March 11, 2020, Israel
For a friend...
One of the most important tasks, commandments, we have, is to comfort the bereaved. We are commanded to rejoice at the weddings of friends and share their joy and we are commanded to accompany loves ones on their final journey as they are led to their burial. We are commanded to comfort those who lost their precious loved ones.
But sometimes there is a conflict; a man cannot be two places at one time. The rabbis instruct us; if it is a choice between the house of rejoicing and the house of mourning, we choose the house of mourning. The reason is not what you think. We would think it is because the bereaved need us more, this may be true, but the reason provided by our wise rabbis, is a selfish one, it is for us: So that a man may give his mind to the nature of the world and think more deeply about life.
I have visited many houses of mourning during my life and it is always a learning experience; we learn about a person's life, obstacles overcome, challenges met, secret accomplishments that the person humbly kept to himself. We become inspired to be better people. For we give our mind to the nature of the world and life and we contemplate more deeply.
I have been told that I am a "good comforter", perhaps it is because at each visit I revisit my own personal losses, but even before I personally experienced a loss I was told this. The reason is that I feel the pain of others very deeply. The pain is real, the tears are real. Perhaps this is how I became a Krav Maga instructor, I can feel the pain of others, often before they feel it themselves.
I speak from my own experience, my own culture and religion and way of life, but the lessons are universal. I have always loved the character of Tevye the Milkman, as to me he embodies what it means to be a good Jew. Look at his eyes and you can see the pain of the world. As he looks up and talks to God, as a close and trusted friend, and lets out a little Oy, a Krectz, a Gevalt, you know that it is real. He laughs and cries at the same time, Ribbono shel Olem, Master of the Universe, Gut in Himmel, God in heaven, why do we suffer so?
Tevye, the eternal Jew, in his ongoing conversation with God.
We read about the binding of Isaac, when Abraham is asked to give up his only son, and it is a heart wrenching story. There is nothing worse than losing a child, and yet, we are left here, alive and somehow we must move on. We look to our history for strength. Growing up I heard many stories of Holocaust survivors. Many lost children as the children were most vulnerable. More than 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered, and many others were stolen from us, hidden in Catholic monasteries or with Christian families, they were never returned to our people. I have heard many stories of fathers left alone, hoping to find one child, one member of the family, but alas...none were left. How did they go on?
The Hasidic leader Rebbe Nachman taught that as long as we are alive it means that God has not given up hope for us. The very fact that we are alive indicates that we have a reason to live. We may not know it, we may not feel it, but HE knows it. We may have lost faith in God but God has not lost faith in us.
To me this is perhaps one of the most powerful and inspirational lessons: The very fact that we are still breathing means that we have something to Contribute to the world. You see our lives are not about us, not about our having a good time, but all about giving, contributing to the world, leaving the world a slightly better place than we found it. This is our perspective on life. (very different from the modern Western perspective, my life, my body etc).
Man, wake up! You are still alive and breathing, that means you have work to do, so do it!
I heard a story. A very religious man was about to commit suicide. Now this is not allowed. Again, we don't believe...my body my choice, no, not at all. Your body is only to carry your soul, and this belongs to our creator. Now this man was in a bad way. This was just after the war, and he had lost everything; his wife and all his children. He stood on top of the roof, the poor man could take it no longer, he wanted to jump and leave the agonizing pain of this world.
People tried to talk him out of it, but none succeeded. However, knowing that he is a religious man who honors the rabbis, one bystander said, Wait! Let me bring the great rabbi of this town, talk to him, and only then you can jump. The man waited for the rabbi. The man said he has no reason to live, his children are gone, there is no point in carrying on. The rabbi asked the man to come with him. The two men walked together. They reached a large schoolyard, It was filled with children playing. The rabbi said, these children are survivors of the Holocaust, they were rescued but their parents were all murdered. They are all orphans. You say you have no children? do not speak this way for these are your children! and they need their father!
The man went on to found a orphanage, for boys, and for girls, and an elementary school, a yeshiva, a girls school, free education until the age of 18, for all his children. We all are fathers, and mothers. Someone needs us, otherwise we would be gone from this world.
The prophet Ezekiel needed to be taken to the Valley of the Dry Bones, and God asked...Son of Man, Shall these bones live? Prophesize and they shall stand up and live.
We all have our valley of dry bones, those who are forgotten, neglected, those whom others have given up on, those without hope. It is for us to speak to them, to put spirit into them, to make the dry bones come to life and behold...the great army they can become!