The incongruity of the two events was too glaring to overlook.
Our participation in the Sunday morning Sheva Brachot brunch celebrating the marriage of a close friend of my husband’s was planned well in advance. We went to sleep the night before with the babysitting, transportation and other miscellaneous arrangements all set. We woke, however, to the news of an impending funeral for a friend’s mother, scheduled at just that hour.
On the one hand, there was a celebration marking the promise of a new beginning – of a joint life replete with potential, dreams and hopes. On the other, a ceremony marking a loss, an ending of life, as we know here in our world, an impenetrable separation between loved ones.
Just the day before, this friend had made a Shabbat learning gathering in her home commemorating the yahrzeit of her father, who had passed away a year ago to that date. She requested that the Torah studies also be a merit for her mother, for a speedy recovery from her illness. She spoke about how one year had passed since her father’s death, providing something of a closure to the searing wound of his passing.
Now, just as the pain of her loss was somewhat subsiding, the wound was being ripped open afresh, as she faced the finality of her mother’s death. Just yesterday, she was full of hope for her mother’s recovery from her illness, while today she would be feeling the dumbfounding shock of her irreversible loss.
On this Sunday, I would be juggling these two events. I would leave behind the smiles, buoyant spirits and jovial laughter of a bride and groom, to try to find empathy and compassion to share with the grief, tears and bereavement of mourners.
I stood in doorway of my home bidding goodbye to my baby.
“Mommy go bye-bye,” Sara Leah announced, surprising me, once again, with her newfound talent of combining more than one word to form simple, but complete sentences. A short while ago we were celebrating Sara Leah’s first word, “Mamma,” and now, she was progressing so rapidly to a greatly enlarged vocabulary and language skills.
Intuitively realizing how proud her mother was, and striving to keep my attention focused on her and not headed out the door, Sara Leah astutely continued her cute dramatics and in a sing-song voice pronounced, “Torah, Torah, Torah siva”
Sara Leah was singing to one of our favorite songs – a song we sing together each morning, as do many thousands of Jewish parents and children throughout the world. The words are from a fundamental verse of the Torah, Torah tzivah lanu Moshe, morasha kehilat Yaakov – “Moses taught us the Torah; these teachings are an inheritance for the children of Jacob.”
Hearing Sara Leah sing our special song reminded me of another friend, Rachel, who had angrily reprimanded me upon hearing me teaching my baby this verse.
“Chana, you are an open-minded woman,” Rachel began her tirade. “How can you brainwash your child with this propaganda. and at such a young age, no less? At least let her get a little older and think for herself first! Do her first words have to be these memorized slogans of faith?” my friend chided.
As I stood now in the entrance of my home, full of a mother’s pride in her child’s growing abilities, preparing to leave for a sheva brachot only to rush midway through it to a funeral, I thought about how fragile our lives are.
We are full of hope and expectation at one moment, only to experience feelings of despair and futility the next. Our joyous laughter and smiles transform far too quickly into tears of disappointment and cries of loss.
Every parent wants to protect her child from life’s woes. From that first moment in which we hug their tiny bodies close to ours, we vow to guard them from the blows and defeats of life, even as we realize how limited our power to make good on our promise actually is. Despite our best intentions, the winds of life will continue to blow fiercely, bringing with them the good as well as the bad, the fulfilled dreams as well as the losses.
Standing there in the doorway together with my child, about to experience the incongruity of those two contrasting events, it dawned on me just how important it was to impress this Torah verse upon my child. While I can’t safeguard my baby, or any of my children, from life’s inevitable losses, I can inculcate her with the power of faith - a faith that will deepen her appreciation for the good times and will provide her with the power of endurance for the difficult ones.
I can instill within her the confidence, the surety, the absolute certainty, that there is a G-d who orchestrates the funerals and the celebrations. In her most tender years, as her mind forms its most basic axioms, I can help her define herself as an integral child of G-d, whose ways she may at times not understand or agree with, but whom she, nonetheless, knows is there watching and protecting her, at all times, in all circumstances.
As a mother, armed with a parent’s fierce protectiveness, I can’t fathom anything better to gift to my baby than this eternal inheritance of Jacob.
It is an inheritance that will be with her wherever life leads her an inheritance that endures in a world where a sheva brachot can be followed by a funeral.
Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, the latest, Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul. She is also a columnist for