Our children were babies. He couldn’t just be a memory. We needed him to be here as a proud father and grandfather.
No, we determined that he will not just be a memory to us. He kept Chesky alive for us in our hearts and our minds, and we will always keep my father alive in our hearts and minds. We talk about him, share his jokes and his divrei Torah. We comment on what he liked and disliked. We bring him into our homes and families’ lives by saying what Zaydie would have said and done.
As we talk more and more about my father, my children will get to know who Zaydie was. He was an easygoing person who was so, so close to Hashem. He was a tzaddik and someone to emulate for all posterity.
And as painful as this is for us, we must do what my father would have done. We have to take the pain and grow from it. We have to grab this hurt and become closer to Hashem from it. It seems almost impossible. But we have my father’s actions to lead us, and we will try to follow.

Comfort From A Mountain

To My Dear Parents,

So much has changed since the last time I spoke to you. I have so many things to share. I have so many questions to ask. I feel so sad that you’re not here for me. I miss you and I think about you every day. Sometimes the pain is so great it feels like I will topple over from it. At these times I have to remind myself that this is what was supposed to be. Hashem didn’t make a mistake. He knew all the pain that I would have from your deaths. Each time I have pain I know that this pain was taken into consideration. I believe. I really do. But still, sometimes I wonder.

I know I am an adult. But sometimes I still feel like a young child. I am not sure I know how to do life without you. I still need your guidance, your listening ear and your care. I feel so lonely without you.

Last week we went on vacation. It was wonderful – so relaxing and so much fun. It felt so good to let life’s pressures roll off of me for a few days. I was lighter and more carefree. But through it all there was a running refrain going through my mind: I wish I could share this with my parents. They would be so happy for me. They would love to hear all about it. They would love to see pictures as it is happening. Underneath my smile and laughter, there was pain.

One day we drove up a mountain. The altitude was 40,000 feet. We inched up the windy, twisty, narrow road until we reached the top. I remember when the two of you went to New Hampshire together. You also drove up a high mountain. What did you see when you got to the top? Did you see a miniature world? We saw four different states. We saw life. Houses and office buildings. Streets, highways and cars. Those people down there didn’t know that they were being watched by us, so high above them. They only knew what they saw in front of them. How limited their vision was.

How limited my vision is. I am down here in this world with masked vision. What can I see? What do I know? My understanding of the events in my life is so narrow. My eyes are covered with a thick, thick covering.

I remember after Chesky died, another bereaved mother shared a mashal with you that she took from her own life. She told how she used to drive a small car and could only see what was right in front of her in the street. Then she switched to driving a minivan and had a higher-up view that allowed her to see more. When she started driving a twelve-seater her view went much farther. And when she had an opportunity to sit in a truck, she was able to see so much more.

Sometimes I wish I had a better understanding of where you are and why you aren’t here with me. But Mount Greylock taught me a lesson – although really it is a lesson that started from you. I am much too low down to see even half the picture. But I am high enough to know that each day I can work on accepting Hashem’s will for my life.

Just as you did.

Love,

Miriam

If My Siddur Could Talk

It was the night before my chasunah. I can still feel the mixture of fear and excitement that I was experiencing. When a small box was delivered to my house with a card, I tenderly opened it up, and there inside lay a beautiful leather siddur engraved with my new name. I held it. I looked at it. I smelled it. I opened it – and I knew I would treasure it forever.

It is now sixteen years later.  The siddur is torn, the binding separated from the cover. The thumb grips are tattered. And some pages are torn in half. I can’t use this siddur anymore. I realized my davening was compromised as I searched for the missing pages or concentrated on making sure that no loose pages fell to the floor. This siddur has been through a lot with me. But now it is time to put it away, high up on a shelf where it is safe, in a place that can’t be reached.

But I wonder – If my siddur could talk, what would it say?  If we took a trip together down memory lane, what would its memories be?  I suppose it would go back sixteen years ago to the day of my wedding. I was eager with anticipation. A whole new life beckoned to me, a life I was about to embark upon. It was hard to visualize my future as I held tightly onto my siddur, and I davened. I davened that life with my new husband should be as glorious as I was imagining it to be.  I davened that we should be zoche to a bayis ne’eman where there would be berachah in abundance.

