(This hesped was delivered by me (the author), in part, during the Shiva period in Los Angeles; and at the Shloshim in Atlanta at my Siyum Daf Yomi on Meseches Megillah).
Szyfra bas Beyrish Yona
שיפרה בת בייריש יונה (אסתר שרה)
Szyfra Was born in Poland, on Saturday night of the 14th of Adar II; the night of Purim. This is the holiday that we remember to destroy Amalek. Her mother’s name was Esther Sarah and her grandfather’s name was Mordechai (names from the Purim story). As a Holocaust survivor, she was saved from Amalek: the Nazis, the Poles and the Russians.
Just as she was born during a Jewish leap year, she died, at age 95, during a Jewish leap year. She died Erev Shabbis on the 28th of Adar I. She was buried in California on the 30th of Adar I which is also Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of a new month).
Specifically she was buried on a happy day on the Jewish Calendar. When Adar enters (especially Adar II) we are to increase our happiness.
תלמוד בבלי תענית כט עמוד א
אמר רב יהודה בריה דרב שמואל בר שילת משמיה דרב: כשם שמשנסנס אב ממעטים בשמחה, כך שמשנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה.
Rav Yehuda the son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilas, said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing (Talmud Bavli Ta’anis 29a).
Grandma always came across as a happy person. She would sing all the time and was mostly smiling. There was a lot in life to be sad about, but she chose instead to show herself with a happy appearance.
תלמוד בבלי כתובות קיא עמוד א
דאמר רבי יוחנן: טוב המלבין שינים לחבירו, יותר ממשקהו חלב.
For Rav Yochanan said: A person who displays the whiteness of his teeth to his friend is better than one who gives him milk to drink (Talmud Bavli, Kesubos 110b).
So many people around Grandma Szyfra died for no apparent reason or explanation. She not only survived but had a long life. What can merit someone to live a long life? Amalek represents chance; this implies (G-d forbid) that there is no Omnipotence of G-d over any actions in the world. In reality, there is no such thing as chance! Everything that occurs in this world only occurs by G-d’s decree.
אין מקרה בעולם, הכל רק מה’.
מקרה = רק מה’ (אותן אותיות)
Chance = only from G-d
On Rosh Chodesh, we say the Prayer after Shachris “ברכי נפשי “, it is found in chapter 104 in Tehillim. In it we mention that “מקרה” is G-d.
תלמוד בבלי מגילה יא עמוד א
ואין מקרה אלא הקדוש ברוך הוא, שנאמר: “המקרה במים עליותיו (תהילים קד:ג)”.
And מקרה certainly means G-d, as it is said in reference to G-d: “Who roofs ((מקרה His upper chambers with water (Talmud Bavli Megilla 11a).
In the Purim story, Haman through his lottery, גורל thought that Chodesh Adar is a bad month for the Jews, because Moshe died on (Shabbis) the 7th of Adar I. What Haman did not know was that Adar is also a good month for the Jews; since Moshe was also born of the 7th of Adar (Talmud Megillah 13b). In the Chumash, Yocheved the mother of Moshe was also called by the name Szyfra.
Grandma Szyfra was born in Adar and she also died in Adar. Her life story is all full of “chance” and success that saved her life and enabled her financial success [her real success is having Torah observant grandchildren and great grandchildren living in Israel]. Many times, during her escape in WWII, Grandma stated that she wanted to return to Nazi controlled Poland in order to be with her mother; however, G-d prevented her from doing this; and instead she was sent to Siberia. For this reason I am here today with my children. G-d was with her and her family at all times and she recognized this fact.
The best revenge for Amalek or the Nazis is to bring more Torah observant Jews into this world. Currently [in 2023], Grandma Szyfra and Grandpa Leon have: 5 grandchildren and 11 Pelta great-grandchildren! Haman also had grandchildren and some of them actually lived in Israel. His great grandson was a Jew and he himself taught us the dictum that when “Adar begins joy increases!”
תלמוד בבלי סנהדרין דף צו עמוד ב
תנו רבנן…מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק.
It was taught in a Baraisa…Descendants of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak. (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 96b)
The Ein Yaakov writes that the name of this descendant of Haman who taught Torah in Bnei Brak was named – Rav Shmuel bar Shilas! From here we learn that the son of a descendant of Haman was the actual Rabbi who taught us to be happy during the month of Adar.
Every Saturday night, we loudly express the joy of the Jews being saved from Haman and eventually returning to the Land of Israel. We say:
מגילת אסתר ח: טז
ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר.
The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor (Megillas Ester 8:16).
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) enumerates the four improvements the Jews received after the death of Haman. Haman and the Nazis prohibited or prevented keeping four main Mitzvos: Torah study, Yom Tov, Tefillin and Bris Milah. These four things demonstrate our special connection to G-d.
אורה – זו תורה Light is Torah.
שמחה – זה יום טוב Gladness is Yom Tov.
ששון – זו מילה Joy is Bris Milah.
ויקר – אילו תפילין Honor is Tefillin.
In addition, Haman and his sons prevented the completion of the building of the Beis HaMidkash in Yerushalayim. They, like the original Amalek, were against the Jews making Aliyah and living in Israel.
Today Grandma Szyfra has one grandchild and seven great- grandchildren living as Torah observant Jews in Eretz Yisrael. We learn Torah, celebrate all the Yom Tovim, the boys have a Bris Milah and those above age thirteen put on Tefillin every day.
