By Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis
Two weeks before my mother passed away last August, I paid a shivah call to a friend who had just lost his mother. The house was filled to capacity with those who came to comfort the mourners. My friend motioned to me to come forward. In a quiet voice, he told me that one of his mother’s last wishes was that he contact Rebbetzin Jungreis because a family she knew was struggling with a difficult problem.
The next day I went to my mother’s bedside and told her of this woman’s last wish. Her response still haunts me to this day. Without giving it a second thought, my mother said, “As soon as I get better, I will meet with them.” A few weeks later when I was sitting shivah for my mother, my friend came to comfort me. I told him I had come to give him chizuk when he was sitting shivah but it was he who gave me (and my mother) chizuk.
“As soon as I get better, I will meet with them” are words I shall never forget. Hashem had different plans, but I know my mother is beseeching Hashem for all those in this world who are grappling with a multitude of difficulties.
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My mother used the wide variety of gifts Hashem bestowed upon her to the optimal level. She never wasted a moment, understanding the precious nature of time and how quickly it eludes us. A close friend once asked her, “Rebbetzin! How do you function with such little sleep?” My mother’s response: “I sleep fast.”
Wherever she traveled, she always carried her trusted weapon, her sefer Tehillim. The Rebbetzin’s pasuk that corresponded to her name, Esther, was from Psalm 20: “Some with chariots, some with horses, but we call out in the name of Hashem.” No matter where she was–sitting in a plane on the runway or waiting in a doctor’s office–that book of Psalms could be found in her hands.
My mother was renowned not only for her pioneering work in outreach, or for the thousands of shidduchim she made, or for her riveting Torah classes, but as those who have read her Jewish Press columns or her books can attest, she was the ultimate storyteller.
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A close friend sent me the following: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away.” She commented, “Yisroel, every time your mother spoke, she did that for people.”
Whenever we visited the Kotel in Yerushalayim, throngs of people would surround my mother, asking for her blessings. My mother had the glow of Shabbos on her face at all times and her appearance was that of a real Queen Esther, with all the royalty and regality conveyed by the title. My brother, Rabbi Osher, said at her levayah, “Most queens need a crown so that they may be identified as such. Not my mother. She did not need a crown. Everyone knew she was a queen when she walked into a room.”
When a writer for a magazine was interviewing my mother, my son Avraham commented, “Do you know you are interviewing a queen?”
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No one was able to teach a pasuk in Chumash like the Rebbetzin. During her weekly Torah classes, she made the Torah come alive as she imparted its messages with such love and passion. She would often say, “Torah study is unlike any other study in the world. You can study math at the finest of colleges but you will never become a number. You can study music at Juilliard but you will never become a note. But when you study Torah, when you take on its lessons, you become a Torahdig person.”
At the beginning of her classes, she would enthusiastically tell her listeners: “This week’s parashah is amazing and you are going to learn many important lessons. I know I always tell you that about every parashah, but it’s true!”
She would add: “In the Torah there is no repetition. Every pasuk, every word, every nekudah, has a deeper meaning. We must peel away the layers of an onion when we learn the parashah. We must ask question after question to discover the true meaning of what Hashem is teaching us.”
Everyone attending her classes thought she was talking to him or her personally when she explained the pesukim with uncommon depth and warmth. Her mastery of gematria was astounding and in each of her Torah classes she would always give incredible insights through the numerical value of the Torah’s words. Her students began to understand that the Chumash was teaching them personal lessons regarding their lives.
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Besides being a Rebbetzin to the world, my mother was an incredibly loving and devoted mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Each grandchild felt he or she was the most special. The Rebbetzin understood the unique nature of each child and knew precisely what each one needed to hear.
To say my mother is sorely missed would be a gross understatement. The painful void in our hearts and souls is ever-present as we miss calling her for our Shabbos and yom tov berachos. Our mother would give a berachah like no one else in the world. We could all feel the love in her heart with each word she uttered.
I often think back to the times we would visit our mother. Those were indeed precious moments. When it was time to depart, she would walk us outside, kiss and hug us all, give us one more berachah, and wave to us until the car disappeared. She told us this is how her own father would say goodbye after she visited him.
“B’nafsho kushiro b’nafshoÂ .Â .Â .”–“My soul is connected to yours. May the malachim of Hashem watch over you.” These were the words of my grandfather, HaGaon Rav Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l. They were also the words with which the Rebbetzin would always sign letters to her family.
The Rebbetzin told her grandchildren she did not know when Hashem would call her to Shamayim but when the time came she would go with ahavah, with love. “Bubba will never forget you; I will always be davening for you.”
She also said, “No one really ever dies, as the neshamah is eternal. But what can we do to remember our loved ones who left this world? We can constantly send them care packages. And how do we do that? Through our mitzvos and ma’asim tovim. Each mitzvah we do should be done in the name of our loved ones who have passed.”
The Zohar states that children are the legs of the father, meaning that when parents leave this physical world, they need their children to go on for them and walk in their path. In the Rebbetzin’s case, she had untold thousands of spiritual children. The greatest gift we can send her is to continue her work, to study Torah and do mitzvos. By doing so we declare: “Rebbetzin, we will never forget you.”
We ask Hashem that the words in Sefer Yeshayahu be fulfilled: “Lo yamushu mipicha u’mipi zarecha u’mipi zera zarecha”–“May the words of Torah never be forgotten from your mouth, your children’s mouths, and your children’s children’s mouths.”
And may the neshamah of imi morasi Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi be an advocate for all of Klal Yisrael.