And so began our journey together. Through ups and downs my siddur was with me. When I was full of gratitude for a healthy baby, I thanked Hashem from my siddur. When my husband left yeshivah, and I felt apprehensive, I took my siddur and asked Hashem to guide us. When I felt tired and overworked, my siddur reminded me that I can ask Hashem for physical strength.

As I watched my two young children play together, I grabbed my siddur and exploded with praise to Hashem for these gifts. And when I gave birth to a set of healthy twins, my siddur helped me remember that it was all due to Hashem’s kindness.

It was my siddur that I cried into when my sister was diagnosed. And I continued to cry into it when my mother was diagnosed. It was my siddur that I turned to as we anxiously awaited results. And it was my siddur that carried me through the difficult days of shivah for my father. As the roller coaster ride got bumpier and bumpier, I held on tightly to my siddur.

It was with pride that I davened on the day my oldest started learning Mishnayos and later Gemara. And it was with pride that I davened as each one of my children continued to reach milestones.

It was my siddur that was there for me as I sat in the hospital room watching my sister die. And it was that siddur that I cried into, joy mingling with pain, as my newborn daughter was named after my sister.

I held on tightly to my siddur as I begged Hashem to give my mother a refuah sheleimah. I cried into my siddur as I heard the doctor’s hopeless report. And I continued to cry into it as I sat shivah for her.

I grabbed my siddur as my bar-mitzvah bochurim made me proud. And I continued holding onto it as we navigated the road of mesivtas.

My siddur gave me strength when I felt sad and alone. My siddur reminded me of all the blessings Hashem has showered upon me. My siddur watched me grow from a young innocent girl whose world was full of excitement and expectation into a mature woman.

My tears of pain have ripped the pages. And my tears have gratitude have torn the binding. I kiss my siddur and put it high up on a shelf out of reach.

Today I got a new siddur. It isn’t leather, and my name is not engraved upon it. It’s not wrapped up, and it didn’t come with a card. But I hold it filled with hope and anticipation. The future continues to beckon to me. I know there will be ups. I know there will be downs. But I know that my siddur can always help me find expression for both the good times and the sad times.

We are about to embark on a journey together. If my siddur could talk, I wonder what it would say.

Siyum Musings

My father called that day “Black Monday.” It was the day that the doctor said to my parents, “I am sorry, but there is nothing more we can do for your son. It is your choice if you would like to let him die in the hospital or at home.” It wasn’t a decision. There was nothing my brother wanted more than to be at home. And so for the next two weeks we were there with my brother, watching his life slowly ebb away. We were all with him in the room that Friday morning when he was niftar.

My sister wouldn’t give up. She wanted nothing more than to live. So she turned deaf ears to her friends’ pleas of letting hospice come in to make her more comfortable. But that Monday when she was admitted to the hospital we knew she wouldn’t be coming home. I spent many hours that week at her bedside refusing to leave until she was nifteres.

My mother wasn’t doing well. Someone needed to travel in to be with her. My sisters had recently been there. It was my turn to go. By the time I got on the plane, she was in the hospital. I went straight from the airport to the hospital and stayed there with her as much as I could. I was right next to her as she was nifteres.

As each yahrtzeit comes along, I light the yahrtzeit licht and I remember. I remember what I had. I cry over what I lost. And I feel comfort that I knew to make the most of the last few months. Our last words were pleasant words. Our last interactions were caring ones.

On June 21, 2015, I attended a triple siyum l’ilui neshamos the three boys from Eretz Yisrael who were kidnapped and so brutally murdered.  I walked in and was faced with three yahrtzeit candles, each one with the name of the niftar. I saw those dancing flames and was seized with such sadness. I can’t even begin to fathom the pain of these families. Each day my children leave to school, and I expect them to return. But on that day, three sons didn’t return. Three mothers saw their sons off one day, never thinking that they would never see their children again. And then comes the angst of not knowing – not knowing if their sons cried out for them. Did they suffer a lot? Did they suffer for long?  There is no comfort in knowing that they were there for their children at the last moments.

These dancing flames make me marvel at how all Yidden are connected. I never would have thought that I would be at a siyum l’ilui neshamos these boys.  Our worlds are worlds apart. And yet tonight we were deeply connected. I wonder if as there is a connection made in this world, there is a connection in the next? Do my parents have anything to do with these three boys? Is there something that has come full circle that I won’t know about in this world?

