I don’t know where to begin.
I can’t believe it.
4 years ago, I sent a whatsapp message to Lee-Ann. She had recently given birth to her twins. She told me that something wasn’t right and that she was going to visit the doctor the next day. Our whatsapp correspondence began.
The next night, she told me what the doctor discovered. She was strong and sure that all would be well.
דּוֹדִי֙ יָרַ֣ד לְגַנּ֔וֹ לַעֲרוּג֖וֹת הַבֹּ֑שֶׂם לִרְעוֹת֙ בַּגַּנִּ֔ים וְלִלְקֹ֖ט שֽׁוֹשַׁנִּֽים׃
“My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to pick roses.” (Shir Hashirim 6:2)
The Midrash on this verse recounts a story. When the tzaddik, R’ Chiya bar Avyah “fell asleep” (the language of the midrash reserved for the death of tzaddikim), his colleagues and teachers sought the one who could properly eulogize him. Finally, they landed on his teacher, Reish Lakish (R’ Shimon ben Lakish), who knew him the most and could properly eulogize him. R’ Lakish said this verse, “My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to pick roses,” and then explained; “the Holy One, blessed is He, knows the deeds of R’ Chiya bar Avyah, and removed him from the world.”
The commentaries explain. There are rare cases when, despite the fact that most people need a full lifetime to attain their tikkun and perfection, there are those who reach their perfection while they are young. Hashem goes to His garden and “picks” these roses to frolic with in Gan Eden. (For more explanation on this, read until the end.)
Lee was a rose.
Another verse in Song of Songs:
כְּשֽׁוֹשַׁנָּה֙ בֵּ֣ין הַחוֹחִ֔ים כֵּ֥ן רַעְיָתִ֖י בֵּ֥ין הַבָּנֽוֹת׃ – “Like a rose among thorns, so is my beloved among the maidens.” (Shir Hashirim 2:)
On this verse, the Midrash explains that the rose amongst the thorns described here is a secret reference to our matriarch Rivka, who was the first “ba’alas Teshuva”. Rivka was a rose seed who was planted in the dark, followed the tug of her neshama, found the light and bloomed there.
Lee-Ann, a daughter of special parents, wife to her husband Michael, mother of four children and friend (and teacher) of an entire community reached such great heights of Emuna in her short lifetime.
וְצַדִּ֖יק בֶּאֱמוּנָת֥וֹ יִחְיֶֽה׃ (Habakkuk 2:4) – “A righteous person lives in his Emuna.”
צדיקים במיתתם קרויים חיים – The righteous are considered alive even after their death.
Chaya Leah was fiercely focused on life.
Her fight for life was for her children, her husband, her indestructible will to be a mother, a wife and to serve Hashem. Her concerns were only about how she could do chessed, learn Torah, support Torah, daven, say Tehillim and give tzeddaka.
She saw through everything frivolous. She was laser-focused on the greatest gift of all – life! Because she knew its value and she knew what it was for.
She planned to move to Israel as soon as she recovered.
There wasn’t a minute she wasn’t thinking about Hashem and pleading with Him to grant her more of the greatest gift. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to hang onto it. Strict dietary regimens, organic homemade early morning juice, chemotherapy and every kind of holistic treatment and intervention.
More effective than these she knew was her spiritual arsenal; the Tehillim group that ran round the clock for 4 years, marrying-off brides in secret and honor, supporting Torah institutions, her faith and visits to the leaders of our generation.
So much hope, so many prayers, for a singular vision.
אֲהַלְלָ֣ה יְהֹוָ֣ה בְּחַיָּ֑י אֲזַמְּרָ֖ה לֵאלֹהַ֣י בְּעוֹדִֽי׃ (Tehillim 146)
I will praise Hashem in my life, I will sing to my G-d while I am yet alive.
She gave me the opportunity to be a giver, even though she would have rather not needed to receive.
Although our primary correspondence was on whatsapp, since her diagnosis and throughout the years, my heart grew. This is love. I felt her pain, the emotional anguish, her fierce desire to live, and I prayed daily.
We all did.
So, as she departs, what fills the space in our hearts that she created? What is left in that vacuum?
Spiritual mechanics work in curious ways.
In Torah, the one who gives is the one who received the most.
Lee gave us that bit more space in our hearts as we loved her.
This is the biggest gift.
Now that she is nifteres, that space that was carved out in our hearts hasn’t collapsed.
It has grown even more.
That space in our hearts will forever be dilated.
Now, even though I still cannot believe it, that love is still there, because she is still there.
The midrash on the verse “and she died there,” (Bamidbar 20:1) describing the death of Miriam Haneviah, asks why is it important to emphasize where she died? Why is this essential?
The midrash says, Miriam was “dead” only “there,” i.e. on earth, whereas she lived on in another region, the region reserved for the souls of the righteous.
The midrash continues, “G-d views the righteous as if they were pearls reposing in a jewel box. Whenever it pleases Him, He takes out one of these pearls and enjoys looking at it before He replaces it in its jewel box or He places it in another of His various jewel boxes.
