“You have counted my wanderings, put my tears into your bottle, are they not in your book?”
We travel in the realm of grief and anger in today’s Daf Yomi reading after receiving a lesson in “half measures” which do not result in liability if they represent an act half-completed. This reminds me of a lesson I learned growing up that no act is worth doing unless it is done right. We also learn that if someone writes one letter as an abbreviation for an entire word, he is liable to bring a sin-offering. It’s once again all about intention. We are also told that prohibited sewing on Shabbat is measured by two stitches. And if one tears enough fabric that can be mended with two stitches, he is liable. Two threads, two meshes, two stitches, two of anything adds up to something.
We wander through the world of grief and anger. Tearing one’s clothes upon the death of a relative is a profound physical display of grief. I remember my grandparents tearing the collars of their shirts when a family member died. When my father died two years ago this month, I was provided with a black ribbon to pin onto my collar. It was an emblem of grief, but within the modern day pinning to protect our garments from damage is the loss of the physical act of mourning.
We are provided with contradictory conclusions concerning the rending of a garment on Shabbat in grief for the loss of a loved one. One is both liable and exempt for doing so, while he honors the dead. We are reminded of the conflicting obligations: “Even though he desecrates Shabbat by tearing his garment, he nevertheless fulfilled his obligation of rending his garment in mourning.” We are presented with a solution to the dilemma: if one tears his clothes for a relative, he is liable because he is assuaging a grief deep within him and “creating” something. He is not liable if the tearing of cloth is for someone not related to him, because there is an assumption that his action is less significant than a similar act associated with the death of a family member.
We are told that all Torah Scholars should be regarded as our family and we should tear our clothes to honor them when they die. This is demonstrated when a revered Hassidic Rabbi dies, and his funeral is attended by hundreds of people. Recently, the New York City Mayor was criticized for breaking up a Rabbi’s funeral in Williamsburg that was attended by an estimated 500 people in April in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. This occurred when the city was sheltering in place, and most people who were mourning loved ones were restricted to Zoom funerals.
In New York City, we are coming out of the most severe phase of the pandemic. An estimated 21,000 people died to date in the city. 118,000 people have died in the United States and there have been 446,000 deaths worldwide. At a time when New York City has seen its curve flatten and the number of new cases diminish, there are new hot spots in the US where cases are increasing. There has been so much death and suffering from this marauding virus and some of the suffering was preventable. It is not behind us. Two of the highest daily tolls in new cases were recorded this week globally, with new outbreaks in the Southern United States, Asia, and Latin America. There is still so much more grief awaiting us.
One of the dangers of this virus is complacency. People just want their lives back and are taking risks in order to restore a semblance of normalcy. I often imagine what it would be like if I could return to one day in February, when the coronavirus was a newspaper story of a disease invading a faraway place. I would appreciate every moment of that day in February in a way that I never did before so much sorrow descended upon the world. I imagine somewhere in the sky is a field of black ribbons for each life lost from the virus. And there is a box of black ribbons with an endless bottom, which is awaiting to be pinned for all the deaths yet to come.
I included in today’s post a photo of the Joyce Theater in Chelsea where I live. It is a sacred place for anyone who loves dance. We will dance again. Maybe not tomorrow, but one day.