Pesach seemed heavier this year. I’m not talking in terms of the tremendous amount of food that was consumed or the seemingly endless lifting, bending, scrubbing, scouring and cooking that is part and parcel of pre and post Passover preparations as well as during the chag.
It was heavy emotionally. In the weeks, days and evening hours leading up to the holiday, the Yom Tov mood of many communities was subdued, even shattered, by numerous heart-breaking tragedies. In New York, New Jersey, Toronto and in Israel, there were unexpected, searing losses for several families. In Israel alone, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post, there were 167 traffic fatalities since January. One can only guess how many irreversible, life-changing injuries there were, as well.
For too many families at the seder table this year, there were unoccupied chairs.
How these families can reconcile their horrific losses and ‘celebrate’ yitzeat Mizrayim – our emancipation from the bonds of slavery can only be understood as being the ultimate testament of faith. For them there will never be ‘freedom’ from grief, guilt and the haunting contemplation of what could have been. As they go to simchas such as weddings, birthdays and holidays they will never be free of emotional pain. Feelings of anguish will envelope them like a noose that will choke and cut off whatever joy they might muster. Especially if those who they lost were children. It doesn’t matter how young or old children are – for no matter what age they attained when they were niftar, they were the sons or daughters of their mothers and fathers.
I remember an incident that took place years ago at my oldest son’s bris that took place in a small shul in a small town in Pennsylvania whose congregants were for the most part quite elderly. A wizened old man approached me and mumbled something in Yiddish that startled me and made me wonder if I had heard right. He said, “May your children sit shiva for you.” Stunned I looked at him as he smiled and shuffled away. Did this stranger basically tell me to drop dead? I decided he was demented or senile and shrugged it off. However in the days and months that followed as I held a baby burning up with fever, or who banged his head as he rolled off the bed, I understood that this wise old man had given me an incredible bracha. He had blessed me not to outlive any of my children. To not have to bear the unbearable.
It was a concept I had understood from a young age. When I was about 9-10 years old, I remember looking out of my bedroom window and looking upward. I would ‘talk’ to G-d, pleading and at the same time insisting that during my parents’ lifetime, nothing “bad” would happen to their children and future grandchildren. I already comprehended that losing a child was the ultimate human tragedy and as Holocaust survivors I pointed out to Hashem that they had paid their ‘dues’ and had suffered enough for five lifetimes. For them “Dayenu” – no more anguish or loss.
I am grateful of G-d that so it came to be. When my father Chaim ben Aron Yosef HaCohen passed away Rosh Chodesh Kislev five years ago, and when my mother was niftar two years ago 25th of Nisson, they left behind an intact family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some of their peers were not so lucky. Many of the survivors who moved to the fledgling State of Israel, ended up burying sons and grandsons who were killed defending their beloved country against the Amaleks of the Middle East. And then there are the thousands murdered by homicide bombers being mourned by older generations.
As we remember the Shoah this week, we must acknowledge the kiddush Hashem of all the Survivors – especially those who made aliyah – who had the bitachon and faith in G-d to start over again, making themselves vulnerable to possible grief and anguish. Their love of G-d was so unquestioning that they accepted Hashem’s unfathomable actions and incomprehensible ways, and put themselves in a position where they could suffer life-wrenching loss again.
I am grateful to Hashem that my parents were not tested again. To those of my generation and my children’s, and to those who are old enough to understand horrific loss – and have sadly experienced it, may your faith in Hashem grow. So that even though you will never understand His plans and His mystifying actions, you will at least find comfort in the knowledge that one day it will all make sense. Know that the time will come when you will be reunited with your loved ones for eternity, and live in a Perfect World, praising Hashem’s wisdom.
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