Brotherly Love

January 7, 2010

Since Sholom B’nayahu’s passing, I have noticed many, many references to him in Tehillim, either in passages that mention his name (Sholom) or in passages that refer to olives and olive oil. After all, his last d’var Torah (Torah thought) ended with such an enthusiastic exclamation of zayit ra’anan (the fresh olive) mentioned in Jeremiah 11:15.

One of the references in Tehillim is in chapter 133, the chapter in which King David speaks of brotherly love. The paradigm for such a relationship is Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon haKohein (Moses and Aaron). Moshe Rabbeinu annointed Aharon with oil and some of it dripped onto Aharon’s beard. The commentaries discuss the symbolism of the oil, but suffice it to say that the olive oil is the symbol which connects Sholom with this chapter.

What grabs my attention is that in the same passage that mentions oil, we read of Aharon haKohein. Sholom’s youngest brother – the one with whom he was closest and the one who stood over him to protect his body from further injury after the accident – is also named Aharon.  The two boys, despite the usual sibling rivalry (Sholom was 17, Aharon is 13) had grown very close and did many things together when Sholom was home from Yeshiva.  In fact, on the second day of Succot, as I was resting, I was lulled by the pleasant sound of the two boys playing a game of Monopoly in the next room.

Aharon has, thank G-d, verbalized a great deal since the loss of his brother.  He speaks of him, but not morbidly.  Their relationship continues, if but in a different form.

What gifts G-d has given us.

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Vision of Light

January 4, 2010

     As of last night, Sholom has been gone for 91 days.  I miss him more now than when he first left us and I still cry, though not always in the same way, certainly not at the same time of day.  I cry for different reasons now than I did thirteen weeks ago. 

     Some of my crying is about the things that I will miss.  It is said that when a parent dies, one mourns the life that was lived.  When a child dies, one mourns the life that could have been.  There is some of that in me, too, but I think I cry the most – at least internally – is when I visualize him lying in a pool of blood on Cedarbridge Road.  How frightened was he when the car hit him?  How long was he conscious?  How long was he in pain?

     The accident occurred at about 7:45pm and his death certificate says the time  of death was at 8:15pm.  In our terms, he “lingered” for half an hour.  But what went through his consciousness in those thirty minutes?

     Aharon, his younger brother who was just a few steps ahead of him on the road – and therefore, thank G-d, was spared injury – said that he heard a “thunk” and, when he turned around, Sholom just wasn’t there.  It was dark already, and he couldn’t see down the road clearly.  But he did say that he “saw a light and went to it” and saw his brother’s body lying there.

    I will write in other posts, G-d willing, about the references we have to Sholom and his life that are found in the book of Tehillim (Psalms).  I have written in another post about Sholom’s last d’var Torah (Torah idea) and its reference to Zayis Ra’anan – the fresh olive.  There are so many references in Tehillim to olives, to olive oil and, by extension, to light.  Sholom’s life was a light to others, both while he was alive, and in his passing. 

     And, as such, I can only conceive of his soul shining in Heaven, glowing in his achievements on the earthly plane of existence.  In his leaving this world, his light merged with the Heavenly light that summoned him to eternal existence.  I envision this when that last view of him intrudes upon my mind. 

     Did Sholom “see a light,” too?  People who have gone through “near death experiences” say that they were drawn to a light.  When I have a moment now, feeling the panic and pain of Sholom’s last moments, I start to cry.  Sometimes it is just my heart that cries, and sometimes I feel the tears coming out of my eyes.  But about two weeks ago, I began replacing that image – the one of my son vaulting through the air, crashing onto the pavement and blanking out – with a new vision.  I see his soul separating from his body, drawn to the light of the real world, reconnecting with our Father in heaven.  I see him as a beautiful young man, standing in awe of the light and then walking toward it, turning away from the body he left behind.  There is no pain, only serenity, as eternal salvation enwraps him as he approaches his Maker.   G-d embraces him and and draws him close – as only He, the omnipresent Father, can do.

     And then, my son, because a parent only wants the best for the child, I am comforted.

Sholom’s farewell address

December 18, 2009

Many bereaved parents note that, in retrospect, their child let them know in advance that they were leaving this plane of existence. My good friend, Tuvia, who lost a child in the late 80s, told me that his son asked questions about the “World to Come” in the week before being fatally hit by a car. The questions were uncharacteristic.

At the last holiday meal before his death, Sholom delivered a Torah thought at the table about “zayis ra’anan,” based on Talmud Menachos 53b. Essentially, Rabbi Yitzchak comments on a set of passages from the book of Jeremiah and interprets them as a conversation between G-d and Avraham Avinu regarding the destruction of the Temple and sad state of the Jewish People. G-d reassures Avraham Avinu that the true fruition of the Jewish People resembles “zayis ra’anan – the fruitful olive,” that only produces a beautiful crop after years of torturous growth. The ultimate fruition of the Jewish People will come at the end of millenia of suffering.
At the time, I was amazed that Sholom actually delivered a d’var Torah (Torah thought) at the table, let alone deliver it as enthusiastically as he did. My reaction was to comment that sometimes people are like that – going through years of struggle before realizing their potential. Our son had had a tortured adolescence, but in the past year had become such a fine person, revealing excellent traits that had grown over the years, unseen. He was telling us that he had reached the stage of “zayis ra’anan” and that it was time for him to go.
If only we had known…..

The Dream of Kings II chapter 22

December 17, 2009

     I’m hoping to share these thoughts with other bereaved parents, particularly those of the Jewish faith, though I welcome all readers.

