Sarala Ehrman was always the sweetest child in the room.
During my single years, I enjoyed a standing invitation at the home of my closest friend, Shloimy Ehrman, and his wife, Rochie. As honorary Uncle Shloimy, I would arrive for Shabbos bearing gifts (i.e., very sticky candy that reasonable mothers don’t often buy). The kids would congregate at the doorway as my car pulled into the driveway, waiting to see what that week’s treat would be.
Sarala was different, even then. She would hang back, content beside her mother in the back of the hallway. Eventually, the kids would run off to play, some form of Jawbreaker in hand. Only then did the little big sister step forward and claim what was hers. Never much of a talker, Sarala said everything she needed to with her open face. She would look at me with her big bashful eyes and smile her thanks.
That shy, reticent smile had a depth hard to explain. It meant parted clouds and the sunlight that shines through them. It meant the beautiful simplicity of a good heart, and that other people and their happiness were the most important thing in the world.
It meant the week was behind me, and Shabbos was here.
For 14 years, our lives were filled with Sarala’s smile.
To know her was to love her, her grandmother liked to say. And to love her was to be sustained by her joy, and by the love she doled out from the deepest parts of her very deep soul.
She cared about her Yiddishkeit. Attesting to the high regard in which she was held by her teachers and peers, Sarala was the girl chosen to address the class bas mitzvah. Every Jewish mother can raise a Moshe Rabbeinu, she said that day, and every Jewish girl can make an eternal impact, irrespective of any given circumstance.
Sarala’s life echoed that speech.
Her deep conviction shone from the Shabbos candles she faithfully lit far from home, chasing away the shadows with the light of her Creator. A shofar sounded in a place it had never been sounded before, arranged by a brave little girl determined to hold onto her faith. The beautiful dress she insisted on wearing on Yom Tov added color to a gray looking day, reflecting the kaleidoscope of her vibrant neshomah. Irrespective of circumstance, Sarala’s impact was eternal.
She cared about her friends. Sarala was a quiet sort of girl, but she always found a way to tell other people they mattered. Still waters run deep. Sarala’s good eyes and good heart ran deeper still. They looked out to the world with only kindness, and nothing negative about others ever crossed her lips. It was almost like she didn’t know how.
She cared about her big brother and the world of yeshiva he was just beginning to enter. His growing expertise in yeshivishe parlance and “hock” gave her endless delight, and they shared long bouts of uncontrollable laughter. Sarala was so proud of the life he was choosing, of the man he was becoming. Incredibly, in the last two years of her life, she grew closer to Menachem than ever before.
She cared about her one precious sister, her Etty. Every interaction was cherished and each letter she received was reread a hundred times over. Etty’s interests became hers, and each tidbit of her life and her growth brought Sarala such joy.
She cared about her younger brothers. “Reb Zalman Noach!” she would exclaim upon answering the phone, adding a few inches of height to the little boy blessed with a big sister he loved and adored. Watching her sit with Pinny on the floor was like watching love itself. There was a special glow on Sarala’s face when he was in her arms. She held him like someone holding a treasure would.
Her parents, who turned over the world to bring her healing and peace, were etched on her heart, and Sarala wore her heart on her sleeve, for all the world to see.
Sarala captured new hearts everywhere she went. Because she cared. Her handmade bracelets and signature crocheted hearts were mailed and distributed to the new friends she seemed to constantly be making.
Long after Sarala had moved on, she cared enough not to ever leave anyone behind.
A nurse who helped treat Sarala wrote this upon her petirah:
“I had the privilege to work with Sarala… She was an incredible person who could always bring a smile to my face… I was so lucky to know her… She had a big impact on myself and the others and we will carry her memory on forever.”
Another clinician remembered a particularly hard day she was having. Sarala noticed and slipped a note under her door. The provider still cherishes the handwritten encouragement from a child who, somehow, had never lost the ability to see past herself and her own pain.
Sarala. Dearest Sarala.
To know you was to love you, indeed.
For 14 years, you had the courage to smile at the world, even at times when it didn’t feel like the world was smiling at you.
You softened the edges of a difficult challenge with laughter, hope, and a joy it was never able to steal. You taught us how to open tightly shut hearts, how to keep light burning in darkness. You showed us that innocence can be preserved, untainted by circumstance and unsullied by pain. You loved, and cared, and fought, and smiled, and you touched us in places no one else was able to reach.
Vayar menucha ki tov.
Menucha is good. Menucha, in its purest form, means peace.
Ain kli machzik brocha ella hashalom.
And there is no greater vessel of blessing in the world than peace.
You endured so much in your short life. Yet, through it all, your kli machzik brocha remained intact. Your bravery and determination never waned; your innocence and smile never faded. And it gave us all peace.
It is now your turn, precious Sarala.
Take your place at the Throne of Peace, reserved for the children of Hakadosh Boruch Hu who persevered with dignity and grace.
Vayar menucha ki tov.
You did good, precious child, and now, the time for menucha has come.
We will meet again soon.
Until then, we will remember you, and cherish the memory of your purity and joy.
Until then, we know that your smile lights up the heavens.
There, more than anywhere else, your smile means parted clouds and the sunlight shining through. It means the beautiful simplicity of a good heart, and that others and their happiness are the most important thing in the world.
It means that the week is behind you, dear Sarala, and that Shabbos is forever here.