Thoughts to Ponder 118

The pain of lacking pain
Commentary on a eulogy in Israel

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

It is told that there was once  a great rabbi who was known never to be involved in any secular endeavor. His whole life was dedicated to spiritual matters, to the study and teaching of Torah. Once his students  saw him reading the New York Times before  leaving his home for the morning prayers.The students were not a little shocked: How could it be that their holy teacher would lower himself to read such mundane material as the NY Times?

"My very dear children" said the rabbi, "I always read the New York Times before I go off to pray. You know why? Because  when I read about  the anguish of so many people in our world, Jews and non-Jews, I feel more in touch with them and then I  know what to pray for."

As many tragedies are befalling our nation in the land of Israel, many of us, and especially those who are not personally harmed, have great difficulties in "staying in touch" with these calamities. This also includes the author. The ongoing tragedies in which men, women and children get killed or badly injured by terrorists creates a psychological condition within us which makes us a little  immune. While we are upset and deeply affected by such calamities, we go on eating and drinking, trying to live a normal life, as much as possible.

We feel guilty and sometimes  wonder if there is something wrong with us. How can I continue my daily life when I know how much pain there is on the other side of the street? Such a reaction is very  normal and it is important to be aware of its existence. Still we would argue that our failure to stay fully in touch  is also a blessing, however painful. 

One of the most paradoxical laws within Judaism is the need for  mourners to refrain from mourning on Shabbath (even in  the first week after burial in which one is  demanded to sit on the floor and refrain from any joy). Mourners are asked to celebrate Shabbath in an optimistic way, putting on their Shabbath clothes, eating  a tasty meal, preferably accompanied by Shabbath  songs.      

How is it possible, we should ask, to sing songs, when one just lost a beloved one and act (almost) as if nothing happened?  

Many are the reasons given by our sages for this strange paradox. We would like to suggest yet another approach. One which will reveal the great insight of Jewish law into the human condition.

For a human being not to fall victim to total despair, it is important  to stay in touch with the good life.  Even in the depths of a tragedy there must be an opportunity to taste a better life. It is for this reason that the mourner on Shabbath is asked to get up from his mourning and live a life of joy, even when it is not more than for one day and even when it is a little artificial. It saves him from infinite despair which otherwise will ruin his life forever. It is for this reason that Jewish Law asks him to become a little immune to his own loss and as such  helps him  to go on with his life later on. 

The same is true   with a society or a nation.  They must  go on with their lives in spite of all the tragedies. At all costs one must prevent a national trauma. And if not for the fact that we are able to distance ourselves a little  from tragedy, our society would stumble into total paralysis. If we do not  heed  this call our nation will not have the strength to overcome and fight the enemy. Life must go on even when war surrounds us. We owe it to ourselves and our children.

Still this does not solve our problem entirely. There is after all  the possibility of indifference within our souls. Too much of living normally. While all that we mentioned above may be true, we still  must fight dimensions of apathy within ourselves. We need to be pained by an absence of pain.

There is one answer. It is the same one which the Rabbi offered his students. We should take a text which will get us right into the shattering  pain of others.  We should read it before we go  to pray or when we feel that our souls are turning cold. We should dwell on it to such an extent that it pierces  our hearts. But once we have done so, we should put it aside and only permit it to slumber in the back of our minds. We must be able to return  to our responsibilties of  assisting  our families and friends, to give them hope, meaning and joy. By that we honor those who died for these ideals.

Not often are we provided with a text which could give us an opportunity to feel the pain and hear the hope. Last week a young man, 21 years old, by the name of Tzvi Yehuda, lost, together with nine of his siblings, his father, mother and a brother in a terrorist attack in Psagot.  His parents were Rabbi Yoseph and Chana Dickstein z.l. and his brother of 10  Shuva'el z.l.  Tzvi Yehuda, led the burial and weeping crowd of thousands,  in a tearful recitation of  selichot prayers (prayers of supplication), beginning with the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy.  The speech was accompanied by almost constant weeping from his siblings and many other mourners. Read and let it pierce your heart but then  put it aside and go back to your responsibilities and the joys of your home (however difficult), and when your soul is cold or you need to pray better read it again but never too often.

