Most of the time, pleasant events are harbingers of their opposite. That is, the nicer the experience, the more sharply contrasting is the next difficult one. We understand the notion of “hot” visa via our grasping the concept of “cold.” Accordingly, “virtue” is sometimes comprehended by our having a handle on its antithesis, “iniquity.” Small children realize their life journeys by exclaiming not how puny they are, but by pointing out “how big.”
Think of how we break a glass under each chuppah, how we regard Tish B’Av as heralding the coming of Moshiach, and of how childbirth and labor, the most physically painful and daunting set of experiences a human being can undergo, short of death, results in the most miraculous outcome. We don’t have to understand why challenging circumstances are the most effective sorts of goings on to teach us gratitude, we merely need to appreciate that they do. Consider the following.
During a recent shiva call, unexpectedly, I found myself a fortunate recipient of an abundance of hizach. Whereas I had expected to attend the mourners’ house to comfort those whom had lost a loved one and, perhaps, admittedly, to reunite with some of the other folks I knew from the New World, whom I supposed might show up, I hardly anticipated being gifted with encouragement. I certainly had no idea that support would be given to me by those very folks who had just buried someone dear.
It is most common to encounter raw grief at such situations. Stiff or trembling lips, red or watery eyes, unfocused discourse, and the like, seem to be the human furnishings of such moments. Yet this particular honoring of the dead and comforting of those who added themselves to the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim was different from the rest.
The family of the deceased had suffered an incalculable loss as had the generations that streamed from that good soul. I think at least one son in-law, my family’s former rabbi from the States, was at least as distressed as were the daughters and the wife who survived the departed. It’s not at all surprising to witness such shared suffering in a family where Kibud Av V’Em is forefront among mitzvot.
Granted, the moment began ordinarily enough; Computer Cowboy and I entered the building, went up the elevator, and walked into the apartment designated as the place where the mourners would be sitting. Whereas my partner had davened in our old shul whenever he returned to the New World on business, before we crossed that threshold, I had not seen our rebbetzin or her husband for seven years.
One of the greatest credits that can be awarded the deceased is for them to be remembered and for their honored ways to be perpetuated by the living. So, I schooled myself not to be shocked when my former rebbetzin, a daughter of the deceased, or her mother, wife of the deceased, acknowledged my husband and my presence as warmly as law, in combination with custom, permits mourners. We had come to hearten these women, yet they spiritually advanced us. Likewise, the other children of the deceased, our former rebbetzin’s sisters, were gracious despite their being hobbled by unimaginable pain.
After words were spoken about the departed, a fine Jew, whom my family had had the merit to meet before we made aliyah, the focus shifted a little. Rather than dwell on loss, the mourners elected to turn our communal attention to appreciation. We were shepherded to concentrating, through talk, on how our respective children were holding (indeed, other former congregants, too, had shown up to pay their respects).
On the one hand, the topic invited the mourners to pass around pictures of the deceased surrounded by his generations. Most of the shared photos were taken at sma’achot such as weddings. I appreciated being able to see how the rabbi and rebbetzin’s children had grown.
On the other hand, the topic became a springboard for the mourners seeking information about us visitors and our families. It was at this point that I began to feel especially blessed. In answering my former rebbetzin, I was given perspective.
So often, I get stuck in the here and now, I get bogged down by fleeting concerns that seem impossibly large when they occur. Yet the tests of my family, once reflected in the mirror of time and space, seemed manageable, even, b’ayin tova, paltry. I had forgotten that my nucleus had faced similar-sized challenges and worse, when living in Hutz l’Aretz. I had forgotten that most people endure such tribulations. I had forgotten how relative experience can be.
I came to comfort mourners, but the mourners reminded me, kindly and indirectly, that I had what to be grateful for. That is, they comforted me. BH, I lack nothing. BH, my family and I live in Israel. BH, I have a family. Everything else is, to some degree or another, superfluous.
Next year, our former rabbi and rebbetzin’s only son and their youngest daughter will be learning here. I hope those kids’ presence in the Holy Land provides me with additional impetus to keep in touch with their lofty parents, that very couple that remains such wonderful teachers.
For now, I need to “suffice” with the knowledge that learning can occur in any situation. I need to “make due” with the reminder that I am fortunate. I need to “get by” with the generous hizach afforded me by a family in mourning.