Friday, March 18, 2011

To Die Well

יד לֹא-אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי, לָשֵׂאת אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה: כִּי כָבֵד, מִמֶּנִּי. 14
I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me.


Purim should be a happy occasion. But in the wake of the murders of the Fogel Family and remembering what happened at Merkaz HaRav years ago, it's hard to focus on that. The children dressed up in their costumes, filled with merriment and gaiety, are just as innocent as the ones who are lying on the floor, their blood spattering the walls.

Sometimes the music in our minds rises to such a fever pitch that it is hard to hear anything but that. I see shadows on children's faces, the superimposed images of others who are dead. Brian Jacques in his series Redwall was the first one to introduce me to the concept of what the dead would have wished for us. Surely the dead would wish us to be happy and glad on this holiday of salvation. And yet they were not saved. How to reconcile the two concepts? How then shall I be glad for the salvation of old when the salvation of new has yet to arrive?

We are so small in the scheme of things. They say the spies were wrong to compare us to grasshoppers, that because they were like grasshoppers in their own eyes, they could not demonstrate the true strength and courage they possessed. But it is difficult to look at us as citizens of a galaxy so vast with anything other than eyes noting our smallness, how little there is of us. We live so quickly. We die so quickly. Of what worth was it? What difference have I made? For what have I lived?

I remember when I was little I used to read The Little Midrash Says and pray that I would die al kiddush Hashem. I thought that was the ultimate test, the ultimate challenge. To die al kiddush Hashem would mean to die having stood up for my principles, my ideals, for everything that mattered to me. It would be to die with dignity.

But when I read articles such as these, I realize that my fear would forbid me from dying this way. The flesh is weak. I'm afraid of pain. I would be scared of knives or guns. I don't know if I would be able to face them down. And so I find myself being oddly jealous of a baby.

What do I mean by that? Well, it's like so. Little Hadas was nearly a newborn, three short months old. She had had no opportunity to sin. And then she died in the holiest way possible, al kiddush Hashem. She has a direct route to God and to Heaven. There will be no purgatory for her, no distancing from God, no shame because of sins she committed. There will be no grief for potential left unfulfilled. She was sent here and then taken to be held in God's holy embrace.

It's not that I wish such a death on anyone. It's not that I am glad, God forbid, that she or her family died. But if one has to die, is that not one of the best ways? To die free of sin, totally pure, in sanctification of God's name? How many of us will be granted such deaths?

It's an aspiration of mine, should the challenge arise: to die well. My heroes and heroines do. Saul, having been told by Samuel that he will die in battle, nerves himself to go walking out into the darkness. He surrenders to God. He bows his head and accepts his fate. He does not flee. He is not Jonah running away from Nineveh.

So too Esther. She walks into the king's inner chambers having dressed herself in royalty. She does not shed a tear. Her walk is noble and she too has surrendered to God. What will be will be. He will determine her fate.

I'd like to die like them.


Anonymous said...

I understand the thought but as one of my Rabbeim, R' Wein says "strive to live as a Jew should first" before worrying about wether or not you'll die al kiddush Hashem

Anonymous said...

or as R'YBS taught (based in one case on the rachel/leah marriage story and why rachel was answered when the avot weren't - as well as yosef's one time resistance vs. other's ongoing) apparently HKB"H values the everyday small acts of courage played out in private that you think none will ever know about more than the "big moment" kind.
Joel Rich

Noam said...

He is not Jonah running away from Nineveh.
I cannot agree with this, Jonah is not, knows he can not, run away from the Almighty.
Jonah is risking the wrath of his Maker to save his people.

He is not running from his duty, he is giving up the highest pleasure a human can get in this world. He hopes that outside the land of Israel he will no longer receive the gift of prophesy, and thereby spare the Jews the shame of not living up their potential.

In a way he is better than the others. they will give up olam hazeh for G-d. Jonah will give up olam ahzeh and olam habah for his people.