So, the question is, what do we fill that cavity in our hearts – in that open space that she created? What will fill that space of love in our hearts that we felt for her? What would she have wanted us to do with it?
She wants us to follow her lead. She devoted her heart to her husband, to her children, her parents, her friends. But most of all, she loved Hashem.
All the while she was walking the long scary road.
Not skipping a beat.
As we mourn, we find ourselves scrolling through our phone conversations. We are looking for solace, trying to internalize the gifts of her friendship, ingrain our love and loss deeper inside so it will never get lost.
On June 6, 2021, Lee wrote me.
I am itching to write another letter to our community which I will PG do very soon. I have so much to say 😂 I just hope I can down my thoughts and feelings into words aptly. Just see so much wastage around us and disconnection and it pains me as life is transient and futile. Does anyone take Shlomo Hamelech’s words to heart…. it’s hard to really internalize unless you’re put in the corner. I keep picturing myself at yam suf, and H splitting it for me.. pg pg.
Here is a whatsapp message her husband found, that she wrote to her young niece.
How are you? How is school? How is all going ? I know you’ve been battling a bit with things lately.. are you ok? Sending so much love dear niece!
If you ever want to chat, I’m right here on the other side of your phone..
Thank you for your msg. Truthfully, I haven’t been feeling so well lately, and really need Tefilos and mitzvos. Thank you for davening for me 🙏🏻 our prayers never ever go unanswered and Hashem hears every word. It may not always be the outcome we want or expect, but it will always and absolutely manifest in one way or another. Very, very possibly the way we want it, and if not, then with a different result 💞 we just may not see the fruits of our labours, or see the result directly, or even in the short term, but Tefilos are always answered. Hope this makes sense..
Hashem knows what’s best for all of us, and He knows what’s best for me. We have limited minds and we can’t possibly comprehend His ways. Imagine you didn’t know what an operation was, and you didn’t know it’s to heal a person. So you walk in halfway through an operation, and you see the surgeon cutting someone open…. you’d be horrified and think he was trying to kill him, when the Dr is actually saving his life.
That’s how it is in this world and with Hashems ways. We don’t always understand why or how or what. But our greatest… rabbis, many of whom who had ruach hakodesh (a bit like prophecy, ie Hashem showed them the emes), teach us that H loves us and wants the best for us, and we have to try and internalize in our hearts that everything He does is good.
I’m not the same person I was 4 years ago…. my spiritual connection has increased and improved 1,000,000 fold. Everything H does is good 🙏🏻 this world means nothing if it is empty of spiritual connection… before I became frum I was searching and searching and looking for connection in the wrong places, and it never satisfied me, until I was introduced to true and emesdik spirituality.
Just about davening… it doesn’t have to be from a siddur or even tehilim if you are battling to connect to that.
If it makes more sense for you, just close your eyes, open your heart, and talk to Hashem 💞💞💞
Love u xxxxxx
What lingers now as the week of shiva comes to a close?
Life goes on.
We go back to our functioning, taking care of things, caring for our families, preparing for Rosh Hashana.
But we are forever changed.
The world is not the same. We are not the same.
She leaves an appreciation for life in her departure, and she leaves her Emuna.
Simple faith is not a simple thing at all.
She has left a community of givers and she has left clear instructions with what to fill the heart space.
The response to her death is life – the kind she taught us was real.
Yaffa – The beautiful woman of war
Last week’s parsha, the parsha of her passing (Ki Tetzei), was about the captive woman of war, the Aishes Yefas To’ar.
In a strange scenario, the righteous and scrupulous Jewish soldier is granted permission to marry the non-Jewish, beautiful woman of the other nation. As if the Torah thinks that he cannot control his urges.
The p’nimius haTorah (Torah secrets) reveal that this was not what was going on.
The Jewish soldier was attracted to the beautiful woman of war because there was something in her that he intuitively sensed was his.
The Ohr Hachaim explains that the beautiful woman of war holds a piece of his very own soul.
The Arizal says that she represents his soul in its entirety.
But she (the soul) is trapped in the territory of the enemy – she is held captive by the evil inclination. (Sound familiar?)
The beautiful soul (“the beautiful woman of war”) has to go along with whatever the enemy instructs her to do – even it means to pursue frivolity, forget the purpose of life, or revel as if there is no tomorrow.
The Jewish righteous soldier enters the battle zone and recognizes her, even if the spark within her is just a glimmer, shining through her now crude external.
In the parsha, the soldier releases the beautiful woman of war from the enemy zone and he marries her.
He says, you’re mine, and I want to marry you .
To make sure that indeed he has “married”/ committed to the right soul (i.e. the one that is indeed his), she must shave her head.
The commentaries say that this means that she must remove corrupt and alien beliefs and instead, believe in the One and True Hashem.
The verse goes on and the Torah requires that she “does her nails” – no, this is not a manicure. This means removing the excess and spillage of her life-force so she can focus on what’s important. (Read Lee’s message above.)
She must remove the dirtied garments of war – and examine her forms of expression in the world. (What are her thoughts, her speech, and her deeds?) She realizes that what the world thinks is chic and in style are garments that she does not want to wear.
