“And Avraham expired and died at a good age, mature and content and he was gathered to his people.” (English translation of verse 8, chapter 25, Parshat Chayai Sarah in the Book of Genesis.)
My father, Chaim ben Aron Yoseph HaKohen a”h. was niftar 11 years ago on Rosh Chodesh Kislev, parshat Chayai Sarah. Over the years, as his yahrzeit approaches, I like to peruse the parsha and see if I can get a glimmer of an insight that will give me nechama, a subtle suggestion that will make the loss of a loved one a bit less painful.
As Jews we mourn the loss of all life, but our dismay morphs into devastation if the individual who left this world was young in years.
We are overcome with grief over what we perceive as a life unlived; a life unfinished. A life that ended prematurely.
Initially, I felt that my father had had a timely death. He died a week before his 81st birthday. None of his 12 older siblings had even come close to reaching that age. One did not survive infanthood; 11 others were middle-aged mothers and fathers when they were murdered for being Jewish by the sadistic Nazis and their international enablers. My father’s only surviving brother, who had left Poland in the 1930’s before Hitler unleashed his hordes of butchers, died at age 72.
Yet as the years went by I became aware that there were many men and women well into their 80’s and 90’s who were full of vigor and good health – both in body and mind. Many were still working at their professions; others enjoyed traveling, indulged in sports like tennis and jogging. More importantly, they shepped nachas as they fully participated in their descendants’ simchas.
I realized that my father (and mother who died at age 77) weren’t that old after all.
I am also all too aware, as we all are, that every day it seems we hear of babies and toddlers and children and teenagers and bochrim and kallah maidels and young husbands and wives and mothers and fathers whose lives were cut short by disease, accident, violence, etc. The Angel of Death has many excuses.
And as individuals and as a community we are tormented. Why the untimely removal of gitte neshamas from our midst,whose continued existence would have enhanced the lives of so many? Those left behind live lives shattered by daily reminders of a life not lived, as they broken-heartedly think, “My daughter would have so enjoyed her big sister’s wedding” or “Oy, my husband would have been so excited to become a zaidy.” For them it is a constant struggle not to imagine what could have been. What they believe should have been.
Would we all feel better if we believed that there wasn’t supposed to be a “could have been?” That saying, “if only ” is a bit chuzpahdik?
In Parshat Chayai Sarah, in the pasuk quoted above, I found a word that intrigued me – “Vah Yigvah” – which Art scroll translates into “expired.” The pasuk states that Avraham “expired and died.” The question that begs to be asked is why was it necessary to say Avraham expired? Wouldn’t it be enough to just say that he died?
There are no extra or unnecessary words in the Torah – every word has a purpose. Perhaps the concept that a life “expires” was included to bring those who have lost a love one a measure of nechama.
Before an organic product is sent to the supermarket, its wrapper is stamped with an expiration date. This means that from the time of its inception, the product was given a specific “lifespan” – one that its manufacturer, no doubt after much research, determined was right for it. For example, if a bar of cheddar cheese is considered edible for a month, then it is meant to be eaten during that period of time, after which it is to be discarded. The cheese was “created” to “exist” for four weeks – not longer. It is pointless, on the day it expires, to think of how this particular piece of cheese would so enhance the blintzes you were planning on making on Shavuot, six months in the future. This cheese had a limited existence, as decided by its manufacturer who wisely knew when it no longer would serve the purpose it was made for. It was meant to last for a certain amount of time only.
I like to think that when the Torah added the word ” expired” followed by the word “died”, it was teaching us that when someone passes away – whether full of years, like Avraham or sadly, at a young age – that this was their designated time, set from the moment of his/her inception. The Creator, for reasons that are beyond our ability to fathom, put an “expiration date” on all of us. We die when we do because we were meant to at that time – not a minute earlier or a minute later.
There was no designated existence beyond that point in our lives. And that knowledge should be a balm to those who are racked with grief over the milestones and life cycles a deceased child or young person will never reach. He/she was never meant to.
The Torah is saying to the bereaved, “Stop eating yourself up with sorrow and regret and guilt, plagued by tormenting thoughts of all the “living” the niftar missed. The loved one who you mourn DID live a FULL life, for they were niftar exactly when they were supposed to, as determined by Hashem. Maybe their lives were incomplete or unfulfilled in our eyes. But not in the Creator’s eyes. The Ultimate Manufacturer knows best the “shelf-life” of each of his products. He assigns the correct “expiration date.”
We mortals have no clue as to His reasoning, for how He decides an “expiration date.” We can only trust and accept His judgment and put our faith in Him and declare, when we hear of a death that He is the True Judge.