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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
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The Eternal Flame


This column is dedicated to the memory of my mother-in-law, Shoshana Weinberg.

It was a few minutes after sunrise. A new day had begun, and everyone was preparing for work, school and shopping for Shabbat. But the sun was setting slowly in our basement, as it was setting calmly for my mother-in-law. It was time for her to take leave of family, children and everything in this world.

For almost nine months she had struggled valiantly with pancreatic cancer that slowly but surely took away her strength. But she still insisted on participating in activities that she normally would not have done. I think it was her calm way of fighting and dealing with life’s curves. Until her last month she attended the seniors group twice a week. And of course she insisted on shopping and lugging her own purchases home from the supermarket. One day, seeing her breathless, I offered to help her. But “help” was not part of her vocabulary until the very end, when it became quite obvious that she could not manage on her own.

As God orchestrates life’s cycles, my mother-in-law’s nine-month struggle occurred during approximately the same nine-month period that my eldest daughter was pregnant with her fifth child. To that point we had nine grandsons, all beautiful and filled with personality. But no granddaughters, although I still held out hope for one (who could be named after my mother).

At around midnight one night, we were beckoned to our daughter’s home in order to take care of her children snuggled in their beds. Five minutes after arriving, my daughter and son-in-law were on their way to meet the doula and go to the hospital. Fifteen minutes later we got the SMS we had been waiting for – for over 10 years: it’s a girl! They could not have gotten to the hospital in just 15 minutes; my new granddaughter was indeed born in their car. Yes, we were very tired – but very happy about our new addition.

This all happened exactly one week before my mother-in-law passed away. The thing about parents is that you don’t want to let them go. All of us were once attached to our mothers by the umbilical cord, and in a way we remain as such throughout our lives – until death do us part. In this case it was hard to let go, though none of us wanted to see her suffer to the point where she would be in chronic pain, dependent on others for her every need.

Perhaps due to our prayers, or to some miracle, she managed so well for so long. During most of her nine months of suffering, she spent much more time with us at meals and on Shabbatot. That was the least we could do.

During my mother-in-law’s last few months, my wife and her mother spent quality time together around the Shabbat candles. My wife told me that my mother-in-law would give a special blessing to all the children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren. While she will no longer light those candles, the memory of those special and unique moments will live on.

Only a day before her passing my daughter gathered the family together to name her baby – our first granddaughter. And my mother-in-law miraculously found the stamina to get dressed and attend the naming. What a lesson in strength and courage. No, not physical strength but strength of spirit – which is of greater value. She so much wanted to be part of the happy event that nothing was going to keep her away.

That afternoon everyone gathered at my mother-in-law’s home to participate in what had become known as Savta Pizza Day. Every Thursday afternoon for more than a year she treated all of us to pizza (I’m really not a pizza fan, but I was there to be part of the clan and to run after my grandchildren). This was the one and only time that my mother-in-law did not have the strength to leave her home and go to the local pizzeria. So we went to her backyard, pizza in hand. We sang with her, read from the Book of Psalms, and enjoyed each other’s company. We didn’t realize that this was to be the very last Savta Pizza Day.

About the Author: Rabbi Zalman Eisenstock, author of “Psalms: An Eternal Treasure,” is a freelance writer and educator living in Efrat, Israel. He can be contacted at zalmaneisenstock@gmail.com.

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