Now and Later: Personal Reflections on the Chai Family Tragedy

“I hoped that we could annul the decree, but in the end we weren’t able to…” Rabbi Meirav of Yeshivat Shuvu Banim cried out as he wept at the funeral for his beloved son-in-law Rabbi Meir Chai two weeks ago.

When I watched the eulogies for Rabbi Chai, the acclaimed educator and father of 7 who was inhumanly gunned down by terrorists on the way to his home in the Shomron, I wondered what decree the father-in-law was talking about.

But it wasn’t long before I heard about Rabbi Chai’s decree. In fact, over the course of last week, I heard the incredible story of Rabbi Meir Chai’s decree over and over and over again- on the radio, in Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi’s weekly class, in the cover story of last week’s Mishpacha magazine.

12 years ago, Rabbi Meir Chai was driving home when he was critically injured in a terrible car accident. By the time Rabbi Chai reached the hospital, he had no pulse, and after much effort the medical staff resuscitated him in the emergency room. When he returned to consciousness, Rabbi Chai explained that his soul had risen to Heaven, and had stood before the Heavenly Court for its final judgment.

The Court informed Rabbi Chai that the time had come for him to die, but Rabbi Chai pleaded with the judges that he be allowed to return to life. “My wife gave birth this week! I beg you to let me live for 12 more years so that I can raise my son! I also have many students; who will teach them Torah if I die?” So the Court agreed to give him 12 more years.

And on the 12 year anniversary of that accident, Rabbi Meir Chai was murdered.

For those 12 years, by all accounts, Rabbi Chai was a man on fire. He established multiple religious schools and afterschool Torah-study programs in the Shomron where he lived and beyond. When the girls in one of the schools where he taught were asked who they wanted to teach them Torah, they began chanting louder and louder “Rabbi Chai, Rabbi Chai!”

The students loved Rabbi Chai because they sensed how much he loved them and that this was a teacher who was for real. That there was nothing in the world that meant more to Rabbi Chai than teaching Torah and spreading its light to the children of Israel.

His 7 children, who didn’t know about the decree until after their father’s death, said that they noticed that during his final months their father had been acting differently. His oldest son, Eliyahu, age 16, said that in retrospect he understands that his father was preparing the family for life without him. Eliyahu Chai told Mishpacha Magazine:

“He prepared us for his death…over the last few months he asked me to be home a lot more, as though he was preparing me for my new position in the family… He was preparing us for the possibility that we would be alone, maybe because he knew that his end was approaching…”

And for the past few days I have been thinking a lot about this tragic loss, for Rabbi Chai’s wife and family and for all the children of the Shomron.

But I’ve also been thinking of the gift of those 12 years.

It is so easy, I find, to live on automatic pilot. Going from breakfast to work to lunch to playground to dinner to bed. I push off what is important because I convince myself that I will do those things LATER.

I will put down the mop and read my 4-year-old a story- LATER
I will get off the email and make a phone call to my parents- LATER
I will go to the supermarket 20 minutes later than usual and have a real conversation with my husband- LATER
I will start attending a weekly Torah class- LATER
I will finally begin that project I’ve been dreaming about for years- LATER

But Rabbi Chai was a great man who accomplished tremendous things for the Jewish people because he knew that there wouldn’t be a later. And the clock he heard ticking every day of those twelve years enabled him, forced him, to live with the total clarity, with the crystal-clear vision of a person who does what is important TODAY.

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh tells the story of a king who every day gives his Royal Artisan a single diamond in order to affix it to the royal crown. But one day the artisan loses one of the diamonds. Maybe it gets lost because it rolls off the artisan’s worktable while he steps out for a cup of coffee? Maybe it rolls away while the artisan is using it in his game of marbles? Either way, the artisan has been careless with the king’s diamonds and the king is furious: “What were you thinking?! You wasted a priceless diamond intended for my crown!”

And those diamonds, the Ohr HaChaim explains, are the days of our lives. Are we going to let those days roll away, or polish them and affix them to G-d’s crown?

Because the truth is that for every single one of us, the clock is ticking. And the only choice I have in the matter is whether I’m going to hear the clock ticking or not. Whether you and I and all of us are going to choose to stop pushing off what is important, and to take our lives into our hands today.

To assist the widow and 7 orphans of Rabbi Meir Chai zt”l:
Send checks to:
Rav Meir Chai Fund
P.O. Box 144

By credit card contact: 052-712-1643, or from outside of Israel call 9720-52-712-1643

I also wanted to share this beautiful letter that I received this week in response to last week’s Mommy Peptalk about Rabbi Meir Chai zt”l
I just watched your video for this week. It was a sincere and heart warming dedication to Rav Meir Chai Ztz”L”. He was the teacher at Noam Hadera where my children are now learning. Although they have been there only since the beginning of this year, Rav Meir was their favorite teacher. My 9 yr old daughter Yona would come home describing Rav Meir’s classes and his wonderful storytelling. How he got up on a chair with a broom to emphasize what he was teaching while all the little girls giggled. He was also a great organizer of school events and was planning my other daughter’s class bat mitzvah program.

My children had a difficult Friday and Shabbat struggling to understand why such a tzaddik was killed. But at the same time, as part of the natural healing process, they told me about all their memories of him. He never, ever raised his voice with the children and taught them to love Torah and also to laugh with him.

Another mother told me a class was asked who they would like as their Torah teacher and the girls all called out in unison “Rav Meir Chai.” Then the girls all started chanting very loudly and repeating, “We want Rav Meir Chai, we want Rav Meir Chai” while standing on their chairs. This is how much he was loved by his students.

As we are new to the school I had not yet met all the teachers. However, last Sunday before the tragedy, I went to pick up my daughter from her class and Rav Meir was discussing bat mitzvah matters with the 6th grade teacher. As I stood patiently for them to conclude their discussion I remember thinking to myself that it was remarkable that this man with the long dark beard seemed so gentle. At the end of their conversation, he asked the teacher whose parent I was and I was introduced. In that 1 minute encounter, I sensed how special this man was. Only after did I realize that this was the beloved Rav Meir Chai.

The staff, students and parents of the school are having a very difficult time after being honoured with Rav Meir’s presence for the 9 years he was with the school.

I am going to pass on your dedication to my friends and my children as you really summarized who he was beautifully…..thank you.
Angela Turner

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