In  broken but with a strong voice he said the folowing words: 

"Abba, Ima [Father, Mother], 'Who were loved and pleasant in their lives,
and did not part even in their deaths.'  Shuva'el the sweet.
What, what can I say now?  Which words can describe the magnitude of this
calamity?  How can I speak in the past tense of all the people who we loved
the most?  About Abba?  About Ima?  And Shuva'el?
Suddenly, everything has been cut off in the middle.
Abba, on Thursday night until
2:30 in the morning, we were working together
on the Sukkah, and we were in the middle of a passage in L'Netivot
Yisrael. (a religious text)  Who will continue this?

Know, Abba and Ima, that we, your children, received a strong education, an
education with ideals, and even when you are not here physically, it
continues to strengthen us according to your path.
You decided to leave the neighborhood of Givat Sha'ul (neigborhood in Jerushalayim), the easy life, the
places of work that were close to home, even though there was nothing
pressing.  But you still decided, during these difficult times for Am
Yisrael [the Nation of Israel] in general, and for Psagot in particular, to
move, and to try to strengthen and be strengthened.  - to acquire by
actions the beloved Land that you so loved, love of which you so
transferred to us, with trips - many trips - around the country, and by
teaching us.
"Beloved Land, do not cover your blood."

All your efforts, all the foundations of our home, everything - drew its
spirit and soul from this Beit Medrash [Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook's
yeshiva], from the worldview that Rav Kook zatzal [of saintly blessed
memory] laid out for us, and his son our teacher, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda
zatzal.  All the time, Abba, you would tell us stories about them, and you
gave me his name. 

Therefore, it was obvious to all of us, the whole
family, that this funeral must begin from the foundations of our home, from
this Beit Medrash.  I promise you, Abba and Ima, that we will continue in
this spirit, in this ideology.

Abba, how happy you were that I am studying in Beit El. (Yeshiva)  We studied
together on Fridays.  Ima relieved you from all the jobs, and you would
come and we would learn for some two hours.  As the time passed, we saw how
our spiritual worlds began to take on parallel lines.  You saw me walking
in the same path that you took 25 years ago, when you started out as a
student in Merkaz HaRav.(Rabbi Kook's Yeshiva)  How much joy and satisfaction you had from
me.  Abba, I so much wanted to be like you.  To be "a son like his father..."
Last night, we sat together, all the children, and we all recounted how in
this last period of your lives, you both felt satisfaction.  Tzofiyah said
that you told her just a week ago, "We are as if dreaming.  We have reached
our 'resting place and inheritance.'"   You knew that you had found your
place.  You felt good in Psagot.  You succeeded in fulfilling in the best
way all of your ideals.

Yes, you reached the menucha and nachalah. (resting place and inheritance) 

Abba and Ima, and Shuva'el, you  have reached it in Psagot. 

But - what will be with us?  Who will be the
Ima of Adiel??  Who will be the father to Shir-el??  You so much wanted to
see us getting married.  Who will walk us down to the marriage canopy??

Everything that you built in the house, was built with the future in
mind.  You wanted there to be room for everyone - everything on a "large"
scale...  Now you won't merit seeing your grandchildren...

Abba, Ima, Shuva'el:  I, Tzvi Yehuda, your oldest son, who you so much
counted on, allowed me at every opportunity to be responsible, promise to
be a good father,  a concerned father.

In my name, and in the name of all the children, we promise to preserve the
unity of our family, to stay together, even at the price of giving up
personal dreams.  This is what you wanted all these years, and this is what
we will try to do.

We, the family, believe that this tremendous sacrifice that we made is not
just a personal sacrifice.  Our pain is not just a private pain.  Abba and
Ima were not killed in a gang war, or in a car accident, or because of any
sins of theirs.  Shuva'el who did not taste the taste of sin certainly was
not murdered for that.  Abba and Ima and Shuva'el were murdered, in the
light of day, in front of their children, by a cruel, debased murderer,
because they were Jews who lived freely in their state that they so loved,
without fear. 

