This past Friday the world lost a special soul, my dear sister-in-law, Rebbetzin Henny Machlis. Thousands of people the world over were touched by her vibrant personality, her warm smile, her sagacious words, her deep Torah convictions, and her love and devotion to the Jewish people. But perhaps what stood out the most was her tremendous chesed (kindness). Together with my brother, Rabbi Mordechai Machlis, she hosted more than 200 people every Shabbat.
Early in They opened their home to the less fortunatetheir married life, Mordechai and Henny made aliyah (immigration to Israel) their common dream. But even in the few short months between their wedding and moving to Israel, they established their home on pure, unadulterated chesed. As newlyweds, they opened their hearts and home to the less fortunate, the homeless, and those whom no one else wanted to host for Shabbat. Their apartment on East 4th Street may have been small, but the room in their hearts was vast.
When Mordechai and Henny moved to the Maalot Dafna neighborhood of Jerusalem, their home became famous for their wonderful Shabbat meals. Henny would stand, peel, chop and cook huge amounts of food, using their own funds to pay for it—which didn’t last too long. Rather than turn anyone down, they chose to borrow “over their heads” to accommodate the vast number of guests. People would line up outside to partake of Henny’s food and bask in the warmth and comfort of a spiritually uplifting Shabbat—many for the first time in their lives.
Over the years, the numbers evolved to about a hundred Friday night and a hundred for Shabbat lunch, and a smaller amount of guests for shalosh seudot, the third meal! The Machlises’ modest apartment was set up wall-to-wall with tables and chairs, and the sumptuous meals included gefilte fish, an array of salads, two kinds of soup, chicken, side dishes, kugels, cholent, dessert, and the list went on and on. Henny said that even when she wasn’t well and her children took over the bulk of the cooking, she would still make an effort to spice the food, praying to G‑d that the guests would be spiritually elevated by her food.
And the guests! Yeshivah students, seminary girls, older singles, community members, soldiers, as well as beggars, drunkards, homeless people, and tourists who walked home with Rabbi Mordechai from the Kotel on Shabbat morning. It took a special soul to welcome all these people into one’s home. But regardless of their appearance or comportment, Henny greeted everyone with a warm smile and a hearty “Shalom.” She had this special charm that made every person she came in contact with feel special.
As a devoted wife, she encouraged her husband in his scholarly work as a maggid shiur (Torah lecturer) at Yeshivah Lev HaTorah and as a Judaic Studies lecturer at Bar Ilan University. Their Shabbat meals were run as a team. Rabbi Mordechai spoke and led the meal, and Rebbetzin Henny would add her spice—a chassidic story, a parable or a Torah thought.
Even with Henny’s devotion to the Jewish people, Her foremost concern was raising her 14 childrenher foremost concern was raising her 14 children with unconditional love and the Torah ideals she held so dear. Surprisingly, even with all these strangers making themselves at home at the Machlises’ (including sleeping on the couches, on the floor or in the car), the children appreciated and valued the chesed that Henny Machlis did, and helped her in her noble work.
Rebbetzin Henny had a staunch belief in G‑d, and even when undergoing painful operations and difficult treatments, she always believed that G‑d would come to her aid. She came to New York for treatment, and once, when she was riding in the back seat of my car, I heard her talking. I thought she had whipped out her cell phone and placed a call. A glance in the rearview mirror told me that she was talking to G‑d like one talks to a father: “Abba, nothing else, please.”
She believed with her whole heart that ein od milvado—there is no other power in the world besides G‑d. She spent many hours davening at the gravesite of Harav Reb Usher Freund, of blessed memory, in Jerusalem, and at the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, in New York. Many people sought her advice and counsel, crediting her with finding their soulmate, achieving marital harmony and returning to the path of Torah observance.
At the end of her funeral last Friday, an hour and a half before Shabbat, the crowd sang Eishet Chayil, “Woman of Valor.” I have never heard singing at a funeral before. Listening to the proceedings on a telephone hookup amidst my copious tears, I realized that every verse of King Solomon’s Eishet Chayil really and truly described Henny Machlis. She was an eishet chayil par excellence.
So now, who Who will greet us with that warm embrace now?will greet us with that warm, loving embrace when we get to the Machlis home in Maalot Dafna? V’hachai yiten el libo, “And the living shall take to heart.” Her husband, her children and her spiritual children will, G‑d willing, follow in her footsteps, keeping Torah, prayer and chesed as a priority in their lives. May Rebbetzin Henny intercede on high for her family, her extended family and all of the Jewish people.
May we merit the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days, when we will be reunited with our loved ones.