“…one who runs from honor will have it pursue him.” – Talmud (Eruvin 13b)
This phrase came up a number of times last week as we clung to family following the tragic passing of my sister-in-law, Ahuva*, a”h. She was a tremendous woman, someone who loved Torah and mitzvos and strived to observe them in the best way possible. She went about her life quietly, without fanfare, though those who knew her recognized that she was a unique woman of stature. Through her nine children, one can see the love and attention she poured into them. In her amazingly organized home, one can see the thought and care she put into creating a warm and nurturing environment for her family to thrive.
She didn’t seek out honor, but after her death it certainly sought her. Many important people in her community and beyond came to pay their respects. Some drove for six hours just to express their condolences. I’ve had people contact me, telling me that even though they never met my sister-in-law, they felt very inspired by her story (which you can hear, in part, here, in the recording of the eulogies at her funeral).
Even though I wasn’t obligated to observe the laws of mourning as dictated by Jewish law, I felt touched by the process and awed by the wisdom in the halacha. The practice, from the funeral through the shiva was transformative, and listening to so many beautiful memories of Ahuva was healing.
There are so many things that are still swirling around in my head and heart, and I imagine it will take me some time to process, but one thing in particular jumps out at me right now.
A rabbi and neighbor said that if we all truly realized why we are here in this life, we would live very differently. Life is short, and sometimes much shorter than we think. After we are gone from this world, we are no longer able to perform mitzvos or accumulate merits on our own. It is so easy to get distracted, to become focused on things that seem important now, but in the long run, are just diversions.
Ahuva was someone who kept her eyes on the real purpose of life, and was determined to make every effort to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t popular or easy. One thing she had asked for, in her memory, was that people continue to make brachos out loud, and that those who hear answer “amen.” I was moved at the simplicity and profundity of this request. Here is a mitzvah that is really easy to do correctly, yet so many times I end up quietly (and unintelligibly) mumbling my brachos. Through her unpretentious desire to do things in the best way possible, she is elevating my own observance of this mitzvah, and I am so grateful for that.
The thirty days following a person’s death are known as the shloshim. During this time some have the custom to learn as a merit for the soul of the deceased. It would bring me comfort if all of you reading this post would do something as a merit for the soul of my sister-in-law, Ahuva bas Avraham. It doesn’t even have to be something extra, it could be taking a routine mitzvah and, in her memory, trying to do it in the best way possible. You don’t have to be Orthodox to contribute to this. Something like lighting Shabbos candles just for this month, or reading a little bit on Aish.com or Chabad.org about the upcoming holiday of Purim would be a merit as well.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Saying blessings with concentration, slowly, clearly and out loud
- Bentching from a siddur or bencher instead of by memory
- Lighting Shabbos candles five or ten minutes early
- Learning the laws of Tznius, a mitzvah that Ahuva loved very dearly
- Learning the laws of speech. Ahuva and I were supposed to start learning from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Guard Your Tongue, but sadly, we never had a chance to start.
- Refraining from sharing a juicy bit of gossip
- Giving charity (even just putting a coin in a pushka)
- Refraining from talking in shul
- Reviewing the six constant mitzvos
- Thinking about and being grateful for the many blessings in our lives
May we all grow from experiences of sadness and be able to share in happy occasions together.
*some of you may remember my sister-in-law as Ariela. During her illness, she was advised to change her name to Ahuva, and after her passing, it was decided to keep this newer name.