My 85-year-old mother, Rut bat Avraham, died on Tevet 8, 5871 and my 92-year-old father, Yosef ben Avraham Yechiel, died on Tevet 20, 5781. They had divorced over 30 years ago and while my mother remained in NY near me, my father had moved out to the Cleveland, OH area over 30 years ago and lived a life completely separate from my mother.
I am the youngest of three children and we were not raised as religious, Torah-observant Jews. I became ba’al tshuva 29 years ago after I met my Aishet Chayil, Ellen, at Rabbi Efraim Buchwald’s National Jewish Outreach Program’s “Turn Friday Night Into Shabbos” which today is called Shabbat Across America. We became engaged after only 20 days and got married six months after that but, on our third date, Ellen took me to an Upper West Side Manhattan Aish HaTorah class on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah by Rabbi Asher Resnick and that’s when I knew I finally found the truth and the path toward meaning in life as well as a fulfilling relationship with my Creator.
My sister and brother (and others in my extended family) have not yet been blessed with a similarly rewarding spiritual path as I have but I felt I should provide them with as much comfort and knowledge from our Torah and rich traditions in regard to our now both recently deceased parents.
The below is what I wrote to them and some people suggested that others might benefit from my words. So, in the hope that you too can achieve some measure of a new perspective, a nechama, on the loss of any loved one, please read below what I sent to my sister and brother [to understand fully my letter, you need to know that Ellen and my 18 year old son and only child, Ariel Yitzchak a”h was negligently killed on Elul 15, 5774 in the Judean desert due to exertional heat stroke while on an organized hike with a gap year yeshiva in Israel (now defunct)].
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As we are getting closer and closer to the shloshim of both Mom and Dad, I wanted to share something with you that gives me great comfort, something I always knew since I first became a Torah-observant, halachic, God-centered religious Jew but became a central focus of my life since Ariel Yitzchak a”h was negligently killed. Simply put, our loved ones are not gone forever. Not at all.
It is a central tenet of Judaism that at the End of Days, the righteous dead shall live again on this earth and we shall be reunited with them. It is for this reason that I have at the top of Ariel Yitzchak’s headstone, “Until We Meet Again.”
Dad’s yahrzeit—Tevet 20—is the same as the great Rambam’s (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimonides), the Sage whose teachings everyone acknowledges is one of the foundations of our understanding of G-d. He articulated many centuries ago the very famous “13 Principles of Faith,” whereby each and every single one of those Principles, individually and collectively, is absolutely essential to understanding what Judaism is and what being a religious Jew is. The 13th and last of those Principles states:
“I believe with complete faith that there will be a resuscitation of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator, Blessed is His Name and exalted is His mention, forever and for all eternity.” Rambam wrote this over 800 years ago in his commentary to the Mishnah (which is the Oral Torah [given to Moshe Rebbeinu by G-d at the same time He gave Moshe the Written Torah over 3,300 years ago] that was eventually written down around 1,800 years ago), Tractate Sanhedrin (Courts), and the “13 Principles” has achieved virtually universal acceptance among religious Jews.
In fact, in our daily prayers, every single day without exception, we have at the beginning the famous “Yigdal” (Exalted) prayer, which in actuality is a shortened reiteration of Rambam’s 13 Principles, and it ends with: “God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness—Blessed forever is His praised Name.”
The Hebrew Bible, or as we pronounce the acronym Tanach, has 24 Books divided into three Sections. The first five collectively are called the Five Books of Moses, the Chumash, or the Torah. That’s the First Section and the “Ta” sound at the beginning of Tanach. The Second Section is called the Prophets or Nevi’im and there are 8 Books contained therein (7 individual prophetical writings with Samuel I and II, as well as Kings I and II each being considered one Book [the Christians split them into two each], and the 12 “minor” Prophets being considered one Book [they are minor only in the sense that they are each shorter than the writings of the “major” Prophets]). Nevi’im is the “Na” sound in the middle of Tanach. The Third Section is called the Writings or the Ketuvim and there are 11 Books contained therein [Ezra and Nechemya are considered one Book, and Chronicles I and II are considered one Book [again the Christians split it into two]. Ketuvim is the “Ch” ending part of Tanach.
