Imagine someone rushing through the airport to catch a plane. They are in a state of near-panic, as but a few minutes remain to get to the gate. If you ask this person to take a moment to appreciate the nice weather, or to stop and chat with a friend, they would probably scowl and keep running. "How can you bother me with this now! I only have a few minutes left!"
Now imagine another person, calm and in control, strolling leisurely through the airport. They have a ticket on the same plane, but in this case they have planned wisely for the final destination. They are singing, laughing, enjoying the scenery and the people around them. There is no fear of the final boarding call.
A young mother of four, Chaya Rivkah Jessel, passed away last month in Israel. When faced with a diagnosis of cancer and debilitating chemotherapy, a calm and positive attitude carried Chaya Rivkah through with dignity and joy, distinguishing her from the rest.
In an article in Hamodiya, Sarah Shapiro describes visiting Chaya Rivkah in the hospital and finding her pale, fragile-looking, and hooked up to a chemotherapy machine. "The wattage of [Chaya Rivkah's] smile, however, packed an energetic wallop much greater than ever. I was dazzled…. Her smile was dazzling."
"Good news! I've been home since Thursday. I just got back [to the hospital] this morning. I hung the laundry yesterday!" She giggled, as if confiding a scrumptious secret. "And I washed the dishes! And..." She paused dramatically. "I changed my baby's diaper!...
"I ate a chicken sandwich this morning… Do you know how amazing it is to have an appetite again? Having an appetite is a miracle.
"Everything is just so beautiful. It's an incredible thing, regular daily life...
"I feel I'm a member now of some kind of elite club I never knew about before, of women. It's amazing what women can do, working together. I never realized. I have a new respect for who we are. For what we can be.
"Everything is just so beautiful."
Opportunity to Grow
Where did Chaya Rivkah get such presence of mind in those final days?
In life, she was a master at appreciating every moment, and of recognizing that there is no "good" and "bad" in this world, but rather everything comes from the same Source, and is a beautiful gift to help us grow.
One woman tells of meeting Chaya Rivkah at the supermarket, on a particular busy day where the store was short-staffed. The check-out line was close to an hour long. Shoppers were complaining, babies were crying, and the atmosphere was tense and agitated.
This is not about a line in a supermarket. This is about learning to have more patience.
Chaya Rivkah stood out from the crowd. She was the one smiling and optimistic. She turned to her friend and explained: "This is not about a line in a supermarket. This is about learning to have more patience. God is sending us this opportunity to grow."
Chaya Rivkah was full of faith, enabling her to bring God's presence into even the most mundane, minor and potentially "upsetting" aspects of life. She understood that life is not about suffering. Life is about growing and making the changes we were put here to make. Difficulties are going to happen. That we cannot change. What we can change is our attitude.
On another occasion, it was pouring rain and the roof of the children's activity center was leaking. The woman organizing the children's program that day was complaining about the heavy rains. "Yes, thank God it's raining!" Chaya Rivkah exclaimed. The woman stopped in her tracks and thought long and hard about those few positive words. Then she proceeded to teach the assembled children a new song. No, not "Rain, rain go away…" But rather, "Thank God! Thank God for the rain!"
Chaya Rivkah forced us to stop, take pause, reflect and account for every minute of our lives. She understood the fragility of life; the preciousness of each moment, the beauty that is in the world if we stop to appreciate it -- the wind caressing your cheek, the power of song to uplift a heart heavenward.
Get it Together
Chaya Rivkah embraced every moment. During her illness, she would say: "No one knows how long they'll live for, and I don't know, either. But thank God I'm alive today. And right now, that's what matters."
Life is precarious indeed. A vibrant life can be inexorably altered in a moment, through disease, accident, or terrorist bomb.
The Talmud (Shabbos 153a) exhorts us to rectify our deeds, to get our act together "the day before we die." Yet the Talmud asks: "How does a person know on which day he will die?"
Rabbi Eliezer explained: "A person should always consider that today may be his last. In that way he will devote every day of his life to attaining perfection."
Chaya Rivkah had no panic over the minutes ticking down to her final boarding call. She lived fully and without regrets. On January 6, 2004 (14 Tevet 5764), she passed from this world in peace and contentment. May her memory be for a blessing.
Donations to help care for Chaya Rivkah's four children can be made to: TAT Family Relief Fund, c/o Rosen, 314 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles CA 90036. Or in Israel by calling: 1-800-394-747 (Jessel #825).
Chaya Rivkah Jessel left this world on 12 Teves, 5764 (January 6, 2004). Please visit the web page that has been created in her memory, at http://www.rabbileff.net/shiurim/special/chayarivka/index.htm