     On the Friday night after Sholom was buried I dreamed that I was teaching  the twenty-second chapter of the book of Kings, but in the dream it was clear that I didn’t tell the students whether it was the first book of Kings or the second.  The dream was quite vivid.  The students in the class were faceless, as was the principal who walked in at the beginning of the lesson.  I saw the building from outside and my landlord, Yisroel Meir Shapiro, was the owner of the school building, too.  When I woke up a few minutes later, I checked both books –  Kings I and Kings II.  Chapter 22 in Kings I is about Acha’av and the false prophets, which didn’t “say” much to me.  Chapter twenty-two in Kings II said quite a lot.

     First, the chapter starts with the words, “ben-sh’moneh – at the age of eight,” and the initial Hebrew consonants of those two words are also the initial consonants of SHalom B’nayahu’s name.

     Second, the chapter continues to say that King Josiah did was upright in the eyes of  G-d and that he did turned neither right nor left from the ways of David, his father.  However, David was not his father, but rather an ancestor.  Sholom B’nayahu’s grandfather was also a David.

      Third, the chapter states, “And it was in the eighteen year of King Josiah.  The passage has a tipchah (a cantillation mark) under the Hebrew word that means, “of the king,” indicating a minor pause at that word.  If you stop at the word  “of the king” as indicated by the cantillation mark, you could read the passage to mean, “In the eighteenth year to the king,” indicating that in his eighteenth year he went to the king.  Sholom B’nayahu returned to his King in his eighteenth year.

     Fourth, the chapter states that during the process of bedek haBayis – the refurbishing of the First Temple – no records were kept (by the construction workers) since “b’emunah heim osim – they worked in good faith.”  Our Sholom B’nayahu had a reputation for honesty, particularly in financial matters.

     Fifth, later in the chapter there is a reference to k’rias b’gadim – the rending of garments, something we do at the outset of mourning in Jewish law.

     Sixth, the end of the chapter states that the king “will return to his fathers in peace – again, a reference to our beloved son, whose name, Sholom, means peace.

     Seventh, and perhaps most significant, is that the gematriya (numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the first two words in the chapter, ben-shmoneh, is 447. Allowing for gematriya kollel (the rules of evaluating Hebrew words numerically), 1 is added for each word, bringing the total to 449.  That is the exact gematriya for the name of our beloved son,  בניהו שלום.

Why I’m writing this blog

December 16, 2009

     I’m hoping to share these thoughts with other bereaved parents, particularly those of the Jewish faith, though I welcome all readers.

     Our son, Sholom Bnayahu, was the victim of a hit and run accident on the second night of Chol haMoed Succos / the evening of October 5, 2009.  He was walking to the home of one of an older brother, accompanied by his younger sibling, Aharon.  Aharon was, thank G-d, unhurt.  Sholom’s injuries were fatal.

     In the ensuing weeks, I looked for an assurance that Sholom is “okay.”  Truthfully, I “knew” from the moment that he left us that he was in the best place possible.   On the way to the funeral I told my wife that I knew he was going straight to Gan Eden / Garden of Eden.  I could “feel/hear” Sholom telling me that he was okay.  As a parent, I want to know that my children are in a good place.  “Hearing his voice/feeling his presence” assuring me was a great source of comfort.

     Inside, though, I am torn.  I miss Sholom a great deal, even though he would have been away from home anyhow at Yeshiva (school).  I miss his pre-Shabbos telephone calls.  I miss hearing his voice.  I miss his quiet presence in the house.  I cry for the child whose future did not become what I thought it would be but, instead, is enjoying the world he has created for himself.  My mourning is entirely self-centered, but we were created with the capacity for pain – and there is no greater pain than losing one’s child.

      At this time, the most important thing I can do is to be inspired by his example and set achievable goals.  Sholom actually left behind writings that indicate that he was doing just that.  He had impressed the dean and teachers of the Yeshiva he attended with the specific skill of working on goals and not deviating from them, no matter what impediments stood in his way and what temporary setbacks he experienced.

     I am writing this blog for two reasons.  One is to share the many signs I have experienced that indicate that Sholom is all right.  The second is to start setting goals for myself and achieve them.  I am fifty-five years old and had already reached a stage of lethargy after a fairly active life even before Sholom died.  I need to restart and recharge.   Perhaps his life will inspire me to do so.  Writing this blog on a regular basis may be a step in that direction.

      For today, I am going to write one of the first, and possibly least significant of the messages I have received about Sholom:

      On the night before Sholom’s death, I went with my wife to pick up a van we were borrowing from our daughter-in-law.  On the way home, we both drove by a skunk which had been newly killed on South Lake Drive.  I had never seen a skunk in our small town, though I have since heard that they are common.

     On the morning of Hoshana Rabba, (the last day of the Jewish holiday of Succos) I went out to the back yard before leaving for services.   In the half-light of dawn, I came face to face with a skunk.  Of course I respectfully backed off as the skunk  waddled off in the other direction.  I just thought that this was interesting as the Hebrew word for skunk is “bo‘ash” which contains both the “beis” and the “shin,” the initial consonants in Sholom B’nayahu’s name.  It was also the morning of Hoshana Rabbah, again bearing “beis” and the “shin.”  But more significantly, I saw the dead skunk on the night before Sholom’s death and the live one a couple of days after he was buried.  It seemed to be saying that while his body no longer functioned, he still lived.

     I now it sounds silly, but I just thought I’d write it down.  What happened the next night was not silly at all, but I’ll leave that for my next post.