One of the positives about this very difficult period of anxiety and isolation was that I was able to take care of some of those things that “I’ll get to one day.”
One of those things was purchasing a new Shabbos talis, and fixing the zipper on my t’filin bag. Both my t’filin bag and my Shabbos talis have a great deal of sentimental value to me.
My t’filin bag was designed and sewn by my mother, a gift for my bar mitzvah. The picture she drew for my t’filin bag was printed on my bar mitzvah invitations and on the benchers that were disseminated then. A few years ago, the zipper on that t’filin bag ripped. Every morning, as I put away my t’filin, I thought about fixing it. But then the day would begin, and I would forget about it.
A few weeks ago, I finally brought the t’filin bag to the cleaners. Three days later, I had a strong zipper and a functional t’filin bag. It gave me a renewed appreciation for a very personal and meaningful gift my mother gave me years ago.
My Shabbos talis, too, desperately needed to be replaced. It was the original talis I received from my in-laws and then-kallah over 18 years ago. I remember well the excitement I had when we went to purchase it and I donned it that first time. I was especially proud of the beautiful silver atarah (crown) atop the talis.
Hundreds of times since then, I have pulled the talis with the atarah over my head during davening – on Shabbos, on Yom Tov, and while serving as the chazan on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The space inside that talis is very meaningful, not only because of the sentimentality of the talis, but also because of how much t’filah I uttered there. But, like all physical commodities, the time came when it had to be replaced. It had gone from being holy to being quite hole-y, and the atarah was falling off in a few places.
I purchased a new talis and gave in my old one so the atarah could be polished and transferred onto the new one. A week later, my new talis arrived. I hardly recognized the atarah – it was polished and fixed up and looked beautiful atop the new talis.
This coming Monday, 30 Sivan, our family will mark the first yahrzeit of my Bubby, my mother’s mother, Rebbetzin Fruma Kohn a”h. The pasuk (Mishlei 17:6) states, “The crown of elders is their grandchildren.” Rashi explains that the crown of grandparents is seeing their grandchildren following the straight path. It gives them a sense of fulfillment and purpose to know that they have fulfilled their life mission and ambition to raise the next generation of Torah observance.
My other three grandparents passed away before I was 15. But I was blessed to have my Bubby in my life for almost four decades of my life. It was such a gift that my children were able to glimpse a relic of the previous generation. They were able to meet a survivor of Siberia, a member of the generation who gave everything for the preservation and perpetuation of Torah living, amidst vast personal loss and struggle.
When one visits a grave, the custom is that before one takes leave, he places a stone atop the grave. The symbolism is that although the one buried can no longer personally garner merits, we can still give them merits through actions we perform in their memory. We place a stone atop their grave, as if to say that we can still add to their legacy.
Bubby has passed on. We, her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, have the perpetual task to polish her crown and make sure it sparkles and shines. In fact, we are her crown!
May her neshamah have an aliyah.