A Time to Plant, a Time to Grow
Today is the last day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. It is also Rosh Chodesh Adar, the start of the month of Adar. We have a saying in Adar, the song of which echoes through the halls of schools in Israel (and my head) every year at this time: “Mi shenichnas Adar Marbim b’simcha.” This means “When Adar enters, we increase our happiness” or “our happiness increases.” This is not an edict to be happy, but maybe just to focus a bit more on letting happiness enter. That may be difficult for some, like people who are struggling with difficult situations, or for those who lost someone recently or on this date. So it is not meant to be an instruction, just a suggestion.
Today was not the time to plant – that time was two weeks ago today. But this year, that timing didn’t quite work out – instead, Israel had a winter storm and “tree planting day” was pushed off by a week. My own clock has been off as well- I kept trying to write this but it didn’t come out right. Often when that happens, I let it go (well, it was freezing-ha), but this time I don’t want to put away my thoughts.
The reason I still want to share what happened is that, despite today being the start of Adar with its increase in happiness, there is a special person who is gone and she deserves to have more people know that she was here, and what she brought to the world, and I didn’t want to let her go without saying goodbye.
Tomorrow night will be three weeks since Adira Rose Koffsky was taken from us in a tragic car accident. I hope that my words will honor her memory and bring comfort and light in some way.
Our family had just started to get to know Adira this year, yet I understand that even those who met her only briefly were affected by her, and are finding it hard to process that she is gone. When I heard about the accident, I could not understand it. She was just here, she really was- Adira was at our house for shabbat just two weeks before this happened. As I tried to understand it, I asked in my heart, “How could a smart, sweet, friendly and funny young woman be gone, just like that- how?”
The word “How” is the translation of the word Eicha, better known in English as the name of the Book of Lamentations. We read Megillat Eicha at a totally different time of year to now; we read it in the summer, when we mourn the destruction of the Temple. But Adira’s parents, siblings, friends, and even brief acquaintances were mourning her just two weeks ago during the week of Tu B’shvat, and I am sure they are missing her still. Her family got up from shiva and will go on with their lives, but I know there will always be a hole. I spoke to them briefly while they were sitting shiva, and they thanked us for having Adira come over a few times this year, but I don’t know if they understand- it was our family who wanted to thank them, as we appreciated her presence, getting to know her for what would turn out to be the short time we had. We used to live in their town, and it may be that if we had stayed, we would have seen her grow up and even more fully understand the immense depth of their loss, but still- in the little bit we got to know her, we loved her. She was brave and reached out to people she didn’t know, she was unafraid to say what she thought and to share her interests, and she did not worry about liking fantasy and non-mainstream media and games, so yes, she fit in perfectly with our family. She was understanding and didn’t mind when I said we couldn’t have her a few times that she asked, but I told her to please check again (so I didn’t forget- time occasionally passes me by like a whirlwind). Now I wish we had been able to host her more often- after the last shabbat I was hoping she would be by us again soon. Sadly, that won’t be.
The title I started with is partially an English translation from Kohelet, a very different Megillah than Eicha. Kohelet is a book of advice written by King Solomon near the end of his life. It does start out in a rather depressing way, saying that everything is vanity (useless), and what does it help a person to “toil under the sun”? It is read on Sukkot, which, coincidentally, was the holiday when we first met Adira this year.
The reason Kohelet came to mind that week was Tu B’shvat, which made me think of the song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” written as a take off of the second chapter in Kohelet. The song starts out “To everything…there is a season,” and one of the lines is “A time to plant, a time to reap”.
Many of the lines in Kohelet and in the song show how there are opposing situations, yet everything has its proper time. The first line in the first verse, just before the line about planting, is that there is a time to be born and a time to die. In Kohelet, the next line is that there is a time to plant and a time to uproot that which was planted. This is a different sentiment than reaping; to reap means to pick the fruit of your labor, to cut the wheat and eat it, to gather the fruit from your trees and enjoy it. This line makes less sense the way it’s stated in Kohelet than in the song, which largely says that even those things which we see as bad are just another part of life, and that each (even war and hate, death and mourning) has their place. However, upon thinking further, I can see that there is even a proper time for uprooting that which was planted.
There are still many difficult parts of Kohelet to process, but that does make sense because the same can be said of life itself. When I first heard what happened to Adira, I reached out to some people who have shared spiritual wisdom in the past; even they found it hard to answer “But why?”
