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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Standing on the brink of Heaven

Daf Yomi Kesubos 69

Moshe grew up in a traditional, Israeli family.  After the army, like many Israelis, he hopped on a plane and set off to see the world.  Sadly, whatever Jewish observance that had not dissipated while he was in the army quickly vanished during his travels.  As things turned out, however, he ended up meeting a nice Canadian Jewish girl, got married and settled down in this country. 

One day, he received the sad news that his father had passed on.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t get to Israel in time for the funeral and so ended up sitting shivah at home in Canada.  During shivah, Moshe became a whole new person.  Shivah gave him a weeklong period of introspection; and, contemplating the temporary nature of life on this earth spurred him on to recommit to keeping Shabbos and maintaining a kosher home. 

Rabbi Abahu taught: How do we know that a mourner reclines at the head of the table?  For Job declares, “I shall choose their way and I shall sit at the head and dwell as a king of troops as mourners comfort.”
Mar Zutra taught: We derive it from Amos, where the verse declares, “Excessive mourning approaches,” which, reconfiguring the letters, may be understood as ‘the bitter and detached mourner becomes a prince for the exalted ones.’

The mourner sits at the head because at that moment they are at the most intense moment of spirituality.  Mourning the loss of a loved one is like holding their hand as they cross over from this world into the next.  At that brink, one experiences the most powerful challenge.   How do I continue alone without my dear one?  Where do I go from here?

And that’s why we see vastly different reactions to the death of a loved one.  Some people undergo a metamorphosis and conclude that life is incredibly short and temporary.   At that intense moment, they decide to redouble their efforts to connect to Heaven through the vehicle of Torah and mitzvos.  Some will struggle with their faith on the brink.  Others will attempt to simply avoid facing up to the struggle and skip shivah, because the challenge is too intense for them to face.

Nevertheless, every mourner, whatever their response to their loss, sits at the head.  We hold them in the utmost esteem as they stand at that intense spiritual point, so close to Heaven.  We don’t judge, we simply sit in reverence and awe and try to share in their loss by providing consolation and simply being there during their time of need.

We don’t hope for tragedy in our lives.  We hope that our lives will be as pain-free as possible.  But loss and tragedy are a part of life.  When loss strikes, you are the closest you can be on this earth to Heaven.  Your purpose in life is to take those moments and grow your soul, mightier and stronger.  It’s never easy, but that’s your mission on earth – to maintain your faith and become closer to the Divine.

Life is very short.  Every moment is precious.  May you merit a life dedicated to Heaven and see G-d through days of sunshine and darkness.