Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mi Yichyeh u'Mi Yamut...*

* Who shall live and who shall die...

"These words from the liturgy of the High Holy Days testify to our insecurity. As we grow older, our youthful illusions of invulnerability begin to disappear, and the questions become ever more acute. Perhaps the most difficult transition we make as adults is the first time we catch ourselves saying, “If you have your health, you have everything,”—and we remember how completely uncomprehending we were when we, as teenagers, heard exactly those words from our great aunt, the one who had doilies covering her tables and newspapers on her freshly scrubbed floors."

(from Rabbi Robert L. Wolkoff,

Is this first paragraph not true? As young innocents, we don't think truly about the words we are saying, but as we age, we do.

I thought that perhaps I was morbid as I stood at shul over Rosh Hashanah and thought these thoughts. But in hindsight, as I think about all the things that are wrong with our world, all the people I know who are not well, or who have already been touched by grief and sadness in their lives, I think it is only right that I am aware of these words.

I looked around the shul and wondered who would be davening with us next year, who would be missing. Just like looking at a family photo album. Take out your parents' photo albums or look at your own wedding albums, if you're married. Scan the faces. You will see and say to yourself, "This one isn't here anymore; this one died a year after I married; he is in a nursing home." The list goes on.

And unfortunately, next year at shul, you will probably encounter similar losses. Familiar faces will be missing. Some families will be smaller and will need to buy fewer High Holiday tickets.

Perhaps I was most aware of the theme of this post as the kohanim went up on the bimah for "duchenin"; two of those men that were up there, whom I know, have cancer. They have been taking treatments and I believe that one of them has decided to stop his treatments. It shows in his face, in his body and in his wife's eyes as she looks at him.

As those men stood and blessed the congregants, as kohanim have done for centuries, I couldn't help but wonder if these men would be around next year to bless us again.

And moreso I thought that they are blessing us; Hashem should bless them hundredfold with strength and good health.

And how does one wish a true "refuah shlema" on someone who is so ill? Do you? Can you? Or do you wish them strength, as I do?

It is my fervent hope that we will all be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year; that strength, and hope, and prayer, and tradition will be part of those pages of our own Book of Life.

Gmar chatimah tovah.