D’var Torah at a Memorial for Martha Hadassah Ribalow Nadich – Meir Lakein

נפל עטרת ראשינו

The crown of our head has fallen.

I never had the zechus to know either of Nommi’s parents, so I know them through her.  Through the stories that Nommi has been kind enough to share with me, yes, but that’s only part of it.  I also know them through the way that Nommi carries on their work, the way that she models who they are.  Talking to Nommi after her mother was niftar, I said that the more I learn about her parents, the more I understand where she came from.

As I thought about the things that Nommi told me about her mother and about the person we had lost, I remembered a number of hespeds for great rabbis in Masechet Moed Katan in the Babylonian Talmud.  The first two perakim of the masechet are about the middle days of Pesach and Sukkot, but the last perek is about death and funerals.  One especially stood out for me, on daf 25b:

קאת וקפוד הוכפלו, לראות בשוד ושבר הבא משנער. קצף על עולמו וחמס ממנו נפשות, ושמח בהם ככלה חדשה. רוכב ערבות שש ושמח בבא אליו נפש נקי וצדיק.

G-d snatches souls from this world, but rejoices in them, as at the coming of a new bride.  he who rides the skies rejoices, jubilates, when a pure and righteous soul comes to Him.

Chazal spent a lot of time thinking and writing about hespeds.  In part, that’s because there are halachos to figure out about them.  In part, that’s because the hesped is an opportunity, if we’re thoughtful, to crystallize what we hope to learn from that person so that we can become better people through their example.  I think it’s also because they couldn’t help asking, “how could this be?”  What can it mean when we can lose a righteous person in an instant and then be expected to continue?  How are we supposed to live when the world works this way, and how are we supposed to figure out what G-d wants from us and what G-d wants us to do when we so easily lose the righteous people after whom we can model ourselves?

In that vein, on the same daf, in a different hesped, they say:

אם בארזים נפלה שלהבת – מה יעשו איזובי קיר

 If mighty cedars were felled by a flame – what will hyssops growing out of the wall do?

 How do hyssops like us manage when we lose our cedars?

 It’s a common theme to compare people to trees, starting from the pasuk in Devarim, כי האדם הוא עץ השדה, a person is like the tree of the field (or, rather, is a person like the tree of the field).  Another hesped from Moed Katan states:

תמרים הניעו ראש על צדיק כתמר

 Palm trees sway their heads, (mourning) the righteous person who is like a palm tree.

Righteous people are especially likened to palm trees, as it says in Tehillim, צדיק כתמר יפרח, the righteous person blossoms like a palm tree.  The Meiri, the 13th century commentator from Provence, cites a common idea that the palm tree has one heart – unlike other trees, which have sap and seeds and what not in their leaves and other parts of them (I know pretty much nothing about trees), date trees  have one heart in their root.  The Meiri argues that this makes them like righteous people.  Date trees have one heart.  Extending from that one heart, their branches reach up towards heaven, towards what ultimately is most important.  Also extending from that same heart, their roots stretch into the ground, holding them steady and being part of nourishing the area around them.

One heart.  And that takes us back to Nommi’s mother.  My sense is that a good way to describe her righteousness would be One Heart.  All the stories I’ve heard, heart is at the center of who she was.  Love wasn’t only a clear and striking way in which she organized and dealt with her family – she actually was able to translate love into a political philosophy, into a way of being in the public world.  Her family was clearly her roots, and that family connected directly at all times to her heart – she dealt with her family with a love that was kind and gentle, but also overpowering, almost fierce.  At the same time, her public career drew directly from love of her people, and love of heaven.  Some people can do one well.  Few people can love the world, being busy with it every day, and still love their family to such an extent that there’s no world other than them.

And here’s the thing – if you just walked in, and you didn’t know who I was talking about, you’d think I was talking about Nommi.  All of us here, who know her, know that that’s who she is – it’s one of the many things we revere about her.  So now I know in part where that came from – now I see one way in which Nommi’s mother continues to live through her.

And as for me, my boys are so little.  I muddle around most of the time and have such a hard time figuring out what G-d wants of me.  So I look for people to model myself after.  If years from now, my boys look back on me with a tiny fraction of the love, respect, gratitude, and awe that Nommi, her sisters, and their children have for Nommi’s mother, I’ll have done very well.  And, if years from now, I can manage to have a small fraction of the positive impact on my boys that Nommi, carrying on her mother’s legacy, has had on her family, I’ll be grateful.  Even a small fraction for me would be enough to hope for.

 

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This is a tribute to Rabbi Judah Nadich z"l and Martha Hadassah Ribalow Nadich z"l, created and maintained by their family. If you have a memory or thought to share, please submit it to nadichblog at gmail dot com.

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