This column is dedicated to the memory of my beloved father, Chaim ben Aaron Yosef HaCohen, a Holocaust survivor who left the darkness of This World nine years ago on Rosh Chodesh Kislev to bask in the brilliance of Olam HaEmes.
Many of us, especially those who are in mid-life, have weathered certain “storms” in our lives – some easier to cope with and “get over” than others. Some have had to deal with major traumas and soul-breaking loss – the fortunate ones have only had to deal with arguably benign but annoying setbacks and disappointments, but because they seem to be never-ending, they are physically and mentally draining nonetheless.
The question that comes up from time to time, whether we think it privately or utter it out loud to close friends and family is – why? Why do we have these troubles? Most of us consider ourselves good people, and we basically are when compared to the many individuals or groups who from time to time have crossed our path – or those of our friends or loved ones – or our community – who have been nasty if not downright evil?
Our history is tragically replete with the reality of our brutalization by individuals and nations. And on a personal level, all of us no doubt can list a handful of people from our childhood and adulthood who have caused us untold misery – be it a classmate, neighbor, employer/employee, landlord/tenant, family member, friend, etc.
In addition to having toxic people stress and distress us, the agnas nefesh “good” people are put under can be caused by situations over which one has no control. Some are relatively minor in the greater scheme of things – like a flat tire on the highway or tripping on the ice and breaking an arm – or major – like the loss of one’s parnasah or a debilitating, chronic illness.
Sometime we wonder why we were even born, and indeed a consensus by Talmudists centuries ago determined that it was better not to have been born than to be born and suffer.
We do however believe that a better existence awaits us in 120 years, and that gives us much comfort. But there is still the nagging question: Why didn’t Hashem just skip this part – our life in This World – and just place us in the Olam HaEmes? Why go through a lifetime of aggravation- at best -or of heartache at worst?
I don’t in any shape or form have the chutzpah to think that I have an answer for a question that has eluded more learned and scholarly minds than mine. But a little incident when visiting my granddaughter, Tamar Rachel, who is a toddler, gave me a possible, tiny glimmer of insight.
Tamar, who usually takes a late morning nap, ended up one day – shortly after the clocks were set back an hour – falling asleep during late afternoon. Normally, it is still daylight when she wakes up, but that time it was already dark when she opened her eyes.
I heard her crying and ran to get her. As I turned on the light, her crying, her obvious terror and loneliness evaporated – and she flashed me a brilliant smile.
It occurred to me, that in her baby view of the world, she had gone from a scary, sad place to one of light and happiness. No doubt the 60 or so seconds she experienced in the darkness, feeling helpless and vulnerable and stressed must have seemed like a lifetime to her. And when the light came on, her world changed into one of warmth and safety – and her eyes radiated with joy, relief – and appreciation.
A bit of a light bulb went on my head as well, as I thought that perhaps this is why we have to spend time in this imperfect, scary world – so that when we reach the Next One, we will appreciate its perfection all the more.
Human nature is such that one has to be in the dark in order to truly and fully enjoy the light. Perhaps had we immediately been put in Olam HaEmes, we would not be able to embrace its wonder. How sweet sugar is after we swallow a bitter medicine.
To Tamar, her seconds in the darkness alone must have seemed never-ending, a lifetime, but blessedly replaced by nonstop light and the presence of a loved one.
To us, the woeful days of our lives must seem like an eternity, but they are not. They too are like the blink of an eye, and our loving Heavenly Father quickly and compassionately turns on the light for us. Forever.