Am Yisrael:  this sacrifice is for all of us!  Everyone must
feel this pain.  Everyone must understand, know, and feel that they have
taken the best sons of our nation.

The Holy One, Blessed be He, is speaking to us via the [day-to-day]
reality.  He is shaking us and telling us, Wake up!  Understand who we are,
and what we are doing here in Eretz Yisrael!  Why are we here?

Unfortunately, we have been tested with many tragedies of late.  To tell
others that "the
Land of Israel is acquired with tribulation," that that
which is acquired with difficulty is an eternal acquisition, that Hashem (God) 
only tests those who can withstand the ordeals - that's not so hard.  But
to tell it to ourselves - that's hard.  And to really feel it - that's even
harder.  But no one asked us whether or not we want to be heroes.  We
didn't want, and no one asked us, and we weren't ready - but we were
forced.  We were forced to be strong.  We will try, with the help of all of
you, to be strong.  We will add faith, we will add courage, we will add
strength.  We don't know how we will keep going in this insane
situation.   We don't know what will be with us - both the little ones, and
those of us children who are somewhat older but still feel little.  But we
know with certainty that we will go on.  We will work hard, and we will
strive, and we will overcome, and we will go on.

All that we have been saying about accepting the Divine judgment with love,
does not take away even a whit of responsibility from those who were
supposed to be in charge:  The leaders of the state and its ministers, who
are abusing their job for which they were elected, and are not doing enough
to prevent incidents like this, or to uplift the nation.  This is their
job.  If they don't want to do it, then they should give it to someone else
who can do it.

We, the family, decided yesterday to bury you in Psagot, in the land that
is precious to you, the place they decided on their own that it would be
their place.  Abba and Ima spent the last two years, and all their
resources, to build this house.  The fear never occurred to them that we
would not be able to live everywhere in
Israel.  I heard myself people who
tried to weaken them, but Abba and Ima were strong and did not break.  Abba
and Ima decided that this would be their place, and that of the family.  We
the children are setting up our base in Psagot.

Residents of Psagot, know that our struggle is that all of Am Yisrael.  Am
Yisrael throughout the generations is with us.  Abba and Ima and Shuva'el
are with us.  We will continue together, without fear.

I want to thank you, residents of Psagot, for all your help when we moved
in, starting with the first night.  You turned out to be angels, and then,
from the minute we learned of this catastrophe, these pure angels - from
Psagot and elsewhere - enwrapped us, and helped us; there are no words for
us to thank you.

Shuva'el, the little one, so cute...  I called you Bukish.  I remember when
you were born.  It was Friday.  You were born the fastest of all...  A boy
who was all joy to his parents, a good boy, a good influence to his
brothers.  Such a good friend to Bnayah and Shlomo.  So sweet, a tzaddik
[righteous being].  You never had to be reminded to study, the one who everyone
loved, a smart boy, who reads books.  They murdered you when you were
reading, and your head fell on the book.  A tzaddik, so pure - you never
did bad to anyone.

Abba and Ima and Shuva'el - they let me see you today.  You looked so
serene.  I saw that it was good for you...  Please watch over us from where
you are, on your sons and daughters: Tzvi Yehuda, Tzofiyah, Ayelet, Didi,
Renanah, Shuva - ah, Shlomo.  And watch over the little ones, Bnayah,
Shir-el, and Adiel, who will not get to know their own parents.

Watch over all of us, the orphans - it's hard to digest that we are called
orphans - and on Savta Shula, and Saba Aharon and Savta Miriam (grandparents) and on all
your brothers and sisters and the whole family.  We know that you are with
us, help us be strong.

Before I conclude, I want to ask, in my name and in the name of all the
children, forgiveness from you - for any offense that I did you, or
chutzpah, or argument.  I beg that you forgive us, holy Abba and Ima, and
Shuva'el.  "And Hashem will wipe away the tears from every face, and
swallow up death forever."

English News Editor:  Hillel Fendel

You can hear these words of Yehuda Tzvi


Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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