Over the past few weeks I have been adding to each post to please have in mind that the learning should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for my mother-in-law, Mrs Schulamith Bechhofer. Sadly, the limud in this post is l'zecher nishmasa, as she past away last Sunday and my wife and her sister, brothers, aunts and uncles are in the middle of shiva.
My MIL was among the "pleitas sofreihem" of a different time and place. Her father was a talmid muvhak of R' Yosef Bloch in Telz; her mother came from a prominent family (Mussensohn) in Lita. She was born in Switzerland, where her father served as Rav in Basel for 17 years before the family moved to Holland and then eventually to Canada. She was the oldest of her siblings, and, as I heard during the shiva week from relatives, she was always there, often behind the scenes, to lend a helping hand to them. Those who live in Far Rockaway may remember her from the many years she served with distinction as a morah in Torah Academy for Girls (TAG), the school my wife and all my daughters attended. My MIL always projected a sense of dignity and formality, traits that have been almost completely lost in our age where everyone is so casual and lets everything hang out. She had high expectations and set high standards for her children and grandchildren; she could be tough and demanding, but it was meant l'tovah because she wanted us to grow and accomplish. There are two people who would always read, print, and share with others whatever I manage to write here every week -- one was my father a"h, who would print out what I wrote and show it to people in his shul, and one my MIL a"h, who told me more than once how much she enjoyed reading what I and my wife wrote. She took pride in the fact that her children could write and transmit words of Torah, and therefore it's only fitting to share some divrei Torah in her memory.
The family was close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, so one idea from a sicha: Noach is a very strange name for our parsha. Noach the person was given that name because "zeh yinachameinu m'ma'aseinu umei'itzvon yadeinu," he brought comfort -- Noach=neicha, see Rashi -- and eased the burden of toiling the earth for all mankind. Noach the parsha is about anything but comfort and peace. It tells the story of the devastation flood that destroyed everything on earth. How does the name fit?
The Rebbe answers that al korchacha what we learn from the name of the parsha is that even amidst calamity and sorrow, behind the scenes is the potential for "neicha." Hashem's plan is always to our benefit, even if the path is sometimes painful. The haftarah calls the waters of the flood "mei Noach" -- not a mabul. The navi, with his prophetic insight, is telling us that "neicha" can emerge even from the waters of destruction. "Va'yarach Hashem es rei'ach ha'nichoach" -- the world that emerged after the flood was a better one, one that was immune from further destruction, one where man can bring nachas ruach to Hashem.
And so it is when we face our own tragedies and sorrow. We don't have the benefit of the insight of a navi, but we hope and trust that whatever pain Hashem brings ultimately is for the sake of "neicha," to bring us comfort and make us stronger.
People always say that the departed should be a "meilitz yosher." Some people even go so far as to say the departed should intercede upstairs and help with specific things that we need down here. My wife thought this is the wrong way to look at things. To paraphrase President Kennedy, we should not ask what the departed can do for us -- we should be asking ourselves what we can do for the departed. What can we do to serve as a zechus and credit to their memory? What can we do to better exemplify the midos, Torah, yiras shamayim that they wanted us to have and tried to instill in us? How can their memory inspire us? This is the message to take away from aveilus.