Words of faith and encouragement from a terror attack widow, mother of four, who remarried a widower with five children, and recently gave birth to their joint son *On the first Rosh Hashanah alone as a widow, when the words of the Akedah poem “The Gate of Favor” filled every room of her torn heart *On deciding to rebuild a home, and choosing the name Eliyah for the new baby who arrived after a complex family journey *Laws of Torah study on the holiday, and eating in the sukkah for travelers
Matziv G’vul Almana (Who Sets a Limit for a Widow)
On the night after Rosh Hashanah, a certain woman wrote words of faith and comfort. She shared them with my wife and myself, and I thought presenting them here would be valuable, along with things she wrote in her year of mourning. She merited marrying a wonderful Torah scholar at a young age. They had four children, and he was murdered in a terror attack. After some time, she remarried a widower with five children. After the families melded, this year they were fortunate to have a son, and named him Eliyah.
The First Year
She wrote the following in Tishrei, about eight months after being widowed. It is addressed to her late husband, may God revenge his blood: “Maybe it’s good that August only ended a week before Rosh Hashanah this year. So Rosh Hashanah was in the air for less time, mixed up together with this new beginning (transition from home class teacher, to subject teacher, working every other day). Of notes to children who don’t know how to sign them. Of uncertainty how home help will look this year, more days without, than with. With no one to tell how they went to preschool, daycare and school this morning, who had a hard time, and how we can help them. No one to tell how I’m doing and feeling, and what happened at work today. As I’m dying to see them all rushing around me frantically, as I stand dazed, at myself, at them.
I chose to think about it (about Rosh Hashanah) as little as possible. Plan it as little as possible – only when I really have to. Going for a walk with the kids on the eve of the holiday, instead of feeling the atmosphere surrounding everyone around me.
We didn’t do soul-searching together. I have been doing it, alone, for several months without stopping.
I forced myself and those around me to cook a few things, just so I’d feel I was also preparing. I went shopping exhausted, hoping not to meet someone I know. When buying an exorbitantly priced dress I consoled myself that last year you didn’t let up until I spent an even higher amount on holiday clothes. I just hurried to make a quick calculation, and give ma’aser kesafim [money tithe]…
And the calls and SMS messages flow. ‘May the old year with its curses end’, ‘May the New Year with its blessings begin’. ‘Wishing you a good year’, ‘Sweet’, ‘May you merit much satisfaction from the children’, ‘And, all the best’. The good and caring people well-up, embarrassed themselves, not knowing what to wish that could comfort me. So many nice blessings, but not one contains the hope for what I yearn for.
And Rosh Hashanah arrived, entered, in all its glory. I dressed nicely. I looked in the mirror, and heard you behind me: ‘Did you notice how pretty you look? Do you see you’re gorgeous? You simply look great’. And along with the tiredness, it helped me not pay too much attention to what’s missing.
I prayed, with the image of your body on the hospital bed before my eyes. And with the sacrifice I bound on the altar, ‘suppressing my mercy, to do Your will, wholeheartedly’. For I already merited this verse coming true for me, and fulfilling it. ‘Even if You take my soul’. And nothing remains for me, but to understand that the evil decree can be annulled, even after being fulfilled. Please, grant me my portion in Your Torah, for how can I continue revealing Your Torah’s perfection, when I am torn and shattered? ‘May Your glory reign over the entire world, our Father, our King, reveal the glory of Your kingdom upon us speedily’. For this, I am ready to give everything.
And I went outside, on the 3rd of Tishrei. The downstairs neighbors were building their sukkah, the one you always helped them with from above with the schach. A flute from one of the windows plays High Holiday tunes, and a father with his little children also starts building a sukkah. Neighbors discuss joint holiday meals. And I remember the Tishrei days still exist in the world, and that there are people who sense their scent, taste, and melody. And I, I feel the depth of longing, for one who touched my innermost soul. For one who today, eight years ago, fell in love with me. The first time of the second round. When we met again after that separation, which was a transformation.”
Five Years Later
“Eliyah. Maybe now is the time to express my heart’s murmurings about this name, about this wondrous miracle of a delightful baby. The meaning of this inconceivable thing for me. I thought maybe to speak at the brit, but no moment felt right. It seems this is the precise time.
This baby, that expresses so much. In my personal process, in our couple’s process, in our family’s process. So much comfort, redemption, and connection. I knew all along I wanted a name of comfort and redemption. Personal comfort and redemption for us, but I think it’s also a general message. That complete redemption is possible, and within reach. That it’s possible to be comforted.
On Rosh Hashanah five years ago, I cried over my personal sacrifice. And since then, it’s also there every Rosh Hashanah. The self-sacrifice I was required for, joining the self-sacrifice of the Jewish people through the generations, for all the great things I believe in.
