Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What is on the Other Side of the Curtain?

"It's better to go to a house of mourning than to a Simcha" (Koheles 7:2). Yeah really! - How could anyone let alone King Solomon say that? That's crazy -so it appears! But not so fast.

What are we here for? To do errands? Errand after errand after errand! What a treadmill! It almost seems that there is never enough time to catch up and take care of things that you are justifiably responsible for. I mean we got to take care of our shopping, shlepping, cooking, laundry, our jobs, something broke, take care of our bills, car pools - gosh this is ridiculous. I have such little time to take care of so much -mundane living at it's best and its all legitimate. Wow! Is this why I am here on this earth? Is this why the Almighty took the time to create me? But in truth, these things do have to get done-we need to eat, wear clean clothes and raise our families. But what a conundrum.

Every once so often a person gets a glimpse behind the curtain. Maybe it's an important exam, it's a special anniversary date with your spouse, you child does something you consider special and grab some nachas, a white water rafting trip with your buddies, even a piece of great music, you received a great gift of jewelry.... - you are lifted into a different dimension. The moments seem to be longer and linger on, you are more alert, you get a warm washed over feeling of appreciation and gratitude for what you gifts you have received and you are feeling life is special.

Then there is a whole new level of this heightened living - they found G-d forbid a spot on your liver, your kid has been coughing for 2 month and they don't know why, your mother G-d forbid is in the ICU unit, you spouse is terrorizing you, abusing you, you are going to undergo surgery, you get divorced and your ex is acrimonious, your kids don't seem to be following in your path etc. Now Hashem has your attention. Life now seems all the more precious. Everything is a bit more pregnant with meaning and you have less patience for reading Oprah, listening to Kesha, less endless non-nonsensical bantering with your friends, you cut out the usual 20 minutes spent going through today's mail examining all of the neat shopping offers and possibilities - mundane things become a bit more of a drag and actually get in the way as you have your concerns on your mind.

But I as a Rabbi found for me an even more new heightened level of living when comforting a bereaved family on their loss in the family and the entire process of helping to bring them through; grieving, burial, shiva and beyond. Particularly at the grave-site-life doesn't get more real than that. I talk about that our Torah when talking about the deaths of both Abraham and Sarah it says that they both came with their days. This is an unusual statement, what does it mean of course they came with their days, what else do you come with other than your days. The Torah teaches us that they made each day count-each day they were self aware, they seized opportunities of growth, they were actively building their character, focused on their spiritual lives, spoke to G-d constantly not just in formal prayer, they beseeched him and asked him for all good things, gave Tzedukah, did acts of kindness, self reflected on what they needed to work on themselves, recognized their faults, wrong doings, forgave themselves, others and asked god for forgiveness, they played, l;laughed, cried, and walked in rain, enjoyed the sunrise and sunsets, - all in all -they lived each day. It's not how many days you live, it's how many days have lived through you. Have you created yourself as what started out as a lump piece of pottery clay into a magnificent sculpture? We all in the business of self creation turning ourselves into a happy, balanced, good, loving person who is not insecure or arrogant in anyway allowing them to enjoy life, enjoy others- be a servant to all those whom cross paths and that the Almighty has nachas in. Realizing the preciousness of our moments and what we can accomplish in them gives us a great opportunity to make difference to ourselves, others and the world around us. And that is called "living" - anything short of that is meandering down the river, throwing a stick in the water and hoping that a fish will happen upon it and you will get to eat. At the end of our lives, we''ll be kicking ourselves from not utilizing the opportunities for greatness. When the curtain is open and Hashem shakes you to get your attention, realize that Hashem is giving you a gift-an opportunity to realize the preciousness of life and what life is all about.

Then I see that there is even a whole new level of heightened living that has resulted from the loss of my precious Shoshie. The curtain has been peeled back and has stayed that way. "How could anyone even have an errand list"? "What stupidity is on the T.V, newspapers, magazines etc? What the heck are people spending their time talking about? Who cares what color? Life is not back to normal. The new normal is every second seems to be in slow motion. We are totally awake! You have our attention now! What are we doing with our lives? drop the pettiness! There is more peace in our home than ever before (bli ayin hara). We seem to be more forgiving of each others idiosyncrasies, faults and stupidity. We seem to be more helpful to each other. This heightened awareness seems to work both ways. Not just the fear of making your moments counts that could paralyze you but a deeper realization of the moments. Rabbi Noach Orlowek, one of my Rabbi's said that "wisdom isn't knowing what is important and not important. it's knowing what is important and what is more important" that's how I feel.

I can never look at my wife and kids in the same way as before. It's not that I can't-it's I don't. I more easily see their true greatness and not as bothered with the things that I was critical about. You know, if you asked me a few weeks ago "was Shoshie kind, loving , a peace -maker, a good eye, simchat Hachaim (full of life, bring joy to others -I would have said a meek -yes of course she is all of those things. Now after the fact, her whole character, the entire picture of who she is, adds up to a glow. Wow! what an unbelievable person she really was, true greatness yet I didn't really see it as much as it was in her lifetime. Although, she always listened to us, always helped us etc, that was just normal living for her and that is how we saw it. Oy what a missed opportunity to really see who she was in her lifetime. Don;t we owe that to our spouse and kids?

I hear from the CEO of Aish haTorah international, he told me that Reb Noach (Rabbi Noach Weinberg ztl our Rosh HaYeshiva) was quoted as saying that when his father passed away he thought to himself -only a mourner can say Kaddish in the proper way. You see Kaddish is entirely a praise of Hashem and not about the deceased! Only one who has lost a precious soul to them as finds themselves on the other side of the curtain can truly see and truly hear, truly experience, truly give and love. No-one is more awake and alert than a person on the other side. It's a gift that Shoshie left us and one that I want to share.

Despite the loss of Shoshie - Colors appear to me more beautiful, my kids laughs more funny, my wife is gorgeous, my friend and family more endearing to me. These are the take-away lessons that Shoshie is teaching us. If I was romantic in my view of life I am more romantic now-If i was living to change the world I am more motivated than ever now -if i was driven by the desire to be good and have meaning in my life- It's more now.

I can't even look at any one of you without feeling total love and acceptance for you. Neither can Denise for that matter. We have narrowed down as to what projects and focuses we want to launch and concentrate on under the umbrella of the Shoshie Stern memorial foundation. We are meeting with our web-designer later and sooner than later, these ideas will be on our revamped website.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, your concern, care and love for us- your cards, letters, visits, -your donations, May it please G-d that your efforts in helping to life the yokes upon our necks be a source of merit for you and your families, may you integrate and experience the thoughts and ideas that you have found valuable in writing without any difficulty, Tzar and challenges in any way. May Hashem grant you the ability to be present in your lives with all of your loved ones.

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