I always enjoy watching men dancing. On this night the dancing was full of simchah as the men celebrated the completion of Shas three times. It really was a beautiful and inspiring simchah. I am guessing that most of the people present never would have imagined that one day they would be learning l’ilui neshamos an Israeli bachur they had never met. The truth is that it’s the Torah that connects each Jew. No matter who and no matter where, our lives are so tightly intertwined.

On this night everyone was connected, united by the Torah they learned. We all have what to work on. But on the night of the siyum, the feeling was one of love for Hashem and His Torah.

No, these families don’t have the comfort of knowing that they were there for their children in their last minutes. But they have the comfort of knowing that their deaths have brought about substantial amounts of limud Torah. They have the comfort of knowing that their deaths have created colossal amounts of achdus.

As I walked out feeling inspired, the three yahrtzeit candles were still burning strongly.  In my mind I saw the candles that burn in my house four times a year, each one for a different person. But I never thought I would see them burning for any of these three boys. I didn’t think there would ever be a real tangible connection from me to them.

On this night, in this world, I was connected to these three boys. The Torah learning that took place here in this town connected me to three Israeli boys that are no longer among the living. It wasn’t random that I ended up at this siyum.  Hashem made events happen so that I should be there. I needed to have the connection to these neshamos tonight.

I never have a yahrtzeit too far off. Maybe next time I will light the yahrtzeit candle I will think not only of my loved one but of these three boys as well. Because I now know that in some way I am connected to these neshamos as well.

 

When the Wind Blows

We all go through challenging times. It is usually during these times that we start seeking out Hashem in a more intense way.  Here are some thoughts I had a while back when there was a lot going on in my life.

I was walking outside with my daughter who was a toddler. She was running ahead and giggling. Suddenly there came a strong gust of wind. She fearfully ran to me and held out her hands. I picked her up, and she wrapped her hands and feet tightly around me. When the next gust came she buried her head in my shoulder. The wind continued, but to her it no longer mattered. My daughter’s world was safe. She was protected by her mother.

This started me wondering. I know that as much as I love my child, Hashem loves me more. But many times the winds of challenge have blown through my life. Whom can I wrap myself around? And if the challenges grow stronger, into whom can I bury my head? Shouldn’t it be Hashem?

My daughter likes to stand on the third to bottom step of our staircase. She throws herself down into my outstretched arms. She isn’t fearful that I might miss. She has enough confidence in my love for her to know that I will catch her. I would never let her fall.

And so I realized Hashem is here for me. His arms are outstretched. He isn’t letting me fall. He is constantly catching me. But it is up to me to realize it.

I came into the parking lot. I was in a rush. I was hoping to find a spot in this overly crowded lot. I had a choice to turn left or right. For some reason I chose the right. Just as I was reaching the end of the lot, the last car in the section pulled out. I felt as if Hashem was saving this spot just for me.

I went to the grocery store early in the day. I bought some frozen food to make for supper that night. I had the store deliver my order to me. Usually it comes quickly. On this day they were backlogged. My children were coming home from school, and they always come home starving. My order hadn’t arrived, and I was stuck. I turned to Hashem and said, “Hashem I need my delivery to feed my hungry children after a long day of school.” Right then there was a knock on the door. My children’s supper had arrived. Hashem was listening to my requests.

On a typical day while driving around town, I was stopped by the police. Unbeknownst to me, my registration had expired. They insisted on towing my car. An ehrliche man who just happened to be in the area at the time was watching all the proceedings. He came over to me and offered to drive me home. Hashem didn’t leave me stranded.

I was nervous about an unexpected expense that came up. I wasn’t sure how to pay for it, and yet I knew it was something that could not be ignored. Feeling very frazzled, I went to bring in my mail. That day we received a check from the insurance that was completely unexpected.

 

I won’t ever know for sure why the winds of challenge have to blow through my life. But I do have to know that I can wrap myself around Hashem and bury my head into him. He is here to catch me. If my eyes are open to it I will find Hashem in my life all day, every day.

My daughter (and all my children) can continue to run to me for protection. Whether it’s the wind and rain or anything else that scares her, I will pick her up and make her feel safe. And I will know that just as I am taking care of my precious little girl, Hashem is taking of me.

Feeling the Simchah of Purim

Feeling the Simchah of Purim

My children all unanimously agree that Purim is the best Yom Tov. For months beforehand they talk about what they will dress up as and which friends will receive their mishloach manos. As we get closer and closer to Purim their excitement increases and escalates. So far there never has been a Purim when they were disappointed.