And the wonderful poem from grandfather’s home that all Israel is moved by, took on additional, personal meaning for me, shaking my heart, and bringing many tears:
“If your soul is exceedingly tied tight with him, Arise, and raise him up as a pure burnt offering. On a mountain [where God’s] glory shines out to you.” [Recall] the binder, the bound, and the altar... We will build, son, a throne before Him today —
Then He will designate the sacrifice and the slaughterer. [Recall] the binder, the bound, and the altar; and the light of days was night in their eyes, and multitudes of tears were flowing in strength. The eye was crying bitterly, but the heart was happy. [Recall] the binder, the bound, and the altar…. tell my mother that her joy has turned away — the son she gave birth to at ninety years of age has gone to the fire, and been designated for the knife. Where will I find a comforter for her, where? It pains me for my mother to cry and sob.
[Recall] the binder, the bound, and the altar…. Please, grant redemption, and give a ransom; Do not let the world be without its moon!” [Recall] the binder, the bound, and the altar.”
This poem, expressing my feelings so well, ends with the amazing, choking words: ‘For your covenant, Dweller On High, and the oath, Remember for the storm-tossed and afflicted congregation! And hear the sounds calls [of the shofar]
And say to Zion, “The time of rescue has arrived! I am sending Elijah and Eliyah! [Recall] the binder, the bound, and the altar.’
So here is my Eliyah, ours. That Hashem sent us. Remembering the covenant, and telling us, the time of salvation has come.
When I returned to work a few weeks after the attack, we started teaching the students the song ‘My Heart Will Rejoice’ by Rabbi Kook, for the end of year ceremony we did with it. Every morning I sang it with my class so they would learn it well. Or at least I tried to sing. And there was a sentence I always choked on, and had no chance – ‘And my heart will bloom again, and live’. I didn’t know if that was still possible. If my heart could still live again. And not just live, so withered. But bloom.
And the privilege I was granted – that my heart opened to live again, bloom, love life here once again. To fall in love with another man, love new children. To continue wanting life here, even with all the anguish we went through together in our complex family process. To reach this moment when one can think of adding more life here, wanting to bring new lives into the world here.
This privilege is beyond what I can encompass, and understand. Supernatural.
I was granted that my heart bloomed once again, and lived. We as a family were granted our hearts bloomed again and lived. And my God, my father, brought me Eliyahu Hanavi. And my Eliyah. Our little, sweet Eliyah. Thank you Hashem.”
Torah Study on the Holiday
There is a mitzvah to increase Torah study on Shabbat and Yom Tov. As our Sages said: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (y. Shabbat 15c). The mitzvot of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel) and redeeming Israel, also depend on this, for without it, the Torah accuses the mitzvah of settling the Land. As our Sages said: “The Torah said to God: “Master of the Universe, when the Jews enter the land, this one will run to his vineyard and that one to his field; what will become of me?” God responded “I have a partner with whom I will pair you. Its name is Shabbat, on which they do not work, and thus can engross themselves in you.” (Tur §290). And regarding holidays, our Sages have already said that Moshe Rabbeinu established for Israel “to ask and expound on that day’s subject, the laws of Passover on Passover, Shavuot on Shavuot, Sukkot on Sukkot” (Megilla 32a).
Through the Torah study on Shabbat and holidays, the work Israel performs on weekdays, is blessed. Therefore settling the Land does not constitute bitul Torah. Rather, by settling the Land, one understands Torah more deeply and honestly, broadening and illuminating the Torah in all areas of life. As the Ben Ish Chai wrote, one hour of Shabbat Torah study is worth a thousand weekday hours (Introduction to Parshat Shemot, Shana Rishona).
Half for Torah Study
In practice, our Sages ruled (Pesachim 68b; Beitzah 15b) to dedicate half the day to Torah study, on holidays and Chol Hamoed, and on Shabbatot – “Half for Hashem, and half for you”, meaning, “Half for eating and drinking, and half for the study hall”. This is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 529:1; Beit Yosef 208:1). Some poskim say one must meticulously refrain from decreasing the half for Hashem. Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar wrote that if one decreases from the half for Hashem, he steals Hashem’s portion (Rishon Le’Tzion to Beitzah 15b). Others say one need not calculate the hours precisely, rather one should learn approximately half the day (Pri Megadim).
Travelers are Obligated in the Mitzvah of Sukkah
Those who wish to go on a family trip must plan the trip in a way they will eat their meal in a sukkah. If they decide to go somewhere without a sukkah, they must refrain from eating a fixed meal on the trip, subsisting on fruits, vegetables and a little mezanot (this is the view of Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:93; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach; Yechaveh Daat 3:47. See Peninei Halakha Sukkot 3:14).