By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
It is hard to believe that it’s already six years since the petirah of my beloved mother, Rebbetzin Esther Bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, a”h.
Ima was – and through her teachings continues to be – my light and my inspiration. It was Ima whom I turned to for advice and a listening ear. No matter how busy Ima was, there was always time for us.
During times of need, how reassuring it was to hear my mother’s voice. “Chaya Sorale, sheifeleh, everything will be okay. My Tehillim is already open.”
Every visit, every phone call, ended with words of berachah. “Let me give you just one more berachah.” Ima always knew what was in our hearts, and the words we needed to hear.
How I miss her berachos.
It is said that the Shabbos of the week in which one is niftar is reflective of their life. Ima was nifteres during the week of Parshas Eikev. The messages of Eikev were Ima’s life messages to us.
Think yourself happy
“V’hayah eikev tishma’un…, And it will be, if you will listen to my mitzvos…” (Devarim 7:12). The Or HaChaim teaches that the word “v’hayah – and it will be” connotes simchah, happiness. Teaching us to live our lives doing HaShem’s mitzvos with joy.
My mother learned the importance of simchah when she was just a little girl in Bergen-Belsen. My Zeide zt”l told her that she had an important job – to smile. To smile even in the most difficult of times. Zeide explained that as a little girl with a smile on her face, she can warm another’s heart, even if it’s for but a fleeting moment.
That smile, that simchah, stayed with my mother always.
Year later, my mother was speaking at Oxford University. When she opened to questions, a young woman asked: “Rebbetzin, you are always smiling. Does your smile start on your lips, or does it start in your heart?”
What a question, my mother thought. She shared that her life was not always easy, but she smiled through it, and that smile, that started on her lips brought happiness to her heart.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslav teaches, “Mitzvah gedolah l’hiyos b’simchah tamid, it is a great mitzvah to always be in a state of joy.” Tamid – always, not just during the easy times, but no matter how challenging a situation may be, one should strive to be joyous.
The Hebrew letters of the word b’simchah, meaning with simchah, can be rearranged to spell the word machshavah, thought. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that yes, we do have the power to think ourselves happy.
Take the first step and HaShem will do the rest
The word eikev means heel. We only have to take the first step. Make the first move, and HaShem will help with the rest.
My mother was never intimidated to take the initiative. She always had emunah that HaShem will help.
Stacy was a young woman, living alone, with no one to turn to. When she was diagnosed with cancer, her friend reached out to my mother and asked if the Rebbetzin could visit Stacy. Ima never met Stacy, but she was a fellow Jew in a time of need. Thus began their visits together, with Ima giving Stacy berachos and words of chizuk.
When Stacy began losing her hair, my mother saw a need for a good wig, and did something about it.
After a few phone calls to several sheital dealers, one of them offered to provide a free wig to Stacy. Ima now had the wig to take along on her next visit. When I asked Ima who would style it, my mother answered, “HaShem has His ways of making everything work out.”
That week, when my mother went to visit Stacy, she found herself waiting for the elevator alongside a young woman.
Always friendly, my mother struck up a conversation. “Hello, how are you?”
“I’m fine”, replied the woman, “and how are you?”
My mother answered as she always did, “Baruch HaShem”.
“What does that mean? I never heard that before.”
Ima explained that that’s how Jewish people respond. “Baruch HaShem. Thank G-d. Thank G-d I’m alive. Thank G-d for another day.”
As they entered the elevator, Ima explained that she was a Torah teacher, a Rebbetzin, on her way to visit someone.
“And what do you do?” asked my mother.
“I’m a hair stylist.”
As soon as my mother heard those words, her eyes lit up. It didn’t take very long for Ima to explain the reason for her visit, and that the stylist was exactly who was needed at that very moment.
And so, Stacy got a professional styling for her new wig.
We only have to take the first step. HaShem does the rest.
To follow in the footsteps
From the youngest age, we were raised with the understanding of where we came from, and what our responsibilities were to continue that chain.
Our home wasn’t decorated with Judaic artwork or abstract murals, but with beautiful paintings of our zeides, reflecting their hadras panim, shining faces with majestic countenance.
“Remember who your zeides are”, was a message that Ima told us, time and time again.
My mother would bring along to all our family simchos bags filled with seforim authored by our zeides. As Pirkei Avos teaches, “Dah mei’ayin bosoh, u’le’an atah holech, Know from where you came, and to where you are going.” What an important message: If we know from where we come, if we appreciate our past, we will have direction in life for ourselves and our future generations.
Our zeides’ seforim were always given a place of honor on the head table, to constantly remind us of where we came from – whom our ancestors were. “Eikev” – a responsibility to follow in the footsteps of our zeides and bubbas.
Ima, every Friday night, as I light the Shabbos candles, I think of you. How you would light a candle and recite a special tefillah for each child, for each grandchild and great-grandchild. How you would daven for Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel. You would have tears in your eyes as you said special tefillos for us all.
Ima, I know you are now in a lofty place in Gan Eden. That you are standing before the Kisei HaKavod, the Heavenly Throne, continuing to do what you did throughout your lifetime – davening for us all.
May the day come soon when HaShem will say to you, as He said to Rochel Imeinu, “Min’i koleich mi’bechi v’einayich m’dimah… Cease your voice from weeping, your eyes from tearing,” (Yirmiyahu 31:15)
May we merit to see the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.
Chaya Sora can be reached at email@example.com
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l