“G-d sent us a precious blessing for twenty-two years; this is how I choose to approach this personal calamity.”
These stirring words were shared with me by Rabbi Eliyahu Shadmi of Raanana, Israel, whose 22-year old son, Shmuel, passed away last week, on Thursday, following a six-month coma after he had been critically injured in a car accident.
Shmuel, of blessed memory, was also the brother of my dear brother’s wife, Chaya. During my short visit to Israel for a congregant’s Bar Mitzvah, I also had the immense privilege of paying them a “shiva” visit, to try and offer them a slice of comfort.
Shortly after my departure from Rabbi Shadmi’s home, I was overcome with astonishment. You see; I thought that I had come to strengthen Rabbi Shadmi and his family’s spirits; instead, it was my spirit that was strengthened. And as much as I attempted to inspire; I was inspired multifold. Why so? Because of the following three lessons that this unforgettable visit taught me:
1. How we view life is our choice
In front of me was a man, a beloved Rabbi, who had all the justifications to fall into the bottomless abyss of depression. After all, his son had just died, in such a tragic accident, at such a young age. Yet, he chose to focus on the blessing and the joy that his son had brought to his life “for the past twenty-two years.” Within the darkness, he saw light. In the depths of sadness, he sensed joy.
And it taught me an invaluable lesson: Our life’s blessings, not just beauty, are in the eyes of the beholder too. And how we view life – and all of its fluctuations – is almost always our choice.
2. Indeed, we are one
My brother and sister-in-law also shared with me their amazement at the number of people who attended the funeral, and until today, are flocking their home to comfort them. Many of them, they mentioned, did not even know Shmuel, the deceased young man, and his family. Yet, they came, out of a deep sense of responsibility and unity.
This selfless kindness by these ‘anonymous’ Jews, reminded me of the holy words of the Tanya that states that the deeper we go into ourselves, the more we will discover our inherent oneness. The more we reveal our individual soul, the more we will find that it is intrinsically connected to the collective soul of our Jewish people, where we are all one, like the limbs of a body, or as instruments in a symphony.
May we merit to act as one people, always, with loving eyes, a caring heart, and a helping hand, today, tomorrow, and forever.
3. Our Children, and people, in general, are much more than what they seem
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said: “Treat a man as he appears to be, and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.”
Rabbi Shadmi reminded me of these sharp words, as he was describing his surprise at the number of heroic stories he was now hearing about Shmuel, his deceased son. “I always saw him as a father, in the context of our home,” he mentioned to me. And he continued: “I knew how holy and good he was, but I never knew how much impact he had on so many people around the world.”
As I listened to his words, I became conscious of our sometimes faulty perspectives of our children, and of people, in general. For too often, we see them in a very narrow light, where their overflowing goodness is hidden from us. But in reality, they are so much greater than the way they appear. And as much as they, and people, seem ‘ordinary’, every creation of G-d is extraordinary.
This is true for the way we view ourselves too: We might define ourselves by the size of our height, the waist of our thigh, the dimensions of our home, or the limits of our human tendencies. We may even say to ourselves, from time to time, “this is the way I was born, and this is the way I will always be.”
But our confining nature can be altered; our narrow perspectives can be changed. And if we can just focus on our infinite potential re-ignite our flame of G-d within, and engage relentlessly in deeds of goodness and kindness, our life’s challenges will melt away.