LIFE AND DEATH AND LIFE AND DEATH AND LIFE AND …
Maybe it’s because I was recently in Sao Paulo for the Olami International Summit and our flight there experienced turbulence, but I have been thinking a lot about the terrible plane crash last week that killed most of the passengers on a small plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team on their way to a championship game in Colombia.
The heartbreak of the families, the small town the team came from, the little kids who supported the team.
That two people miraculously survived.
That the plane ran out of fuel due to human error.
And then a day later, and the day after that I went to two brisim (plural of bris) to celebrate the birth of two new children into the world. One bris was at Khal Chasidim. After the bris, Rabbi Twerski drew an important lesson on a comment made by Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah portion, Toldos. Rashi explains that G-d answered Yitzchak’s prayers for a child rather than his wife’s Rivka’s because Yitzchak’s father was a tzadik, a righteous person and Rivka’s was not. Rabbi Twerski’s point was that Yitzchak was not only praying for a child. He was really praying that he should be a tzadik, in order that his child should learn from his example. And the way he did that was by observing his father as a role model his whole life. So because his father was a tzadik, and Rivka’s was not, the vison of what he was praying for was more real and his prayers were more effective.
The lesson, said Rabbi Twerski, is that it’s not enough to pray for your children to be righteous. You have to be righteous yourself, and be a role model for them.
Then there were the fires in Israel, which miraculously, did not take any lives, and the fires in Tennessee and in Northern California, which tragically did.
A friend of mine was on his way with his friends to Cleveland to watch the 7th game of the World Series when he got a call that his father had just passed away, and instead had to turn back and head to the airport to fly to South Africa for the funeral.
And then was a levaya, a funeral, this past week for, Shmuel Aronin, olav hashalom, a young man of 47, in our community, who died after a long illness, leaving behind behind a wife and six children, including a 3 year old son, and a daughter, who is in my daughter’s 12th grade class.
Rabbi Scheinberg, the Rabbi at Agudas Yisrael of West Rogers Park, which Shmuel was such a big part of, spoke of his noble and gracious character, how he never judged people, how it hurt him to receive from others, how he grew in his ruchnius, his spirituality, as the sickness weakened him. “We’ve lost a tzadik, ” said Rabbi Sheinberg. “Let’s not lose the opportunity for introspection and reflection.”
Rabbi Fuerst echoed those words when he said: “When a person dies young, we have to take stock of ourselves. There are no guarantees in life. We are here for a purpose – to do all we can [mitzvas and perfecting ourselves] to prepare for the next world.”
Finally, Rabbi Eichenstein said that Shmuel never stopped growing. Each one of us has to ask ourself: Am I coasting or am I growing? He quoted the Shulchan Aruch which says that a way to remember a person, to continue his legacy, is to adopt a mida/ a character trait he exemplified into your lifestyle. Take what you are doing and do it better.
Dovid Schnell shared another lesson with me. He showed me a commentary by the Chofetz Chaim on last week’s parsha, Toldos. In short, the Chofetz Chaim, encouraged a person to think about what he/she is taking to the next world and not to delay, thinking there is enough time.
I went to another bris this week, for the grandson of my good friend, Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh.
Life and death and life and death and life and …
I would have to be blind not to see the message.
Have a good Shabbos.
With my good friend, Rabbi Yehoshua Karsh
P.S. Another sobering story:
I once heard a story from a talmid of the Telshe Yeshiva who claimed he heard it from the story’s protagonist. An airplane carrying Dovid, a Telshe Yeshiva student, back to Cleveland began experiencing severe turbulence. Dovid became quite nervous, but after seeing that his own Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, was sitting in front of him, he felt secure. “After all,” thought the young man, “with such a tzadik on board, what possibly could go wrong?” Suddenly the captain’s voice was heard over the intercom. “We are experiencing some difficulty with the plane’s hydraulic system and may be forced to make an emergency landing. Everyone please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, and follow the instructions given by your flight attendants.” Dovid quickly leaned forward toward his Rebbe. “Perhaps we are in danger. I have a Tehillim/ Psalms in my carry-on luggage. Is there any particular chapter that should I recite?” Quickly, Rav Gifter reassured his student, and suggested a few appropriate chapters to recite. Then the Rosh Yeshiva urged him to quickly buckle up and prepare for landing. His advice was interrupted by shouts coming from a frantic passenger who sat next to the student. “Stewardess, quick!” came the shouts. “Get over here! Fix me a drink. Make it the best you have! And you better make it fast, before we hit the ground!” Then he paused and added with a nervous laugh, “and better make it good, ’cause it may be my last drink before I die!” The Chafetz Chaim explains the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos/ Ethics of our Father 2:15, “shuv yom echad li’fnai misascha, repent one day before our death”. Obviously, those of us who do not know when that day is to arrive must reflect and ask for forgiveness while bettering our ways, daily. But the catalyst of serious reflection and sobriety is the very thought of the final moment-death. Its approach should shake us, if not wake us, into teshuvah.