The Last Kiss, The Final Goodbye

When, in January, the doctors informed us that Rahel had pancreatic cancer which had metastasized into her liver, our world came crashing down upon us .We sat frozen in fear and disbelief .But for nine months I sat with her near her bedside for eleven hours every day, watching her breathe, cleaning her, dressing her, cooking and feeding her, hugging her and crying with her. Each morning that she awoke was a blessing, a gift from God, another day of life. “Modeh Ani” had renewed spiritual meaning.

Over the past 40 plus years I have officiated at 310 funerals and eulogized 310 times. I know because I keep a record of all funerals, weddings, and unveilings at which I had officiated. The funeral of my beloved wife Rahel was the most painful of them all. It was as if a knife had been plunged into my heart.

As many people know, Rahel and I knew each other for only 6 days before we were married. It was love at first sight and we were married under a chuppah under the stars in Tel-Aviv by the Chief Rabbi 56 years ago.

Rahel was born in Ramat Gan to a family of Torah scholars .She was a descendant of the Maggid of Kozenitz, one of the greatest Hassidic scholars in late 18th and early 19th centuries in Poland.

Her father died at age 36 when she was only one year old. Her mother, who never re-married, her 4 year old brother and baby Rahel moved in with her maternal grandparents, ultra-Orthodox Jews, in the Montefiore quarter of Tel-Aviv.

She was educated in the section for religious students at the famous and historic Mikveh Israel school, founded in 1870, and upon graduation she was employed at the HaAretz daily newspaper until our marriage.

During the 1956-57 war she served as director of the Magen David Adom branch in Tel-Aviv, Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross.
On occasions she was sent into Gaza to attend to the wounded soldiers.

Rahel devoted her entire life to her family and to the care of me and our three children. She was a very private and humble woman, never seeking honors for herself. On Shabbat mornings she was always the first woman in attendance in our shul.

Every day of her life began at 6:30 in the morning. When she awoke and was dressed she walked into the kitchen, opened a window and threw out pieces of bread to feed the hungry birds. Then she began davening her morning prayers. After completion of shacharit, she sat down to read a few kapittels of Tehillim. On Yahrzeits for her family she opened a tractate of Talmud and read in their memories.

Our home was scrupulously kosher. Every Jewish holiday and Shabbat was a banquet. She cooked and baked all the meals so that we could together enjoy a Shabbat of shalom and a freiliche yomtov.

She contributed anonymously to tzedaka for the aged, poor, hungry and ill. Rahel was a true chassid….she never bore a grudge and was always forgiving. Her often repeated words from Parshat Kedoshim in Vayikra were “Lo tikom v’lo titor et bnai amecha, v’ahavta l’ raiacha kamocha”. “Do not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your fellowmen as yourself.”

She was an ohevet shalom and a rodefet shalom… one who loves peace and pursues it.

Rahel was a tzedeka in accordance to what is described in Tehillim (the Book of Psalms 97:11-12).

“Or zarua l’tzadik u’l’yishrai-lev simcha; simchu tzadikim ba-Adonai v’hodu l’zaicher kodsho”… light is sown for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart. Be glad in the Lord, ye righteous, and give thanks to His Holy Name. Rahel was a righteous God-fearing and God-loving woman all the days of her life.

She had more knowledge of yiddishkeit in her smallest finger than I, a Conservative rabbi, have in my entire body. She was extremely knowledgeable in Torah and Tanach and could quote important passages from memory.

Love of Israel, her place of birth, and her adherence to the faith of our ancestors Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah, was the only life she knew.

Her greatest love was for me, our three children Sharona, Ethan and Liora, for our daughter-in-law Karen and our three adored grandchildren Eliana, Ariel and Michaela.

For many years we would spend four or five months every year in our home in Israel, a home that we both dearly loved. When I suggested after my retirement that we consider living permanently in our beautiful home in Rishon Lezion, she stated that she could not be away from our children and our grandchildren for long periods of time. She would miss them too much.

Rahel, my eshet chayil, was my sunshine by day and my moon and stars by night. She was the “or ha-chayim sheli”… the great light of my life. Without her I will wander in darkness until my gray hairs will go down to my grave in sorrow. She was a kedosha v’brucha… a sainted and blessed woman. My life has no meaning nor purpose without her.

On September 23, 2016 ( 20 Elul) at 2:45 a.m. she breathed her final breath and passed away peacefully.

Upon the moment after her death I gave her a final kiss and said my last goodbye. Her cheeks were wet with my tears.

“U’tzror b’tzror ha chayim et nishmata. Hashem Hu nachalata. V’tanuach b’shalom al mishkava. V’nomar Amen. Sleep well, my beloved angel. Our love for you is eternal. Your memory is a blessing to us all.

Shalom ahuvati. Goodbye my beloved. Mein ziesser leben, mein gantze neshama, mein lichtige welt.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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