Not too long ago, shortly before Chanukah, we lost another young person who I had only recently met, in a different kind of tragedy. At the time, I tried to write something, to share some of his light with the world, but I felt it was not my sorrow to speak of. His parents seemed to be handling it well, almost seeming to be comforting others at their own shiva. I hope that they too received comfort by the sheer amount of people whose lives he had touched. I could not make sense of his loss then either, and I felt that I had nothing positive to share except to say how sweet and caring I thought he was in the short time I knew him. In the end, I did not share anything because I had no answers, and didn’t feel that my writing would help anyone.
With the loss of Adira, once more I felt lost and confused, so I looked for some answers. One thing that helped a bit was a short d’var Torah about Kohelet that I found on My Jewish Learning.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger wrote the following explanation of Kohelet: “It is death that seems to suck the meaning out of life… If … my existence is just an exercise in futility, [and] I might as well never have lived to begin with.” Rabbi Schlesinger explained that Kohelet is an exploration of the futility of life, returning over and over to themes of how useless it is to amass wealth and wisdom, because in the end, as it says in Kohelet, we will all return to dust. If we look closer at the words of Shlomo Hamelech, though, we will see that he is telling us how we need to find value in the life we are living. That he has seen some terrible deeds and some beautiful ones. As Rabbi Schlesinger puts it, ultimately, “One must find the intrinsic value of the present.”
When I spoke to my husband about Adira, he directed me to Tehillim, specifically the one with commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch about psalm Pay-Chet (88). Rav Hirsch wrote, “At first glance, this psalm seems to be nothing but one continuous complaint, an expression of bitter pain bordering on despair…” but instead it is “a song…dedicated to God who can help us win victory over pain.” At the same time as we complain to God about the pain He is sending, we are also reaching out and asking for help. My friend told me this week that she teaches her kids not to say “oof” when something bad happens, but Kuf- psalm 100, a short one thanking God and reminding us to serve Hashem with gladness. That idea is sometimes beyond reach, depending on the depth of our pain, and I am not saying this to those suffering, but I hope that if I can keep it in mind, maybe it will help me when the “oof” is not so heavy. What I find comforting is that those tehillim asking for guidance and help when we are “in the depths” like Psalm 130, a sad one which yet is also called “A song of Ascents”- and also those simply praising God, are all in the same book. Life has ups and downs, times in which we can happily plant and times where we can only weather the storm. Times we prepare for war and times we dress in costume to celebrate the overturning of our tragedies, as we will in just two weeks on Purim, as we will read in Megillat Esther. That was also a time that looked dark, but we somehow found the strength to get through to the light.
At Jewish funerals, we say kaddish at the end, a prayer for the dead that is actually only about praising God, but also another line, as I was reminded two days ago when sadly attending a funeral for a childhood friend. Near the end we say “Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach”- “God gives, God takes, God’s name should be blessed.” When we are faced with loss, it is hard to say these words, to think them. Any feeling that a mourner has- anger, pain, confusion, sadness – is understandable and acceptable. We are not only allowed to mourn, we are asked to make room for it- because we all need time to heal.
In these past weeks I have tried to find answers even when there are none, and have come to understand that I can’t understand any of these tragedies. But I have also learned some new things and hopefully grown in the search. So Adira, you have inspired some learning.
Finally, I am writing because you, Adira, were a creative and inspiring person. Whatever you found difficult you faced and overcame. You made friends and touched lives, and inspired so many that they formed a poetry group in your honor. When I spoke to your parents I didn’t know what to say to them. The Jewish idea of shiva is comforting on many levels. One is the idea that you don’t have to say anything to the mourners; you just need to be there for them. If I could have been there in person, I would just have sat with them, let them speak. That doesn’t work so well on the phone, but they understood what I wanted them to know- that we, among so many, would miss you.
Ann and Mark, it still doesn’t make sense, and we don’t have answers- and we won’t. Nothing will make up for your loss, for everyone’s loss. If it helps you at all to know this, there will be poetry in Adira’s honor, and plays, and hopefully soon our family will plant a tree in Adira’s honor, in memory of her inner and outer beauty. I hope that her tree and her memory will continue to bring a breath of fresh air to the world for many years to come.
Zt”l Adira Rose Koffsky