Baltimore, MD - Nov. 7, 2019 - 10 MarCheshvan - My late wife, Debra Rachel Friedman, a”h, was special in so many ways.  She loved the Torah and those who study it, she was modest and caring, G-d fearing and devout.  She was honest and hardworking yet possessed an infectious smile.  When she was taken from this world, while the sanctity of Yom Kippur was still within her, it sent a shock wave through the Jewish world.  How could this happen to such a wonderful person?

My Rov, Rav Abba Zvi Naiman, shlita, remarked at the levayah that surely, she was a sacrifice to atone for us, a korban olah!  That seemed like hyperbole to me.  My wife, in her modesty, never thought of herself, as being anything special.  However, in the subsequent hours and days, I have come to see the wisdom of his words. In the following paragraphs, the reader will be able to follow the events that proceeded her petirah and make up his or her own mind.

The story begins the Monday night before Yom Kippur.  My shul was sponsoring a lecture from Rabbi Elon.  I planned on going, while my wife would be busy with the paperwork of a new job.  Just before the talk started, she appeared in the audience.  She told me that she attended because it would make Rabbi Elon’s mother-in-law happy.  Debra attends a weekly exercise class with said mother-in-law.

After a wonderful and detailed presentation, we walked home together.  We looked at each other with the same thought, “It was a beautiful presentation, but what does it have to do with me?” When she said the actual words to me, I committed to doing more research on the topic.

Erev Yom Kippur, she lit candles five minutes before Tosafos Yom Hakippurim. We forgave each other as we did every year, but this year had a special quality to it.  Our subsequent conversation showed that we had reached a place of mutual understanding and tolerance.

Rabbi Dovid Katz, a Rov and an historian, does a weekly biography podcast featuring a Rabbi whose yahrtzeit is commemorated that week.  Many times, he picks famous figures known to most of us and many times the subject is more obscure. When discussing the Rama   zt” l, Rabbi Katz said that the Rama’s halachic credentials are well known.  However, the fact that he was a Kabbalist and philosopher is less known.  In that podcast, he recommended the Rama’s work, Toras HaOlah, which discusses all aspects of the Avodas Beis HaMikdash (the Temple service). 

This summer, I started the sefer and found it enlightening and enjoyable. I discontinued its study due to other prior commitments.  However, on Yom Kippur morning, I honored my commitment to my wife to further search for a deeper understanding of the Avodas Yom Hakipurim.  I took the Toras HaOlah from the shelf and proceeded to study it to gain a   deeper understanding of the Yom Kippur Avodah.

Customarily, I stay in shul during the mussaf break; I can’t remember the last time I went home.  However, the shul was so cold this year, I decided to go home.  My wife was outside the shul, and we walked home together.  I used the opportunity to share with her, some of what I had learned about the Avodah, from the pen of the Rama.

The Rama (Toras HaOlah 2:56) poses the question, “Why do all holiday mussaf sacrifices require the bringing of two bulls as olos and that of Rosh Hashanah requires only one bull?  (see the text for the Rama’s answer) However, the same question exists by the mussaf of Yom Kippur, where only one bull is required.

The Rama himself (ibid. 2:57) says the following about Yom Kippur:

ומצינו כי פעלת ה' יתעלה ומשפטו הם בדרך אחד, וכמו שפעולותיו שלמים כן משפטיו שלמים. כמו שאמר משה רבינו ע"ה, "הצור תמים פעלו, כי כל דרכיו משפט"... ועל כן בא ענין היום, להורות אף שמשפטיו הם בתכלית השלמות נמשכים חכמותיו, מכל מקום לא יתחייב שיהיה תמידים, שהרי לא נמחל להם עד יום ידוע והוא יום כיפור...והי' קרבן מוסף כקרבן מוסף של ר"ה, כי שניהם מורים על משפטי השם יתעלה אם האדם."

