Four years ago, my family sat around the Shabbat table with my father at the head, my mother to his right, and my wife’s grandfather, Marc Blanco, sitting to his left. I sat immediately next to my father and Grandpa Marc, and my wife and children filled the room.
Within a year the family’s patriarchs and matriarch were absent from the table. Grandpa Marc had become ill and died, and my parents were in adjacent rooms at NYU Hospital.
“How old were they?”
That question will be left unanswered. It’s irrelevant and should never be asked.
“Did they suffer?”
This question will be dealt with privately. Rambam (Maimonides) teaches that certain aspects of pain and suffering are an outgrowth of the fact that we are physical beings who can only engage life within the trappings of the physical world.
“It was their time.”.
There is no time when a child will willingly say goodbye to his parent.
There is no gain without loss; no joy without suffering.
There is no value without fragility. And a human life would be worthless, if it could not be easily shattered.
It is well known that on the third day of creation the words “And Elokim saw it was good,” meaning “It was perfect” were written twice. In a fascinating interpretation of those words, our rabbis explain that on the third day of creation, the reality mankind would experience was perfected as a result of Borei Olam’s (The Creator of the Universe) creation of death and endings. Until that point, there was no possibility that a plate would crack, that a tree would die, that a bright red ribbon would fade, and that man’s heart would, at some point, stop beating.
A number of years ago, I taught this segment of Parashat Bereisheet at a Shabbaton in Los Angeles. Those attending were adults from the area; delightful, well educated people eager to learn and share ideas. I was unaware that one of the men in the room had recently received word that he was terminally ill. As we discussed the point that death is the facilitator of life, his wife began to cry quietly and he lowered his head, unable to make eye contact with me for the remainder of the class. Afterwards we cried together, understanding full well that the sacred words of our Sages were obviously true and life giving – and that there was nothing more painful than that truth.
We are taught that Miriam Ha’neviah, Aharon HaCohen, and Moshe Rabbeinu were taken from this world with the neshika (kiss) of Hashem. We understand that form of death to be one that demonstrates Hashem’s love of the individual taken, and His unique connectedness to that person.
Mitat neshika, the seemingly painless death with a kiss, is an expression of Hashem’s kindness in another respect — it reminds each of us that life may end in an instant, and at times, without warning.
As we approach the saddest and most thought provoking day of the year, Tisha B’av, we should reread the Torah Power messages of the last few weeks that describe destroying with baseless hatred, building unconditional love, and the fact that belief in Hashem is primarily demonstrated in actions and not words. Each of these will help us make this Tisha B’av one that brings growth, and the Jewish People distanced from what caused the destructions mourned on this day.
I would like to share one final thought on this; something that will facilitate a new sensibility about life; not simply on Tisha B’av but every day we live.
Let’s each get a small picture of someone whom we’ve lost and put it in a place where we will see it everyday; as a screensaver or on top of our desks. The death of someone loved creates a permanent hole in the hearts of those remaining and precludes the possibility of ever again feeling a complete joyfulness.
But it establishes that the joyfulness we do feel is felt deeply, powerfully and is memorable. That is good.
Keeping a picture of that person, in a prominent place, may also make each of us pause before saying something that shouldn’t be said, feeling things about another that shouldn’t be felt, and thinking thoughts that should never enter our minds.
The constant reminder that things easily shatter, life ends, and what’s experienced today may be gone in an instant, may enable us to be more caring, less stubborn, more compromising and more inclusive.
The Creator of the Universe understood, in His infinite wisdom, that only through death and endings would there be the possibility that a human being would appreciate life.
We’re not there yet!
May we always love and cherish that which it taken from us
And Elokim saw it was good.
Shabbat Shalom and may we be blessed with the complete redemption of our Land and our Temple,