Gitel bas Yehudah a”h
In our Tefilah Focus on the first Hallelukah (after Ashrei), we wrote about the pasuk, “Ahallelah Hashem b’chayai, azamrah leilokai b’odi.” “Oma,” as she was affectionately called, embodied this pasuk. Her life was a praise and song to Hashem.
Life Lesson 1:
Bitachon (trust and reliance on Hashem), even in the most challenging and painful of times
There are multiple meanings for the word “b’odi.” One meaning is: I will sing to Hashem even through the difficult times.
Oma a”h had a very difficult and challenging life. She was working by the age of ten, lost both parents when they were only in their 60s, lost her husband when she was only 46 (never remarrying), and lost her only sibling just a year after that. Throughout her life, not only did she not complain about her lot in life, but a refrain that graced her lips with great frequency was “ha’samei’ach b’chelko,” which is the end of the phrase in Mishnah Avos 4:1 (“Eizehu ashir? Ha’samei’ach b’chelko”). The Vilna Gaon says that this not only refers to being content and happy with our financial and material portion, but also refers to our spiritual role, which Hashem has designed especially for us. This includes every aspect of our life setting from the day we are born until the day our neshamah returns to Hashem.
Oma was not only a content and happy person, but she is the one who went out of her way to make others happy. Her grandson mentioned that B’nei Yisrael is compared to a bird. His thought was that the elders of klal Yisrael are like the wings of that bird. He passionately exclaimed: “Oma made us fly!”
The Maharal writes that simchah stems from bitachon. When one believes that everything in life at every moment is coming from Hashem, Who loves us more than anyone, Who knows exactly what is best for our eternity, and Who is All Powerful and Almighty, that person lives a life of continuous simchah. Of course, that does not mean that he or she never experiences pain. Oma, in fact, experienced a great deal of pain in her life. However, through her bitachon in Hashem and the strength Hashem blessed her with, she was able not just to endure, but to be extremely strong and kind to others at the same time.
Life Lesson 2: Using our G-d-given strengths to ease the burdens of others and to bring happiness to others
A second meaning of the word b’odi is: To sing to my G-d with all of the strengths and qualities with which Hashem has endowed me. For Oma, the combination of strength and kindness, with which Hashem blessed her, enabled her to uplift others even when it was most challenging. Despite her own difficulties in life, she was the one to seek to ease the pain of others. One example was visiting those so sick that others were afraid to visit. One grandson recalled being afraid to enter the room with her on her regular visit, after davening on Shabbos morning, to someone who was hooked up to various medical devices in the home. But Oma used her strength, kindness, and outgoing personality to try to share and ease that person’s burden and to lift that person’s spirits.
A grandson shared that, as a ten-year-old, he experienced her “nosei b’ol,” sharing and easing other people’s burdens – even the smallest of burdens. He described his memory when he had expressed his concern over a math test to Oma. She could easily have said, “Are you kidding? At age ten I was scrubbing floors in other people’s homes!” Instead, she empathized and said, as she often did whenever we had a difficulty, “Don’t worry. I am going to daven and put money in the pushka box for you.” She tried to ease all types of burdens, from the smallest to the largest.
Life Lesson 3:
Importance of Hakaras HaTov
Hakaras ha’tov was another trait that Oma excelled in and felt strongly about. She would often express her hakaras ha’tov to us and others for small favors, even though she was doing the vast majority of the giving. She was, in fact, a selfless giver, and yet she was the one always buying a plant, flowers, or small gift to express her hakaras ha’tov to others. One woman recalls how Oma would buy a plant and make a point to visit her mother whenever Oma was in their neighborhood. This was for advice that this woman had given Oma many years prior.
Another grandson related that when Shlomo HaMelech was offered the choice of wisdom or wealth, it was the middle of the night. The Baalei Musar teach us that the question was posed specifically in the middle of the night because, had the question been posed to Shlomo HaMelech during the day, his intellect would have demanded he respond in the way Hashem would want him to. However, when one is awakened in the middle of the night, when his intellect is not functioning, he will respond with what is truly in his heart.
During the last few years of Oma’s life, she suffered from dementia. One refrain that came through loud and clear, despite her intellect not being there, was “Hodu laShem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo–Thank you, Hashem, for you are pure good, for your chesed is continuous and forever.” This was what was buried deep in Oma’s heart, despite all of the pain and suffering she endured during her lifetime.
Life Lesson 4: Living the life Hashem designed for you to live will bring you simchah (contentment and happiness).
If we try to be someone else and not true to the person Hashem wants us to be, given the strengths, weaknesses, challenges, life setting, etc., which He has designed just for us, we will be unhappy, frustrated, and perhaps even depressed. On the other hand, living life, comfortable with the role Hashem has granted to us specifically, will enable us to live life with zest and vibrancy. That is how Oma lived her life. She didn’t pretend to be someone she was not. She was straight, genuine, and true to herself and to others. One grandson brought this point out beautifully and called it “yashrus ha’lev,” quoting the pasuk where David HaMelech states “u’l’yishrei lev, simchah–to the straight heart is simchah.
Final Life Lesson: The most effective way to teach is to live our lives to the fullest of our abilities.
Oma was never one to make speeches or instruct others on how to live or change. At times, she would share her thoughts – but never in a preaching manner. She simply told it as she saw it. Looking back now, it is clear that just living her life the way she did was the greatest teaching method possible. Without giving musar during her lifetime, she now leaves a rich legacy that will take a lifetime to contemplate, integrate, and emulate.
She also leaves a legacy of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, and admirers, who love her dearly and who will miss her. We have so much to learn from her.
May we be zocheh to incorporate her life lessons into our own lives, and may that be a z’chus for her neshamah, as it soars higher and higher, fueled by the lasting impact she made upon all who knew her.
Y’hi zichrah baruch.