The older ones need Purim shtick that will outdo last year’s. Each day the younger ones have a different idea of what they want to dress up as. And everyone hopes that this year they will get the most nosh ever.

It is so easy for me to get caught up in their excitement. I never know what the frenzied pace of the day will bring. But I am ready to go along with the flow.

At some point in the day, however, I will feel pain. Because I do have some painful memories of Purim. My sister was diagnosed with her cancer shortly before Purim. I went with her to Sloan Kettering on Shushan Purim. It was on that day that the doctor casually declared that she didn’t have too many years left to live.

A few years later my ill mother took a turn for the worse on Purim. It was on that day that she lost her appetite and never regained it. Losing an appetite is not a good sign. It was downhill from there.

But I like to keep in mind some of the lessons of Purim. We all know that it doesn’t say Hashem’s name in the Megillah. And yet we know beyond a doubt that Hashem orchestrated each event. It seemed as if all the Yidden would be killed. It seemed like there was no hope for a salvation. But the miraculous salvation teaches us that Hashem micromanages each event in our lives, no matter how big or small.

I was recently reading something that Rabbi Frand wrote.  Haman had everything and should have been the happiest one around. He had a large family, money, a prestigious position and lots of power. But the one thing he didn’t have was the only thing he could focus on. The fact that one person, Mordechai, wouldn’t bow down to him gave him no rest. This man could never be happy because he was always focused on what he didn’t have rather than what he did. He was the antithesis of one who is happy with what he has.

On Purim we have the mitzvah to be b’simchah. But there is so much pain in this world. There is so much worry in this world. How can we really feel that simchah? We can – regardless of what the circumstances are in our lives. We can be the exact opposite of Haman. We can notice what we have. We can be grateful for what we do have. By taking nothing for granted we can feel real serenity inside of us.

There is nothing that I just wrote that is new to me. There is nothing that I just wrote that was a real eye-opener to me. But I am grateful for these reminders.

Purim is almost here. I have a lot to do before it arrives. I know that over the next few weeks I will have flashbacks. I know that I will feel pain. But I hope to remember these lessons.  Hashem is here taking care of me. And I have so much to be grateful for.

 

Mommy’s Little Girl

My four-year-old daughter loves to play house. Typical of a four-year-old girl, she usually wants to be the mommy. Often when she isn’t even playing she considers herself a mother to her dolls and stuffed animals. She leaves me with instructions for how to care for them while she is in school. So I wasn’t surprised when she started talking about becoming a mother for real, iy”H.

One day she very innocently stated that when she will be a mommy she will have newborns. My son, in typical thirteen-year-old boy talk, told her that when her newborns grow up they will have newborns.

I then explained to my little girl that when that happens, iy”H, she will be a bubby. She all-knowingly agreed with me. In a fit of love, I told her that even when she will be a bubby, iy”H, she will still be my little girl. Again she all-knowingly agreed with me and then responded saying, “And you are still your mommy’s little girl.”

I felt that punch in the stomach. Am I? I want to be. But how can I be? I can’t call my mother anymore for a recipe. I can’t kvetch to her about my messy kitchen. And I can’t complain to her about my overload of laundry and errands. We don’t spend yom tovim together, and I don’t tell her about my most recent purchases. I yearn for that status. But sadly it isn’t mine anymore.

And then I remembered….

A few months ago my husband and I had to make a tremendous decision. There were so many negatives and so many positives. I was scared. As we were getting closer to the decision, my fear was escalating. I really wished I had my parents’ guidance.

And then I got it.

I got it by the sudden feeling of my parents’ presence. They arrived at my side. It was a light feeling of something – the sense of their hovering right near me. Something so unreachable but almost touchable.

To those who never experienced such a thing it might be hard to understand. But those that have experienced it don’t need an explanation.

I knew what they were telling me: They were telling me that we were making the right choice. We should continue in the direction we were going in. They would continue to be with us.

It wasn’t the first time I felt it. But in the past it was much more fleeting, almost as if they were in a rush and stopped in for a quick visit. This time it was constant. My parents were with me for a few days straight. It gave me the courage and the confidence to go ahead with what we decided. I knew I had their approval.

This is not the way I would have chosen to continue our relationship. But  I know that in a spiritual way they are here for me. I hope, iy”H, I can be there for my little four-year-old until she is 100.

But to respond to her comment:  “Yes, Esther Malki, I am still my mother’s little girl.”