Atonement

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mo and I went to Temple on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). I dropped Mo off at the kids service/childcare and I sat with friends. I wouldn't say my whole heart was really in it (not sure that it ever really is) but I felt like I wanted to go for whatever reason. [Frankly, one of the main reasons was so that I could drop Mo in the childcare - he isn't starting pre-school until January and he is getting ansy and wants to be around other kids. I knew this would be a fun day for him.] 

I sat in the sanctuary, watching the people come and go, whispering back and forth with my friend Limor, getting scolded by the old man sitting behind us ("Ladies, there is a service going on" - HA! Some things never change). I didn't spend time reflecting on the year and all that it has brought - perhaps because it has been such an overwhelming and complex year - with so much joy, sorrow, pain, delight, renewal. It's almost too much to think about. I just sat there singing along absent-mindedly - disconnected - unattached - disinterested in the spiritual aspect of the day. That's how religious services go for me. In a strange way, it is a meditative time. I may not be thinking about the prayers themselves, but I do sort of disconnect from regular life.  I don't think about the nonsense that occupies my brain 90% of the time - work, finances, scheduling, whatever. I do just flip through pages - figure out where we are, how much left we have to go, why the cantor isn't singing the tune that I know.

I wasn't thinking about much, that is, until we got to the Amidah - a pivotal prayer said in all religious Jewish services - one that I've read the Hebrew and English version of at least 100,000 times over the course of my lifetime. 

"Praised be the Lord our G-d, who grants eternal life to the deceased". 

My eyes are filling with tears just writing this now. ETERNAL LIFE. A Jewish concept? I've asked every Jew I know - rabbis, orthodox, chabad, and kabbalistic friends - "Does Judaism support a concept of life after death?" In the wake of my child's death, I have not been able to come up with a more relevant or important question for plugging forward with my own life. It's basically all I ever think about - night and day. I've asked so many observant Jews this question, I am surprised they don't go running when they see me approaching. The answer I usually get is "I think so" or "Judaism focuses on the life we live now. We do good because it is the right way to live, not because of the reward we may receive in the afterlife". But, I am not worried about the reward - I don't care about Heaven or Hell or Satan or Angels or harps or cupids or anything. I care about Max. I care that he isn't just buried on the side of a hill near my house - his brief life having only experienced baths and tickles and kisses and naps. I care that I will be with him again - which is my version of Heaven (and so maybe I do care about the reward and punishment thing).

The idea that Judaism supports this concept felt so profound to me in that moment that I actually had to hold back my tears in the service. I think going from whispered giggling gossip to bursting out into tears seemingly out of nowhere might have been a little much for my seating companions - not that my quickly changing emotional range is anything new.  Somehow, I did manage to hold it together.

Earlier this week, a girlfriend of mine wished me "G'mar Chatima Tova" (Basically - "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life this year").  I read through more of the English translation on Rosh Hashana and found the familiar words reminding me that G-d is going to take the next 10 days (which are up tomorrow) to decide who lives and who dies, who suffers and who prospers, who will have abundance and who will find poverty.  "It doesn't add up", I told her.  "Why would G-d NOT have inscribed Max into the Book of Life? He was just a baby.  He didn't deserve to die."  Is it possible that he was being punished for some baby sized sin?  (NO, by the way, IMPOSSIBLE).  Was his life taken because G-d decided during those 10 days in 2010 that Ted and I would be written onto to list of people who would suffer?  And, if so, (and I am not going to argue with G-d that somehow I didn't deserve this punishment - because I can be arrogant, and egomaniacal, and superficial, and prone to holding grudges - maybe I DID deserve the ultimate form of punishment...but then) why did Max end up the one whose life was taken?  Why not me then? WHY?  Why? Why? Why?  

I can't wrap my brain around any of it. And, I refuse to accept it all as is. There has to be more to the story.  THERE HAS TO BE. Ted reminds me often that this line of thinking that I am stuck in constantly is an exercise in futility. I will never know....and of course, he is right.

Tomorrow - we will be in Synagogue again - for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) - the day that the Book is sealed for the year.  I wonder what we can expect in this next year.  Have Ted and I paid enough?  Will we be rewarded for having endured the suffering?  Will the mistakes we made cause the life of some innocent to be destroyed?  Have we spent enough time apologizing to everyone we may have hurt over the last year (I can only speak for myself - NOPE)? Will we find the strength to keep rebuilding our lives (because there are many ways that it feels like we've had to start from scratch since losing Max)?  I don't know.  What I will focus on tomorrow is this: "Praised be the Lord our G-d, who grants eternal life to the deceased". It is really the only thing that matters to me right now. What's done is done - I only have the future to look forward to now.


1 comment:

T said...

Eternal life! Now that's a treasure of bright hope to cling to! I've had a few times when something that is very familiar takes a whole new, profound meaning like that, and you wonder 'HOW did I miss that before?!" I guess you see it when you need it most. What a blessing!!

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