web analytics
February 27, 2015 / 8 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Death

The inevitability of death makes the end no less hard to bear.
Evolution: fact or theory?

Evolution: fact or theory?

I have just had to try to comfort a family devastated by the loss of middle-aged siblings, barely months apart, after long debilitating illnesses and decline. It is so hard to see suffering, the living and the dying. For me it is made harder still by the desperation of those who seek any and all kinds of pseudo-religious, superstitious charms and promises that the well- meaning and not-so-well-meaning assure the family will do what medicine cannot.

The inevitability of death makes the end no less hard to bear. The loss, the hole in one’s heart, the loneliness remain forever. Only sleep, distraction, or occupation gives us any respite. We know there’s no life without death. But the unpredictability and illogicality of how and when it strikes, adds a cruelty that most humans find hard to cope with.

If we were purely rational beings we should not cry. If we believe in the idea of soul, a spark of the Divine in each one of us, what then could be better for that spark than to return to its Heavenly source, escaping all the travails of the physical world? And if we believe that we just die, the lights go out, then what is there to feel sorry about in that other person’s eternal sleep? We who are left behind cry because we feel deprived of love, wisdom, or support. But that surely is about us, not the dead. We weep for ourselves. We mourn and pay respect to the person who has died.

We ask “why” when we know precisely why. We know full well about diseases and why some people are more susceptible than others or inherit certain sets of genes. Any doctor can explain the causes of death. We know why the earth moves or tsunamis strike or rivers overflow. Just as we know that if we take risks we are more likely to put ourselves in danger. We know why a drunk or sleepy driver loses control of his vehicle or why a jet engine fails. We know why humans do terrible things and often kill innocents. But the question really is, “Why is this happening now, to me?” Or better, “What should I do about it?”

God has a purpose for everything, we are told, and yet we cannot know the Mind of God. Why does a child die in the womb or minutes after birth? Did it do anything to deserve it? And if its role was to impact its bereaved parents, can there not be a more productive way to teach humans lessons than by going through the whole process of pregnancy for nothing?

Why do the good suffer and the bad prosper? None of the answers satisfy. Only Rav Yannai had the honesty to admit that “we simply do not have the answers as to why the wicked are in peace or the righteous suffer” (Avot 4.15). “The world functions according its own rules”(Avodah Zara 54b). But still we wonder why God did not intervene in so many tragedies.

We humans need to believe we have done our best to leave no stone unturned, to try. We scour the world for mystical cures and charms. We even pay for strangers to pray for us. We feel we must be active, because otherwise we are even more aware of our helplessness.

Others try to comfort us with words that often make it worse. We hear such vapid clichés from the well-meaning as, “We are only given as much to bear as we are capable of.” Go tell that to a suicide. Some tell us what they have no right to tell us, that it will all be OK, that God will answer our prayers, that this secret formula or that prayer or blessing will work. It might, or it might not. We have no way of knowing the boundary line between toiling in vain and trying to reverse what is decided. Is it better to tell someone to accept the Heavenly decree, or should we give hope for as long as possible even if it is false hope?

The pain of loss is so confusing that people who never, ever considered themselves religious suddenly turn to prayers and blessings and charms and names. They have nothing else to turn to, the scientists having told them the score. Yet scientists can be wrong too, and the power of the human spirit can overcome a lot. But not everything.

Illness and death are not to be welcomed. But we can learn from every bad thing that happens to us. We can learn to appreciate what we have. Religion does not give us answers. God remains inscrutable. But it does give us framework, rituals, communities, support structures, and discipline that all help us cope with whatever comes our way. Actually, psychology supposedly aims at the same thing. The only response can be. “You are here. You are alive. So use your gift of life and do not waste it.” But go tell that to someone in pain.

The hardest part of being a religious functionary is, in my experience, dealing with those who have suffered loss. First comes shock. Then there is anger against God or clergy or anyone handy, and finally the adjustment. The Talmud says it takes a year, this adjusting to loss. And we, the public face of religion, are expected to talk, to use words, to ignore the lessons of Job’s mourners who sat in silence waiting for him to open the conversation. We should remain silent, just hug, support, and love.

