When the question was finally asked, I knew it was like no other question I had ever been asked
It was a usual day in the office.
I was frenetically attempting to multitask with seemingly endless responsibilities.
I was reading e-mails and returning phone calls.
I listened to voice mail while writing semi-legible notes.
Between phone calls and e-mails, I made an effort to learn and prepare shiurim while also keeping abreast of the goings-on in the Jewish world.
There were meetings with singles and counseling for couples, shidduch references, and simple and not-so-simple halachic questions.
In short, a fairly typical day not too different from any other day.
And then the phone call came.
It was not a question in kashrus or in shemiras Shabbos.
It did not involve a money issue nor was it a question of “mutar oder assur.”
It was not a question about chinuch or about a child possibly going off the derech.
It was not a query seeking advice about employment or eliciting my opinion on a shalom bayis crisis.
The woman was calm and collected, direct and to the point. However, when the question was finally asked, I knew it was like no other question I had ever been asked.
It was asked on the last day of Chanukah, just a day after the attack in Monsey, and three days after the attack in Brooklyn, and two weeks after Jersey City.
The woman asked peacefully and was perfectly composed. There was no trace of either expressed or repressed emotion, rather, she asked the question in a pedestrian and banal tone of voice. That is why it hit me so powerfully.
“Rabbi, I must ask you. How should I prepare myself if I am about to fulfill the mitzvah of leaving this world al kiddush Hashem?
I swallowed hard.
“What did you ask?”
“Rabbi, if something were to occur, I would of course protect my children’s lives over my own. Therefore, I’m asking you, how do I properly prepare myself to die al kiddush Hashem?
“I’m not expecting to do so, nor am I paranoid that something will happen. However, I’d like to be prepared if something does happen, to be able to perform this mitzvah properly.”
All of us have heard too much sad news over the last year. Recently, the sad news seems to be continual and indiscriminate.
There is no one group nor one place; the unexpected and seemingly randomness of the events leads to a sense of uncertainty.
Everyone everywhere is talking about the “issue.” When I was sitting with the other rabbanim in the lounge area before the Siyum HaShas, it was being discussed. And even as we made our way to the outdoor dais, the subject and its severity were being debated.
However, no one brought the issue home and into my heart quite like the calm Jewish woman who asked me composedly and calmly, “How do I properly prepare myself to die al kiddush Hashem?”
The loving heart of a protective Jewish mother and grandmother, yearning to sincerely know how she should be prepared to fulfill this ultimate mitzvah, moved me more than any drashah I ever heard or insight I ever read.
I remained shocked and silent as I sat in awe of this Jewish mother. I somehow composed myself and did my best to allay her fears while validating and complimenting her on her lofty and holy thoughts.
We discussed briefly the concept of kiddush Hashem and I gave her a bircas hedyot (a brachah from an ordinary person) that she should take all her children and grandchildren to the chuppah.
It was only after the conversation had ended that I allowed myself, through my tears, to fully appreciate the pasuk, “Mi k’amcha Yisrael….”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 793)