I explained to Debra that the intent of the Rama is not clear, but I think he means the following:

All year round, there seems to be a disparity between Hashem’s perfect justice and how He runs this world. However, on Yom Kippur, it becomes clear that all His actions emanate from His perfect justice.  “All His ways are just!” Therefore, all year round, even on Yom Tov, we still sacrifice two bulls.  On Yom Kippur, after teshuvah is complete, we are worthy of seeing the unity between His actions and the wisdom of His justice.  Hence, on the Yomim Noraim we bring only one bull for the mussaf olah offering.  She appreciated the explanation and seemingly accepted thatה' הוא אלוקים .  Indeed, all his judgements are sound and just, despite that it seems people get away with misbehavior. Who would have known she would say those words for the last time, a few hours later?    

I continued that the Rama explains that the Bais Hamikdash was a facsimile of Gan Eden.  The Kohen Gadol needs to separate from his wife, seven days before Yom Kippur to signify the creation process, which consisted of one day to “plan” and six days of creation.  Who would have known she was accepting the din that would separate her from her family, seven hours later?  Who would have fathomed that soon she would arrive in the Gan Eden, that was hinted at in the avodas hamussaf?

She asked me if she should stay for Maariv or run home to prepare dinner for break fast? I told her that our custom is that 50 minutes after shekiah, we may start to  prepare for the next day.  We only keep 72 minutes, as it relates to the Biblical laws of Shabbos and Yom Kippur.  However, I understand that you feel awkward running home after the high level of kedushah that you’ve achieved, through the Yom Kippur davening that climaxes at the end of neilah.  I told her that whatever she does is fine with me.

Debra laid down to rest and returned for Minchah.  In the end, she ended up staying for Maariv.  The last three phrases at the end of Neilah, which she recited, are the ones that a critically ill person says as “viduy” before their death.  The Kerias Shema that she said in Maariv, was reminiscent of the family gathering together around the bed of a relative ready to depart to the next world.  And on the way home…

Avos D’Rav Nosson (14) relates the story of Rav Yochanan be Zakai losing his eldest son.  Many of his students tried to comfort him, to no avail.  Finally, Reb Elazar be Arach comforted his Rebbi with a homily. “If a king were to give one of his subjects a highly valuable object to keep for him, he would constantly think, “If only the king would take back the object back while it is in perfect condition!” Hashem gave you a precious object to keep – your son.  He learned the Written and the Oral Torah, Halacha and Aggadah.   When he left the world, he was a tzaddik, free of sin.  Aren’t you happy you were able to return the King’s precious object in perfect condition?” (I would like to thank Ben Vergafman for showing me this Chazal)

A woman in the community told me the following:

The Gemara in Yoma tells us that on Yom Kippur, the Satan's powerless.  The Gemara elsewhere says that the Satan and the Angel of Death are one in the same.   If the Angel of Death is impotent on Yom Kippur, who took my wife’s life? My wife died the death of a tzaddik, מיתת  נשיקה, with a “kiss from the Almighty.  What a picture-perfect launch from this world, into the World to Come.

My wife was returned in perfect condition. She came to the world, and the first person she saw was the nurse, Mrs. Hadas Shavrick, a G-d fearing Jew.  She left the world in the presence of the medic, Dovi Spigelman, a G-d fearing Jew.  She had the Yom Kippur holiness upon her. She was nimchal from her family and from Hashem.

In retrospect, I look at our discussion of the words of the Toras HaOlah as a preparation for her death, just as Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, prepared his students for their roles as korbanos.  He required them to accept their role willingly.  So too her agreeing with the words of the Rama constituted her acceptance of her role as a sacrifice.

The pasuk says, אם עולה קרבנו, if one brings an olah offering.  However, it could also be read "aym”, mother, if your mother is chosen as a korban olah.  To my children I say, “we don’t understand why Hashem chose my wife, your Aym, as his Olah.  However, she was up to the challenge! 

May her passing only bring besuros tovos, Yeshuos, and nechamos to our family, the amazingly giving city of Baltimore and the Jewish people.

Postscript: The night after her petira, as I approached my bed, a Feldheim, Hebrew/English Viduy pamphlet lay on the nightstand.  My assumption is that she was studying it during her rest, so she could do a better job at Viduy, when  returning to shul for Mincha/Neela!