Our religious customs offer us a way forward. Not answers, but ways of coping. We, the community, gather around to express our love and our support. We busy ourselves with doing, we busy the mourners with distractions, and we have ritual that insists on indulging our grief, before we start the long slog towards getting back to the demands of life, the needs of the living. Sometimes, like Jacob, we “refuse to be comforted”, and we think we will take our pain down to the grave. But we are resilient, we humans, and we cope. We try to embrace the blessing of life instead of returning to the answerless past. And if we do, then only in our dreams do we revisit our loss and suffer again.

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

2 Responses to “Death”

  1. Terry Beals says:

    An interesting article but it left me empty of any resolution. I have a friend whose daughter died yesterday at the age of 24. Your article gave me nothing to share or cope with or help others. I have, however, found much from the scripture that helps such as Psalm 73. God is the end of everything not just an answer to our difficulties. We forget that He created us; we did not create Him. Therefore, the focus on the purpose God has in everything must be kept in mind. He can receive honor for all things, even the difficult and sorrowful things we go through. Did not David weep and pray and fast for his child to live and yet when the child died David was consoled with the knowledge that the child could not come back to him but that one day he would go and be with the child. We must always look to God and His promises. Man does not have the answers. You may not always be satisfied with what God says but are you satisfied with what man says? Let God be your end and not the means to the end you desire.

  2. Eaxctly my own feeling-I will not bring my beloved husband, Michael, back from where the "real" Mike is (I believe with G-d) but someday will go where he is-in a glorious place! Still, at only eight months (he died April 2, 2013) the pain of losing him in our lives still comes and goes for all of us-children and grandchildren alike.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Photo of Al Qaeda founder and former leader, Osama Bin Laden, seen above a Palestinian Authority flag.
New York Jury Convicts Saudi Man in 1998 Al Qaeda Attack on US Embassy
Latest Indepth Stories
Korenblit-022715

Obama & Putin have handwriting/signature clues indicating differences between public & private life

NY City Councilman David Greenfield: "They are angry because Hitler did not finish the job."

It’s time for a new Jewish policy regarding Ramallah, NOT just because of the yarmulke incident

Levmore-022715

“GETT’s” being screened for Israeli Rabbinical Court judges at their annual convention.

Senator Henry Jackson

If Jackson were alive he’d denounce Democratic party’s silence towards virulent anti-Semitism

Victim of Palestinian Arab terrorism, a victor in NY federal court, after years of being ignored by Justice Dept.

March 2013: Arabs hurled stones hitting the Biton’s car; Adele’s mother swerved the car-into a truck

The real issue is that in many respects the president has sought to recalibrate American values and our system of government.

Former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, provided one of the clearest and most compelling analyses we’ve seen of the importance of the prime minister’s speech.

A central concept in any discussion about happiness is achieving clarity. “Ain simcha ela k’hataras hasefeikos” – there is no joy as that experienced with the removal of doubt.

“Je Suis..,” like its famous origin 400 years ago, implies the ability & freedom to think & question

Many anti-Israel demonstrations at universities have a not-so-latent anti-Semitic agenda as well

Believing a few “extremists” hijacked Islam is myopic in history and geography, numbers and scope

Punishment of those waging war against Allah and his messenger…is they be murdered or crucified

More Articles from Jeremy Rosen
putin napoleon

Obama’s incompetence, the way his naive worldview and credulity have made a fool of him, are equally frightening

Rashid Khalidi

The Ramaz School was wrong to refuse to allow Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian apologist, to speak to its senior students.

Imagine you take your family somewhere where there is no such thing as a day off.

Pascal’s famous wager was that it makes sense to bet on God.

The Talmud (Eiruvin 96a) mentions that Michal, the daughter of King Saul, wore Tefilin and no one objected.

We’ve known that you can define neither Jews nor Judaism in a way that will satisfy all its various elements.

The religious world needs to fight back constructively.

There is a dichotomy between personal, private prayer and public communal prayer.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/death/2013/12/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: