As a mourner I am keenly aware of death. After all I am reminded of my mother’s passing each and every day three times a day. And so it comes as no surprise that I pause and contemplate every time I learn of someone passing or read of a tragic death.
The events of this past week are particularly difficult to fathom. First, the tragic death of seven innocent children in a Shabbos house fire in Brooklyn, New York and then the intentional murder of over 150 innocent passengers by a suicidal co-pilot. Events such as these test even the strongest believer among.
As mere mortals we cannot and should not expect to understand the Almighty’s ways. We must rely on our belief that His ways are always just and accept His decrees. Yet, we should not just move on. We need to reflect, to look deep inside ourselves and ask, “What is G-d trying to tell us?” What do I need to do to improve?”
Saying kaddish is all about what happens after one’s life on this earth is complete. It is about the World to Come. It is about the eternity that awaits each one of us.
Focusing on what we can do better in this world to improve our lot in the World to Come will not explain His ways but it will give us a context in which to respond to the tragedies we witness.
My quick trip to New York this week was uneventful from a saying kaddish perspective. I arrived in Boro Park in the early evening and went straight to a well- known minyan factory on 13th Ave – the Shomer Shabbos shul; a small shul with a basement and a balcony. It literally has non-stop minyanim throughout the day in every room and crevice. I arrived just as a new mincha minyan was beginning in the main shul and davened with that minyan. I was a bit shocked when at the conclusion of aleinu I was the only person saying kaddish. That has surely not happened very often to me over the last ten months.
After a quick stop at Eichler’s I drove to the Turner wedding. Luckily, there was no music in the room where the chassan’s tish was being held so I was able to sit at the tish until the badeken began. The chupah was called for 7:30 pm, Chasidic standard time, and finally began at about 8:15 pm. After the chupah I caught a maariv minyan “in the hall” at the wedding and then drove to New Jersey to stay the night at my son Nachum’s home.
In the morning I made a 6:30 am shachris minyan and then drove back to DC.
This was supposed to be the final business travel of my aveilus. But as things turned out I will be travelling back to Columbus next week. My traveling saying kaddish experiences continues….
Returning from my travel of last week I was reminded of how saying kaddish can and often does bring out the best in people. Within a twenty four hour period three individuals reached out to enhance my saying of kaddish.
First was a friend whom I had contacted to see if he could say kaddish for me last Wednesday at both mincha and maariv since my return from Denver conflicted with the times of minyanim both in Denver and at home. He gladly accepted the responsibility and said kaddish for me.
Second, was the friend who literally immediately upon reading my last blog post emailed me offering to pick me up at the airport and drive me to maariv in the hopes that by so doing he would cut my commute time just enough for me to say kaddish at the 10 pm maariv at the yeshiva. Though I declined since the timing was just not possible the offer itself was quite incredible.
On the following morning another friend offered to help make a second minyan for me on the final day of my saying kaddish to ensure that I would be able to be the chazzan (lead the service) that day. He recalled that when he was a mourner it was important to him to lead the service on that final day and wanted to enable me to do the same in case there were other mourners present that day with priority over me.
While saying kaddish is the personal obligation of a son to a parent it is time and again made possible through the generosity and kindness of others.
I am on a “killer” two day trip. I left yesterday morning for Houston where I had a meeting at 1:00 pm. Since we are now on daylight savings time I stayed in Houston for mincha/maariv at 7:15 pm and then took a 10:00pm flight to Denver. This morning I left my hotel at 6:00 am to make a 6:45 am minyan so that I would be on time for my 8:00 am client meeting. I am scheduled to return on a 4:30 pm flight this afternoon.
I will definitely miss mincha and likely maariv as well since the flight is scheduled to arrive at BWI at 9:40 pm. There is a very slight chance that I could make kaddish at the Yeshiva tonight. But given the stronger likelihood that I will not make it I have asked a friend to say kaddish for me.
Houston was fairly “routine” since I was just there a few weeks ago. Denver has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. When I was last here a few months ago I had difficulty locating the shul in the dark and ended up davening at a Chabad shul whichI found because it had an illuminated roadside sign. This morning I planned on returning to that Chabad shul but since I arrived early I ventured out to see if I could locate the other shul. I succeeded and davened in the East Denver Orthodox Shul. It was a very nice minyan, well attended and efficient. One added benefit for me today was that they learned a halacha after Shachris and recited an “extra” kaddish.
This trip is likely my last “real” trip before I conclude saying kaddish. Next Monday night I have to be in Brooklyn to attend the chupah of a friend’s daughter’s wedding and that should not, hopefully, present much of a challenge. My remaining scheduled travel as of now is all after I conclude saying kaddish.
While I will surely not miss the stress and the extra days of travel, I will miss the satisfaction of fulfilling my sacred responsibility as a son and my daily connection to my mother a”h.
Our tradition requires a mourner to conclude the saying of kaddish at the end of the eleventh month; one month prior to the end of the year of aveilus. This early cut off derives from the belief that only full fledged evil doers are punished by the Almighty for the full twelve months after death. So as not to suggest that one’s parent was such a person we do not say kaddish during the final month of the yearlong mourning period.
I guess because I am in the eleventh month I started to think this week, ‘What has the past ten months been like for my mother and father, may they rest in peace?’ I hope this does not sound “a bit out there”. But while of course I do not know the answer to that question I can at the very least imagine what it has been like for my parents.
I am sure that my father a”h must have been waiting with open arms to be reunited with my mother after 29 years of separation. Their love for each other was pure, genuine and intense. If there was a “silver lining” in my mother’s death it was that it resulted in their being reunited for eternity.