The Holocaust was “hell” as Grandma said. It was the epitome of evil. However, as Jews, we are obligated to bless G-d for the bad and for the good. When Grandma Szyfra and Grandpa Leon died we said the blessing “ ברוך דיין האמת” , Blessed is the true Judge. When we hear good news like the birth of a baby boy we say, “ ברוך הטוב והמטיב”, Blessed is the Good One Who does good.
תלמוד בבלי מגילה כה עמוד א
חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שהוא מברך על הטובה.
A person is obligated to bless G-d for the bad, just as he blesses G-d for the good (Talmud Bavli Megillah 25a).
Looking back on life and the hell of the Holocaust, we can ask the question, “What does G-d want from us?” What did my Grandparents do after the destruction of the Holocaust? We start again; we rebuild our Jewish Torah observant lives and reconnect with G-d. This is called the “fear of G-d “יראת ה'”
תלמוד בבלי מגילה כה עמוד א
אמר רבי חנינא: הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. שנאמר: “ועתה ישראל מה ה’ שאל מעמך כי אם ליראה“.
Rav Chanina said: Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven. As it states: And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you, but to fear Hashem your G-d (Devarim 10:12, parshas Ekev, my Bar Mitzvah Parsha) (Talmud Bavli Megillah 25a).
Grandma Szyfra always told me to be proud that I am a Jew and proud that I am a Pelta. She would say:
“Arie Luzer, Chin up!”
Why did Grandma merit living to the ripe old age of 95?
תלמוד בבלי מגילה כח עמוד א
שאלו רב נחוניא בן הקנה: במה הארכת ימים? אמר להם…וותרן בממוני הייתי.
The disciples inquired of Rav Nechunuya ben Hakanah: On account of which meritorious practice have you attained longevity? He answered them:…and I was liberal with my money (Talmud Bavli, Megillah 28a).
Grandma was a proud donor of charity to many organizations including: her local synagogues, Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, the first sponsor of the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco Jewish Medical Ethics Conferences, Founder of Hadassah Hospital, Founder of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, Amit Women, Boys Town Jerusalem, Girls Town Jerusalem, Ichud Hazalah Israel just to name a few.
Rosh Chodesh Adar was also the time when Jews would give the half-shekel donation for the upkeep of the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. The Vilna Gaon taught us that these donations indicate that by giving charity one gets closer to life and keeps away death.
The wordהשקל מחצית has a “צ” in the center of the word, denoting צדקה charity. It is surrounded on either side by the letters חי life. Grandma stated, that because she was born on the 18th of March, she always chose life. The letters at the end of the word “half” מחצית, are the letters מת death. Again, by acts of charity and kindness demonstrated by Grandma in her lifetime she was Zoche זוכה to merit חי – life. In the same fashion this “life” continues through her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, especially the ones living in Eretz Yisrael. Torah is life and Israel is “The Land of the living” ארץ החיים. She taught us to always be happy and to see the good in life.
Grandma chose to live and not death, on multiple occasions.
דברים ל:יט-כ , פרשת ניצבים
הַֽעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ הַֽחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה, וּבָֽחַרְתָּ בַּֽחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּֽחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ: לְאַֽהֲבָה אֶת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקֹלוֹ וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ, כִּי הוּא חַיֶּיךָ וְאֹרֶךְ יָמֶיךָ לָשֶׁבֶת עַל הָֽאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה’ לַֽאֲבֹתֶיךָ, לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַֽעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶֽם:
This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live. To love Hashem your G-d, to listen to His voice, and to cleave to Him. For that is your life and the length of your days, to dwell on the land [Eretz Yisrael] which Hashem swore to your forefathers to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yakov to give to them
תהילים כז: יג
לולא האמנתי לראות בטוב ה’ בארץ חיים.
I trusted (faith in G-d) that I would see the goodness of Hashem in The Land of the living (Israel) (Tehillim 27:13).
When we visit a house of mourning we state a prayer which reminds all of us to be connected to the Jews living in Israel.
המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
May Hashem comfort you among the rest of the mourners of Zion (Israel) and Yerushalayim
Why are mourners in Chutz La’Aretz being told to be comforted with the Jews in Israel? This is because Israel is the Land of the living. Those of us who live here know that by living here and serving G-d though His Mitzvos, we are actually bringing the Moshiach closer. We are mourning the destruction of Yerushalayim daily and thus rebuilding it daily. When Moshiach does arrive, then we will encounter the amazing miracle of the revival of the dead תחיית המתים. This will only occur in Israel, the Land of the Living. On that day we will have a joyful reunification with all with all of our relatives from the previous generations.
! ‘ לראות בטוב ה
See the Goodness of Hashem!
דברים כט: כז-כח , פרשת ניצבים
וִּיתְּשֵׁם ה’ מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם בְּאַף וּבְחֵמָה וּבְקֶצֶף גָּדוֹל, וַיַּשְׁלִכֵם אֶל אֶרֶץ אֲחֶרֶת כַּיּוֹם הַזֶּֽה: הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַֽה’ אֱלֹקינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָֹנוֹּ וֹּלְֹבָֹנֵֹיֹנֹוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַֽעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּֽאת:
And Hashem uprooted them from upon their land [Eretz Yisrael], with fury, anger and great wrath, and He cast them to another land [Chutz LaAretz: Poland, USA], as it is this day. The hidden things belong to Hashem, our G-d, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah (Devarim 29:27-28).