My dear mother, of blessed memory, has been gone for 22 years. Her yahrtzeit, the Jewish anniversary of her passing, 22 Adar I, fell on a Shabbos this year, several weeks ago. All who knew her will readily testify that she was one of the kindest, most caring people they had ever met. Despite her transplantation from Poland to the U.S. as a little girl, and then the loss of her grandmother, a brother and her father when she was a teen, no scars of those challenges were ever evident in her interactions with people—the moment she met you she began caring for you—and she was the most wonderful mother any child could ask for.
And she was present at our Shabbos table on her yahrtzeit this year. She even taught my grandson a song.
Two year old Shmuel, who was visiting with his parents and little brother, is an adorable, rambunctious little boy; to his good fortune, his propensity to display his impressive pitching arm and ability to break things have been divinely counterbalanced with preternaturally blue eyes and a smile that could melt Pharaoh’s heart. He’s a quick learner too.
At one point, someone at the meal claimed to be directionally challenged, needing to consciously think about which way was right and which was left. I smiled as I realized, and explained, how I came to have a split-second recognition of which way is right.
When I was a little boy, probably a bit older than Shmuel, I would accompany my mother on Shabbos afternoons to the shul in Baltimore’s LowerParkHeights neighborhood where my father, may he be well, was rabbi. There, she would host a gathering of neighborhood children for snacks and songs and stories. One song has remained with me over the more than half-century since. It consisted of the verse “Kol rina viy’shua bi’oholei tzaddikim; yemin Hashem osoh choyil”: “The sound of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous; Hashem’s right hand does valiantly” (Tehillim 118, 15). And, in the song, the word for “right hand”—“yemin”—was repeated with gusto thrice, each time with everyone thrusting a right fist into the air.
And so, I recounted, I need only think of the word yemin and my right arm starts automatically to move. I demonstrated the song and the motion, much to the amusement of Shmuel, who then shouted “Yemin!” three times, complete with hand motion. As we all laughed, I realized with a start that, my goodness!, my mother had just reached through the years—on her yahrtzeit no less!—and taught her great-grandson a song.
Of course, I think she is constantly teaching him, many other more important things as well. Every time I am moved to do something kind or considerate, I know it is her legacy (bequeathed to her no less by her parents) that I am, if imperfectly, embracing, and hopefully passing on to others. My wife and I, and our children—Shmuel’s mother among them—along with their spouses are all links in a chain of generations, passing on the Jewish beliefs and values we have absorbed from our forebears to the young with whom we have been entrusted. In fact, being such links is arguably our most important role in life. And whether we’re adequately filling it should be our constant concern.
More recently, my wife, perhaps in the spirit of chaos associated with the season, invited Shmuel’s parents to leave him with us for the Shabbos before Purim, an offer they couldn’t refuse. We had a wonderful time hosting our grandson. He managed to break only one child-proof gate, open only one child-proof cabinet (though several times) and drop just one book into the aquarium. (My wife’s quick move prevented Shmuel’s socks from following.)
That Friday night, when I returned from shul, the house was very quiet. Shmuel had been put to bed, but hadn’t yet fallen asleep. To soothe him and ensure that he didn’t climb out of his crib (something in which he has considerable expertise and experience) and wreak havoc, our daughter was sitting in the darkened room with him. He was babbling quietly, probably planning his mischief for the next day.
While we were waiting for the babble to fade to the peaceful slow breathing of well-deserved sleep, my wife excitedly motioned to me to come closer to the bedroom door, which was slightly ajar.
And then, bringing me a rush—and a smile leavened with a tear—I heard what she had: “Yemin!” Shmuel’s little-boy voice was piping. “Yemin! Yemin!”
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