I also imagine the reward received by mother these past ten months for those many years during which she (and my father) cared for her mother. When my grandmother was widowed a few months before I was born, my parents welcomed her into their home where she lived some thirty plus years until several months after my father passed away in 1985. It is hard to imagine in today’s world a parent living with a married child for virtually the entirety of the child’s marriage – but that is exactly what my mother did. No doubt she is reaping a great reward in the heavens above.
And lastly I wonder what are my parents are able to see and discern about how I am living my life. Am I meeting their expectations? Am I making them proud? You know – even after our parents die, we still want to make them proud.
The Purim time period is a “milestone” in my aveilus.
It coincides with my mother’s fall which was the beginning of three months of physical deterioration ending in her passing in late May.
It is also the start of my final month of saying kaddish.
As I approach the end of the eleven months of saying kaddish I have conflicting feelings. On the one hand, that final kaddish will be yet another reminder of the finality of death, of a loss never to be recovered, of a part of my life never to be relived. In this respect, I do not look forward to reciting that final kaddish. On the other hand, I am ready to be free of the obligations and restrictions of mourning and to return to enjoying the many aspects of “normal” life which I have avoided these last ten months – music, Shabbos meals with friends , weddings, events, new clothing etc.
In a similar vein, my year of mourning has required effort and commitment to juggle saying kaddish, travel and business. While it has not been stress-free I do feel a small sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that in large measure I have been able to meet my obligations as a son. On the other hand, I have begun to wonder, ‘Will have the strength of character and commitment on my business trips, when I no longer have to go to minyan morning and night to say kaddish, to continue the extra effort required to coordinate travel schedules so as to attend minyan morning and night?’
And then there is this blog. When my aveilus is over should I continue to blog?
The month of Adar occupies a unique place in the Jewish calendar. It is a month of great joy and celebration. So much so that our tradition teaches that if one has a court case it is best to schedule it for hearing during the month of Adar. For a mourner, however, the restrictions on celebration remain even during Adar; so much so that even on the holiday of Purim an aveil’s participation in the joyous customs of the day are greatly restricted. Thus, this year my Purim will be quite muted. I will not receive Shalach Manos (holiday gifts) and for the first time that I can remember Marilyn and I will be alone for the Purim seudah (festive meal). Without a doubt approaching the Purim holiday from the perspective of a mourner is among the most potent messages delivered during the year of mourning.
This is all the more true in light of world events. How telling that just a day before the start of the Purim holiday the Prime Minister of Israel had to take the world stage to warn the world of the very real existential threat that Iran, the Persia of today, represents to the Jewish State and Jewish People and to plead as Queen Esther did in her day, “if it please the King let my life be given at my petition, and my people at my request: for we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to be annihilated.”
How demoralizing and frightening that today’s King Ahashverosh, President Obama, pointedly and immediately dismissed the plea and petition.
Clearly, the Almighty has His plan. He will never forsake the Jewish People. Tonight when we read Megilas Esther (the Story of Esther) we must stop and repeat – again and again – the words of Mordechai to Queen Esther, “relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from elsewhere”. Only when that message is chiseled into our hearts and minds will we and Jews everywhere experience “light and gladness, joy and honor”.
My trip to NYC last Wednesday should have been routine from a saying kaddish perspective. After all I was going to mid-town Manhattan where there are so many minyanim for mincha that there are several maps published with name, location and times. Though I followed “all the rules” I still came up short.
Here is what happened.
I started my day at the YISE “rocket minyan” so that I could make a train to Penn Station that would get me to NYC by mid-morning which would give me plenty of time to get to my first appointment at Madison Ave and 55th Street. Due to train delays I got to my meeting shortly after noon. My meeting lasted longer than planned and at 3:00 pm I left to find a place to grab some lunch where I could sit and call into an important conference call. I was across the street from the Sony Building and decided to go its public arcade where I got a Panini and took my call at a table in the arcade. So far so good.
My call ended a little after 4:00 pm. I checked the Agudah’s minyan map and found a listing that gave me exactly what I needed. My next meeting was at 6:00 pm at 34th Street and Ninth Ave. The Millinery Synagogue at 6th Ave and 38th had a mincha maariv minyan at 5:15 pm. Perfect. I would daven there, say kaddish, make my meeting, and get on an 8:00 pm train back to D.C.
I decided to walk from the Sony Building to the shul as I had plenty of time. I got there early and found a gentleman standing on the street at the front door. He confirmed that there would be a minyan. I entered the sanctuary and was immediately taken aback. The shul was not simply run down; it was decrepit with no heat.
I sat down on a pew and waited. A few minutes later another fellow entered and asked if I was a regular. I said no that I was from out of town and was saying kaddish. We waited and waited and waited until it was 5:20 pm and was obvious that there would not be a minyan. I could not believe it. Not only would I miss mincha I would also miss maariv! In New York City! How could that be?
I walked out of the shul and asked the fellow at the door what was going on. He complained about how many minyanim there are now in office buildings and admitted that they had trouble getting a minyan. “Go to Chabad at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue”, he instructed me. Great – I had walked past Chabad a half hour ago on my way to the Millinery Shul!.
I threw my briefcase over my shoulder and began to run to Chabad. I got there a few minutes later, ran up the stairs only to find out that they had already davened mincha. Maariv would be at 5:45 pm. I emailed my next meeting that I would be a few minutes late (I hoped only a few!), sat down and waited. At 5:45 pm the minyan started.
At 6:05 pm I was on Fifth Avenue and “jogging” to 34th and Ninth. It’s good that I am in good shape so I was able to make it by 6:15 pm.
At 8:15 pm I boarded the train home still upset that though I had “followed all the rules” I still missed saying kaddish at mincha.