This is actually the first essay I wrote in response to Shira’s death. My original introduction said:
I wrote this piece the evening after the funeral of Dr. Steven Z. Miller z’l, a physician who was killed in a plane crash with several colleagues while on his way to a medical conference. As I listened to the eulogies it occurred to me that in a lot of ways Steve was the kind of person that my daughter Shira (who was run over and killed almost 4 years before) would have become had she lived past the age of 20 and into middle age.
Funerals outside of the normal life cycle turn the customary pat theological nostrums about death into mockery and torment. Really, what we need from God is some sort of apology, or at least an acknowledgement of the wrongness of what has happened. Obviously no such thing will be forthcoming unless we ghostwrite them, which is what I have presumed to do here.
There’s actually a bit more to the backstory. At Steve’s funeral, I watched my rabbis (and friends) really struggle with the juxtaposition of their public role as rabbis in conducting their friend’s funeral with their own personal pain at his death. Marcelo said “Don’t ask me to teach theology today; I don’t have any for you.”
That inspired me to go home and write the Al Chet below, or more correctly allow it to write itself through me. I sent it off to Marcelo with a note on the order of “your problem is that you think theology only deals with the premise that God is always good. I present you with the alternative.”
And so here is the apology that I think God owes us:
I am Adonai, your god, the god of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. I have brought you out of Egypt to become a great nation, mighty, numerous and prosperous. In your midst, in each generation, I give you men and women of exceptional intelligence and compassion, who are loved and respected by all who know them. They shall be for you an example of the type of people I want you to become.
And then I make them die before their time.
For the sin I have sinned against you by letting them die too soon, I ask you, my people, to forgive me, although I know you never will.
Dedicated to the memories of Shira Palmer-Sherman and Dr. Steven Z. Miller.
Al Chet and the original introduction are Copyright 2005 by Andrew Sherman and used with permission.
Author’s note: The bulk of this piece appeared in Yom Kippur Readings, edited by Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Lights, 2010. As is often the case with anthologies, I retained the copyright, so it may be republished here.