For many years — from before my bar mitzvah until my marriage — I had the honor to learn with Rabbi Matis Blum (who was a teen when we started) on Shabbos morning. Yesterday I had the heartwrenching experience of attending his wife’s funeral. Rebbetzen Etty Blum was 45 at the time, a mother of ten children.
I just want to make one point that emerged from the hespeidim.
When Rn Blum was diagnosed with a brain tumor, 1-1/2 years ago, she brought the news to her oldest daughter, Binah, and her husband with the opening, “Let me share with you the challenge Hashem gave me.” Chasdei Hashem, she said — the kindness of Hashem.
Initially they thought she was diagnosed on time. It was Elul. She thanked Hashem for giving her the tools to pray that Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur with real intent.
Then she learned that she would have to go for scans every three months to monitor the tumor. Rn Blum thanked Hashem for not giving her an opportunity to slip back into complacency after appealing to Him from within her crisis. Again, “Chasdei Hashem“, as she saw it.
Then the first scans came back, and the news wasn’t good. Again she thanked G-d, “Chasdei Hashem” as she described it to her family, because He gave her the news piecewise. Had she heard how bad it was when she first got the news, would she have been able to accept it?
During her illness, Rn Etty Blum gave talks about davening, about accepting Shabbos just a little earlier even in the winter, about teaching our children that Shabbos is about more than a day to play ball. In particular, she herself took on the Jerusalem practice of lighting Shabbos candles 40 minutes before sunset rather than 18.
Two weeks ago, she and her sister were in the hospital, but Rn Blum was unaware, staring off into the distance. The illness, after all, was attacking her brain. As Shabbos approached her sister told her it was time to light. Suddenly, awareness dawned. And they turned on the lamp together and started Shabbos.
Last Friday too she drifted off. And her sister tried again to tell her it was time for Shabbos lights. Her sister didn’t see her move, but the nurse noticed her eyes turn to look at her sister. So, her sister took her hand, and again they turned on the lamp together. A short while later, she was gone.
Rabbi Matis got the news before he began Shabbos. But he didn’t tell anyone. He carried through Shabbos giving his usual talks. He carried the burden and didn’t ruin anyone else’s Shabbos but his own. And as soon as havdalah was over, he called their children over, and finally released the pain of a partner lost.
Many people say “chasdei Hashem — the lovingkindness of G-d”. How many actually feel it? Actually are capable of being happy with their lot, both when enjoyable and even to have the opportunity of living through trials, through challenges?
“Moshe rejoices with the giving of his portion, for a trustworthy servant you have called him.”
תהא נפשה צרורה בצרור החיים