I bring all of this up as background because the Resurrection of the Dead is in all three Sections of Tanach and this is the basis for Rambam’s commentary to which virtually all religious Jews subscribe. While in the Chumash there are no specific or explicit verses that state the dead shall live again, there are many hints, allusions, and clear implications contained in various chapters of the Torah. Similarly, in Nevi’im or the second Section called Prophets, there are a number of parts that reference the resurrection of the dead, the most explicit being in Sefer Yechezkel or the Book of Ezekiel. And again, in Ketuvim or the Writings, there are multiple statements indicating the resurrection of the dead, most notably in Sefer Daniel or the Book of Daniel.
If that’s not enough, how about this? Every single day, three times a day on weekdays; four times a day on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (the new Jewish month), and the holidays; and five times on Yom Kippur, we pray the Shemoneh Esrei (literally 18) also called the Amidah (literally standing, as we are standing while we pray the Shemoneh Esrei). The Shemoneh Esrei is THE central point of all the praying and is by far the single most important section of all the prayers. The very first section of the Shemoneh Esrei is the most important part of the entire Amidah and is known as “Patriarchs.” But the second section in the Shemoneh Esrei which is just about as critical is known as “God’s Might.” This is the wording of the second section:
“You are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save. [depending on the time of year, we add, “He makes the wind blow and He makes the rain descend.”] He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout! And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead. Blessed are You Hashem, Who resuscitates the dead.” Remember, depending on which day it is, we say this either three times a day, four times a day or, on Yom Kippur, five times in the day!
It should not surprise you that I concentrate especially hard every time I pray that section of the Shemoneh Esrei as I am so eager to be reunited with Ariel Yitzchak not just spiritually in the World to Come but also in this world when we are all resurrected from the dead. And naturally, it will be wonderful to see Mom and Dad again!
I would like to leave you with one final thought for now that was brought to my attention by Rabbi David Fohrman and it comes from a part of a verse in Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, written by King Solomon, the wisest of all men, with divine inspiration. Shir HaShirim is one of the Books in the Ketuvim or the Third Section in Tanach called Writings.
In the very last chapter of Shir HaShirim, chapter 8, verse 6, it says:
“Place me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death, zeal is as strong as the grave; its coals are coals of fire of a great flame! ושִׂימֵ֨נִי כַֽחוֹתָ֜ם עַל־לִבֶּ֗ךָ כַּֽחוֹתָם֙ עַל־זְרוֹעֶ֔ךָ כִּֽי־עַזָּ֤ה כַמָּ֨וֶת֙ אַֽהֲבָ֔ה קָשָׁ֥ה כִשְׁא֖וֹל קִנְאָ֑ה רְשָׁפֶ֕יהָ רִשְׁפֵּ֕י אֵ֖שׁ שַׁלְהֶֽבֶתְיָֽה:
Rabbi Fohrman pointed out to me that the highlighted section can be translated also as “Love is more brazen than death.” This is a mind-blowing concept to me and one that you might not on your own have considered. Death so often seems like the end of the relationship. But true profound love, of the highest and deepest kind, literally transcends death; and the connection, the bond, cannot only never be severed but is more powerful than what we might have erroneously thought is a permanent ending.
I am not currently able to function as a flesh and blood father to a flesh and blood child but there is not a moment I am not loving and thinking about Ariel Yitzchak, there is not a moment when I am not trying my best to accomplish something that will promote his legacy and create a stronger spiritual connection than ever. I talk to him all the time. I cry with him all the time. My love for Ariel Yitzchak is FAR stronger than death and I didn’t realize this is not a feeling and a reality limited to me and Ariel Yitzchak but the Holy Hebrew Bible in the words of the wisest man ever to have lived attests to this truth, to this state of being that Hashem created for us humans for all time and beyond.
There is much more to write on this topic, of course, and Rabbi Fohrman, Rabbi Asher Resnick (both currently alive, Baruch HaShem), and many other rabbis I know have but I hope my few above musings are enough for you to ponder and to help you maintain the most positive relationship you can with Mom and Dad, now that they are in the World to Come. Always carry out positive actions in their memory whenever you can, the more publicly in their name the better, and remember all the positive aspects of our relationship with them that helped forge us to be the individuals we are today.