I struggle every year with trying to make the fast of Tisha b'Av more meaningful than just dreading yet another 25 hour fast. I learn about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash (may it be rebuilt soon and in our lifetime) and the story of Kamtz and Bar Kamtza. Those make an intellectual impression on me. I read about/listen to/watch first person accounts of holocaust victims; see documentary on Leah Kaufman on the Aish site. Those make me inspired by what a human being (even an 8 year old girl) can become, horrified by how low a human being can sink, and a bit embarrassed about my own complaining (gee whiz... it's been 23 hours since my last good meal... I guess I'll just have to nap more before ma'ariv). But none of them strikes a chord of personal or even communal tragedy.
Till yesterday, 10 Av 5775/July 26 2015; when I was wakened by the buzz of an incoming text message telling me that the funeral for Bubbie Rochel would be at 11:00AM. Then I cried. I cried again during kinos. I cried again this morning saying t'hillim in her apartment where her husband -- he should be strong and healthy for many years -- and her children are sitting shiva this week.
How did she become my Bubbie? I walked into her apartment with my son after the vasikin minyan on Shabbos over 20 years ago. The apartment was abuzz with her children and grandchildren -- shmoozing, playing chess, eating cholent (before 7:00AM... best time ever!). I discovered very quickly that, except on the third day of a three day Rosh Chodesh, Bubbie only let family into her home. That is to say, one you walked in, you were her family. Bubbie was glowing; the only thing better than grandchildren, she told me, was more grandchildren. She suffered from Parkinsons, had a bad knee (it had been run over by a car while she was walking home one Shavuous), and had trouble with her eyes. Over the years the Parkinsons, the knee, and her eyes got progressively worse; but the glow never dimmed.
I learned about davening from her. For as long as I knew her, she spent hours a day both davening and saying t'hillim. For about six months a couple of years ago, she was not able to see out of either eye (she regained sight in one eye) and needed help davening. I couldn't figure out why she needed help... surely she knew the davening by heart. But her granddaughters and friends came to help her; they would say one word and wait while she repeated, then the next word, then she repeated, and so on for the entire davening. You would have thought she was delivering a vitally important message while standing directly before the Almighty Himself. She was.
She taught me the importance of Torah. Every week she would enjoin me, "Michael -- bring Torah to my table!" She said it as if simply stating a fact (since I brought her a d'var Torah every week), but I heard her charge and endeavored to fulfill her wishes. You don't walk into Bubbie's home and just say something off the top of your head, so she changed my whole week as everything I learned was evaluated and refined until I had something to bring to her table.
I learned a thing or two about stubbornly sticking to your principles from Bubbie, also. I got a smile on my face this morning while thinking about what I wanted to say about my Bubbie -- the memory of such a tzadekes is indeed a blessing. I had a vision of HaShem explaining to her that she is now exempt from mitzvos and doesn't need to daven or say t'hillim any more... I can't imagine that going to go well for Him.