Today is chof-alef (21) Kislev, the eleventh Yahrzheit (anniversary of passing) of my dear mother-in-law, Devorah bas Yitzchok Aaron (Devorah, the daughter of Yitzchok Aaron). We are in Israel to commemorate the yahrzheit and it is a time of reflection upon a life well-lived.
It is winter here and we have cool, beautiful weather. The fields, the mountains, and the flower stands all over Israel abound with calaniot (anemones) in every color of the spectrum. These calaniot are the national flower of Israel and they represent all that Israel is. They add color and hope to the darkest season in the most barren places. As the rain brings nourishment to the fields and mountains during the winter, these calaniot blossom.
Our small garden as you enter our Jerusalem apartment is also replete with greenery and its own flowers. The variegated leaves and chrysanthemums that were planted two years ago are lush and nourished by the winter rains. They, too, bring the promise of color and bounty in the cold winter.
In honor of the yahrzheit, Don and his brother, Mordechai, completed a masechta (portion) in Gemara (ancient Talmud). On the eve of the yahrzheit, we hosted a siyum (finishing party) and seuda (festive meal) for family and friends in Jerusalem. It was a time to combine reflection, learning and good food as a way to elevate the soul of my mother-in-law.
I created a number of small floral arrangements and one larger one to decorate the tables of our siyum seuda. The smaller floral arrangements were intended as a take-home gift for our guests. The larger centerpiece was to remain with us to grace this week’s Shabbos table.
I began with a glass low vase and soaked a piece of oasis. I then took a variety of leaves from the garden. I started with a single succulent to create this centerpiece. I then added the ribbon-like variegated leaves and stuck them into the oasis in two places. Each leaf end was secured with a toothpick to ensure that the top end of the variegated leaf didn’t budge. I randomly added fuchsia anemones, making sure that they moved in all directions of the arrangement. Finally, I added some more leaves on short stems to fill in the arrangement and to ensure that all of the oasis foam was covered.
At the yahrzheit siyum, I spoke about Mom and reflected upon what made her unique. I compared her to a Devorah (bee). K’shma kein haysa (her name reflected upon who she was).
T’hay nishmasa tzrurah b’tzror hachaim (May her soul be bound in the bond of life).
Tonight is the Yarzheit of Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron
The Yarzheit is a special time to reflect on the qualities of the neshoma (soul) that remain in this world even after a persons petira (passing)
This year I thought we would take my mother-in-law’s name, Devorah, which means bee and we would explore some of the unique and even surprising facts about bees to garner some lessons that she taught us all:
1. A bee is a busy and social creature. One bee must fly on average 90,000 miles, about three times around the globe, to produce one pound of honey. A bee colony is comprised of more than ten thousand bees and less than 80,000 bees.
My mother-in-law was a busy woman, always thinking of others and connecting people around her Shabbos and Yom Tov table. She was really a people person who enjoyed being in the company of others. She sought out new friends wherever she went and so many lonely people found a place in her home and in her heart. She was truly a busy and social creature.
2. A bee honeycomb is a very efficient structure. It uses the minimum amount of beeswax in each perfect hexagon to hold the maximum amount of honey. My mother-in-law had the unique quality of finding a small and inexpensive gift that would show her concern and caring for another person. She would keep a box of Dixie cups with knock-knock jokes for decades. She would take them out and distribute them. We were each mandated to read the knock-knock jokes out loud and then she would make sure no one ruined the cups by drinking from them. She would then collect them and those Dixie cups would go right back in the box and into her cabinet.
On Shabbos and Yom Tov, Mom would ask me to make platters for kiddush and then she would whisper to me “in case more people come, please cut each piece of gefilte fish into half and then into quarters so that each guest would get a piece.” Every guest would arrive hungrily and at least go home with a quarter-piece of fish. Her friends always left filled by her friendship and attention.
She would find safety pins and Bobby pins and dollar store gifts that would be just what we all needed Like the beehive, Mom was efficient about using small things to their maximum benefit.
3. The venom in a bee sting has medicinal properties. Bee venom has shown promise in treating arthritis and other types of pain.
Mom was known to speak her mind, especially when she saw something with which she disagreed. For me as a new daughter-in-law,, some of my mother-in-law’s words stung. But, as I got to know Mom I really began to understand and appreciate this quality. I learned that her bee sting had medicinal properties. Her words were honest and truthful, and I personally learned a lot through her.
When I first was married, she admonished me for not calling her every Friday. I apologized and felt stung by the criticism. After all, in my family, we called each other whenever we felt like calling. There was no schedule and that was just what I was used to doing. Nonetheless, I decided to start calling my in-laws every Erev Shabbos (Friday afternoon) as that was their expectation. As the years went by, I realized what a blessing the initial criticism had been. Now, my children and grandchildren call me just about every Friday afternoon. That is the medicinal quality of that sting.
4. A bee is the only insect that produces human food and the bee is the only non- kosher creature that produces a substance that we are allowed to eat.
Like the bee, the sweet honey that my mother-in-law produced is unique and defies logic. She had the ability to take the most mundane and insignificant gift and elevate it by making someone feel special. She was able to take her toughness and criticism and combine it with her Simchas Ha’chaim (joie de vivre) to produce children who are known for their incredible sweetness And, she taught us that it is possible for each one of us to be the only insect that can produce something edible and then elevate it to something pure and kosher.
May the neshoma (soul) of Devora bas Yitzchok Aaron have a tremendous Aliyah as she buzzes and soars in the Next World. May each one of us continue to produce the honey from all that Mom has taught us.