She cries for her father – Hashem! – who she wasn’t able to serve all the while she was in captivity on enemy turf.
She cries for her mother – the Shechina, the source of the souls of Israel and the collective body of Klal Yisroel – for whom she did not make a home for while she was so exiled.
She cries over her sins for an entire month. This month, says the Arizal, is the month of Elul.
She marries her true partner, the Jewish soldier.
She is the beautiful woman of war.
Lee passed away in Elul.
The mazal of the month of Elul is the virgin, not so different to the beautiful woman of captivity who is released and returns to her rightful place.
Chaya Leah bas Yaffa – the beautiful woman, aishes yefas toar, fought the good fight, and came out victorious.
And our souls, to the extent that they were trapped in coarseness and callousness, have been released in her merit.
Just in time for Rosh Hashana.
וְהַחַ֖י יִתֵּ֥ן אֶל־לִבּֽו – (Kohelles ) “and the living take it to heart.”
In her death, we are bidden to come more into life.
This is her legacy.
Why do the righteous suffer? This is the hardest question to answer. Even Moshe Rabbeinu couldn’t grasp it.
When Lee-Ann was first diagnosed, and we shuddered the fear of death, this question tortured our minds.
The Tanya, chapter 26, describes two modus operandi of the King. The first revelation of the King, the Zohar calls “Rachel”. And the second, it calls “Leah”. The second “revelation” is a far greater revelation than the first and expresses even more deeply His love and engagement.
Though this is incomprehensible to us.
Quoting the Zohar, R’ Shneir Zalmon of Liadi explains that these two revelations of Hashem’s Shechina are represented by the two feminine archetypes we know as Rachel and Leah.
Rachel is the revealed good of Hashem and Leah is His concealed good that He wishes to bequeath to us.
His concealed good is even greater than His revealed good.
Rachel is called “tov”, good, and “Leah” is called “very good”.
The funny thing is that we, as limited mortals with our human intelligence and restricted capacity for Divine revelation, can only perceive the aspect of Hashem’s presence called Rachel as “good”.
So, we pray for a “sweet new year”. We want to taste it. We daven for open, revealed goodness.
But when the good is so great that it is beyond what we can perceive, our eyes (and taste buds) begin to play tricks on us.
In place of that great and blinding light, we see its opposite.
We see darkness and pain.
Leah Imeinu cried tears of pain in her lifetime. But she lies together with Yaakov forever in ma’aras hamachpelah (they can be heard still speaking softly to one another, says the midrash).
Only the greats can grope around in that darkness while living in their emuna every waking moment.
Lee lived the paradox of desperately wanting life while her soul knew she was dying in Hashem’s arms.
Her name was Leah, the matriarch who represented the capacity to live in complete truth, no matter the weather.
When the righteous suffer
The Masok M’dvash, commentary to the Zohar, says something remarkable about the Shechina, Hashem’s “feminine”, Immanent Presence.
Just like a mother protects her children, the Shechina accompanies the Jewish people wherever they may go during their exile, even when the light has rescinded and darkness predominates.
The Shechina is especially close to one who is sick, to one who is suffering.
On the deepest level, the Shechina is also the innermost essence of the tzaddik.
How much more the tzaddekes, who she herself is feminine.
The Masok M’dvash says that when the righteous suffer, the Shechina embedded within them suffers, and her “children” (the children of the Supernal Mother, the Shechina) are indeed protected. Her children are the Jewish people, the community who cannot bear such a direct and confusing expression of Divine engagement. Thus, the suffering of the righteous mops up the blackness and negativity of our sins, and we receive Hashem’s mercy, and He allows us to keep on learning.
This Elul, let us tune into the pain of the Shechina in her exile and release “her” from her entrapment.
Let us know that we all are carriers of the terminal condition called life and that every moment is a chance to connect, to choose, to focus, and to thank – and sing to – Hashem.
Chaya Leah was buried in the northern most possible section of the cemetery, the closest point to Eretz Yisroel.
When the time is ripe, she will lead the South African diaspora all the way.
For years, knowing that Hashem could do anything, she was mentally composing her speech that she would deliver at the Seudas Hoda’ah for her recovery.
Lee lived it in excruciating focus – so that we could “come round” one day.
Her Seudas Hoda’ah is still coming – and we will all be there.
We will rejoice from the tears we cried and the people we became because of them.
Just like Miriam, who died with a kiss, Lee is not limited to her place of sleep.
The righteous live on.
May she continue to daven for our success as we prayed for her healing.
May Hashem comfort, bless and protect her husband and children, her mother, extended family, friends and community.
May Hashem heal the broken Shechina in all of us.
אָנָּא אֵ-ל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ.
May He release her from her captivity.
׃ אֲהַלְלָ֣ה יְהֹוָ֣ה בְּחַיָּ֑י אֲזַמְּרָ֖ה לֵאלֹהַ֣י בְּעוֹדִֽי׃
I will praise Hashem in my life, I will sing to my G-d while I am alive.
וְהַחַ֖י יִתֵּ֥ן אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ׃
“And the living should take it to heart.” (7:3 Koheles)