Never abandoned

"Just as we pronounce a blessing on the good, so are we to pronounce a blessing on the bad."

If the world seemed to dim somewhat last week, it was likely because a remarkable woman was called to her Maker, leaving her husband of 67 years, their sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and countless others like my wife and me fortunate enough to have known her, to carry on in what light was left. For the past several years, Mrs. Ethel Leifer, peace upon her, faithfully attended a women's Torah class I hold in my home over the course of several summer Sabbaths. She was the senior member of the group but as attentive as any attendee a half-century or more younger. She would often nod her head in concurrence with something said, and I would wonder if perhaps she was just being polite. Then, though, she would offer a comment, and it would become entirely clear that she not only had entirely understood the point but had something worthy to add. Other times, she would look skeptical, and voice a worthy question. And always, agreeing or challenging, with a smile. Her constant smile was the tip of a happiness iceberg, a mammoth mountain of gratitude to God for His blessings, prime among them her husband, may he be well and take solace in his wonderful family. Whenever she would be asked how long she and her husband had been married, she would respond "blessedly long but not long enough." It is a wrenching thought that those of us in their Orthodox neighborhood in Staten Island will no longer be blessed with the sight of the two of them walking to synagogue holding hands, looking like nothing so much as newlyweds. AT MRS. LEIFER'S funeral, I remembered - as I often have of late - some words she uttered when I saw her alive for the last time, words that are worthy for all times but perhaps particularly timely for us all today. She had fallen ill and was in constant and excruciating pain. My wife and I asked if she was up to taking visitors and, assured that she was, went to see her. Mr. Leifer, a refined and gracious gentleman, greeted us at the door, and took us to where his wife sat, smiling as usual, full of love and appreciation, for her partner in life and for life itself. We asked about her health and she responded that she was managing with the help of her mate, adding, as all who knew her know she regularly did in many contexts, that "God does not abandon us." She and her husband explained the various doctors' theories about the source of her pain, about this biological malfunction and that. At one point, I remarked - thinking back now, perhaps without sufficient forethought - about how when any of the myriad processes that keep us healthy go awry we come to realize how miraculous it truly is when they work as they should. "We so need to perceive the divine blessing," I said, "when things go right." Our hostess then looked at me and, smiling but pointedly, responded: "No, not only then. When they go wrong too." I WAS struck with her retention of wisdom despite her pain. She was reminding me of something the rabbis of the Talmud had said: "All that the Merciful One does, He does for good." In other words, all of us who believe there is a God in heaven must appreciate the value to us of all that He does, whether His actions are confluent with our wishes or not. That idea is what lies behind the astounding Jewish law that "just as we pronounce a blessing on the good, so are we to pronounce a blessing on the 'bad'." That latter blessing, recited on the death of a close relative, is "Blessed are You... the true Judge" and the Talmud implies that it is ideally to be recited as an expression of the same love we naturally feel when acknowledging an obviously blessed occasion. We may not understand why things we feel are bad happen, and there is, to be sure, as King Solomon wrote, "a time for mourning." But somewhere in our minds must lie the conviction that God knows best, and that His concern is, in the end, for our ultimate good. IT IS a thought to think in these perplexing, vexing Jewish times, when - once again - innocent Jewish lives are targeted (cease-fire time out or not) by murderous foes seemingly devoid of any sense of fairness - or human attributes like empathy and compassion. Times when much of the world seems bizarrely unable, or unwilling, to recognize the mortal threats facing it - and deaf to the distressing condition of the Jewish canary in the coal mine. Understanding world events is a possibility in distant hindsight but seldom an option in the midst of a maelstrom. Life is full of mysteries and enigmas; and history - in particular, Jewish history - has no dearth of puzzling twists and turns. And so, trying to make sense out of our world today is futile. What we can do, though, and must, from Judaism's perspective, is redouble our determination to serve our Father in heaven, and intensify our prayers for His deliverance. And, finally, realize the truth of Mrs. Leifer's mantra, that no matter what may happen, He does not abandon us. The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.