July 9, 2019 Tuesday morning shuir with Avigail
I don’t really know where to begin and I don’t know why I think I deserve to speak of such a great person. I do know that I am one of many avelim today, and forever. I hope this will give someone some comfort.
Avigail was my teacher in seminary when I was 18 and already then she had a reputation. I was pretty petrified Avigail would call on me or approach me in her Hebrew and I would have to respond in Hebrew. In the 25 years since seminary I’m not sure how much my Hebrew has improved but I am glad that fear did not not keep me away.
Of course I was one of many in Midreshet Moriah who were impressed with Avigail’s photographic memory of Tanach. Only in the past few years did Avigail reveal that she didn’t actually have an innate amazing memory, but rather her grandfather would pay her for psukim she had memorized. Of course for me this didn’t take away from my admiration. I, however, am indebted to Avigail’s grandfather and perhaps I owe him a small fortune.
I feel so privileged to have learned from Avigail. I loved when she would get excited and yell. In fact, many a time I can remember running down the stairs late to shuir and already hearing Avigail before I had opened the door. The yelling brought it to life, which I think was often her intent. To bring the black and white letters on the page to form a picture that we could see and understand. In fact for me, my memory of her is not necessarily her face, but rather her voice and the letters.
One of the shuirim that I often think about is when Avigail taught us about birkat cohanim and lifting up the Torah after laining. Particularly as a woman, I think we can really be lost during these times of the tefilah and for me personally this very non-female participatory part of shul had gotten fuzzy over the years. Avigail taught us that we are not to be hiding our faces when the cohanim bless us and to reach up our pinkies and if we are bold enough, reach out our hands to the Torah as it is lifted. Avigail walked us through and reminded us what we are to be doing to be connected and bring all that is Torah and Yahadut to us. In shuir and in life, she connected us to our Tanach that can seem like a foreign world of days gone by; To in fact participate and grab on. This is all ours for the taking.
In a conversation I had with Avigail a few months ago we were discussing about who people choose to surround themselves with and what that kind of statement that can make; specifically for rabbinic figures or people of stature or power. I mentioned that I had just read about this in Rabbi Benjamin Yasgur’s book that is based on his correspondences and meetings with Nechama Leibowitz. In א:חי תישארב, Rabbi Yasgur noticed a quick single pasuk after Avraham’s brit milah. Hashem comes to Avraham but then nothing happens.
םוֹיַּה םֹחְכּ לֶהֹאָה־חַתֶפּ ב ֵשֹׁי אוּהְו אֵרְמַמ יֵנֹלֵאְבּ ‘ה ויָלֵא אָרֵיַּו There’s no follow up. No conversation, no commanding. Gd is just there. Gd is just present with Avraham and so the Rambam explains that Gd’s presence alone is worth mentioning in the
Torah and it was, of course, a reward to Avraham for having obeyed Gd’s mitzvah of his brit milah. But of course when Avraham sees the angel-men coming, Avraham gives up that special time with Gd to serve his guests despite his own physical pain. Because as Avigail pointed out, there’s more than just Gd. There’s people. That too is important. We were all privileged to share space with Avigail.
After I moved to Efrat I thought I would stick to my new local shuirim, which were more of the spiritual versus textual based. Only after returning to shuir with Avigail did I realize that all along I was getting both. Avigail would always ask about my children and with my longer drive she was concerned about the extra time I was away from my them, that my kids would have to fend for themselves, make their own lunch, etc. In fact once she made me stop at a felafel place so she could buy felafel to send home to my kids. Of course I still feel like the worst person in the world that I actually let this poor woman stand in the felafel store. Had I so quickly forgotten that this is the same person I had to pull the car over on the side of the road so she could throw up from her chemo. But my kids are people and she cared. And she saw, not just the complex Torah.
My drive home after the funeral I was alone and it was silent. I always listen to something; music, torah… but nothing could touch that moment.
Yesterday I randomly stumbled on one of Avigail’s shuirim on the internet. Obviously it didn’t end up being so random. In February 2017 (and possibly other times) Avigail gave a shuir about Avigail HaNeviya’s speech to David. I had never heard it before. It was great. There was yelling. I listened twice. We see in the Tanach that Avigail had a profound impact on David and she teaches him kindness. Avigail HaNeviya’s attribute of kindness (among other attributes) is paralleled to Rut’s kindness. Avigail shared Rav Amnon Bazak’s idea that this attribute of kindness that Avigail HaNeviya imbued and taught to David, was a reward for Rut’s kindness to Naomi. Avigail HaNeviya taught David something very important for his path in life, which is that leadership does not come from within, and you cannot take it but rather it comes from GD. Similar to this, there are some people who are blessed with finer qualities, they are exemplary, a step above. We see this in Avigail HaNeviya’s innate gratitude and kindness and she taught David to tap in to his own. In fact David is grateful for Avigail in בל:הכ א לאומש יִתאָרְקִל הֶזַּה םוֹיַּה ְךֵחָלְשׁ ר ֶשֲׁא לֵאָרְשִׂי יֵהֹלֱא קָוֹקְי ְךוּרָבּ
You inspired me. You challenged me. You made me better. Avigail Malka zihronah tzadika livraha you and all of your splendor are missed.