Photo Credit: Efraim Holtzberg
Margalit's headstone

On Motzaei Shabbos, the seventh of Adar 5764 (2004), the voice of Kletzkin’s sound-truck tore through the air over the streets of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Geulah, Meah Shearim, and Zichron Moshe.

“The funeral of a mes mitzvah, Margalit bas Avraham, will begin at ten-thirty tonight, at the beis hesped of Har Hamenuchos. The funeral of a mes mitzvah…

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In his apartment on Chanan St. in Meah Shearim, the posek of the generation, zt”l, heard the booming sound-truck. His grandson R’ Aryeh informed him that two of his disciples were at that very moment occupied with arranging the burial of the righteous, childless woman Margalit, who had been confined for nearly fifty years in the Hanson Hospital for lepers. “Men of kindness, men of kindness,” commented the Gaon R’ Eliashiv, with a sigh.

Thus ended the saga of suffering and heroism of a haredi Yemenite orphan girl who had made aliyah to Israel at the age of sixteen, one of the olim of Operation Magic Carpet. She had walked off the airplane carrying in her arms a small sefer Torah that had come down through the generations in her family.

Alas, doctors erroneously diagnosed Margalit as infected with leprosy (lo aleinu) and sent her to the leper’s hospital in the Talbieh neighborhood of Jerusalem, where she became infected with the disease. R’ Aryeh Levine, zt”l, the Yerushalmi tzaddik, was for many years the only Jew who dared visit the patients of that terrible institution. How moved was Margalit when R’ Aryeh’s son, R’ Raphael Levine, zt”l, came to the hospital for a visit. She and the other patients looked back and forth from R’ Raphael to the photo of his father, which hung in its frame in the hospital dining-room. Margalit, like the other veteran patients of that sad institution, had tears flowing down her cheeks.

Several decades ago there had been a plan for Margalit to marry one of the other patients, but the idea didn’t work out. Margalit reconciled herself to her bitter fate, accepting that she would never marry or hold a child in her arms. She saved up pennies from her government allowance and finally succeeded in finding a Yemenite scribe who would write a sefer Torah for her. The sefer was brought with honor to a caravan synagogue in Kiryat Arba.

But in this too her fate was a cruel one. A fire broke out in the caravan, and the Torah scroll was burned up, its letters flying upward to Heaven while Margalit was left to grieve for it on earth.

Margalit’s condition worsened. Her fingers and toes were struck by Hanson’s Disease, and a growth was discovered in her brain. Immediately upon being informed of this, Margalit decided to have a second sefer Torah written. It would be like her child. She applied to the Social Welfare Department for a loan.

“How will you repay it?” they asked.

She answered: “Put a lien on all my income from my government allowance for the rest of my life.”

Thus the second Torah scroll was written. It was installed in the synagogue of a settlement near Jerusalem. Margalit’s heart rejoiced. When I visited Margalit the Tzaddikah, as I usually did on Fridays, I witnessed a dialogue between her and a non-religious nurse.

“Margalusha,” exclaimed the nurse, “what a mistake you made to give up all your money for a Torah scroll. Now you are wearing torn stockings and you don’t have money to buy new ones.”

Margalit answered: “But you know that I am a childless woman. What do you want me to leave behind – a beautiful pair of stockings? I am leaving behind a sefer Torah.”

The nurse was struck by this answer, and with her own money immediately ran and bought Margalit a new pair of stockings for Shabbos.

When the hospital for lepers was closed, Margalit was transferred, with special antibiotic to prevent infecting others, to the municipal home for the aged. There, after a severe stroke, she was in a coma for two years, fed through a tube to the stomach.

At some point she developed an infection and was hospitalized at Shaare Zedek for several weeks, but her condition deteriorated.

And then I received the phone call informing me that after a life of unimaginable suffering, Margalit had left this world.

Since Margalit was childless, I was afraid I would not be able to gather a minyan for her levayah. That was why I asked the sound-truck to announce the mes mitzvah, in hopes that the public would arrive for the burial. Only three tzaddikim, Gerer chassidim, heeded the announcement of the mes mitzvah and arrived at the levayah, still dressed in their shining Shabbos garb. They stayed to the end, until the gravestone was in place.

The men of the Chevra Kadisha asked me to give a hesped. I stood up and said: “Creator of the Universe! The righteous Margalit never complained to You about her bitter fate. She accepted Your judgment with love. So likewise You, Creator of the Universe, in the merit of Margalit, whose story of suffering has ended, do not bring charges against Your children! By her terrible suffering she undoubtedly defended our generation. Now let there be an end to our troubles.”

Margalit merited to be buried in the soil of Jerusalem on the sixth of Adar.

Why am I publicizing this story? Because if you happen or happened to come across a notice in your synagogue or yeshiva asking for people to learn mishnayos for the elevation of the soul of a mes mitzvah, Margalit bas Avraham (Margalit Gamliel), you should know who she was.

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Efraim Holtzberg, a student of Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, and Rabbi Raphael Levine, zt”l, lives in the Old City of Jerusalem.
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