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.
Stress and rush. Rush and stress. That pretty much summarizes travel and saying kaddish. And it matters not what time of the year; short winter days, long summer days. It is all the same. Coordinating minyan times and flight schedules always comes down to the same two elements – stress and rush.
This past Thursday evening was no different; though when I made our plans for St Louis I thought it would be easy. After all the days are getting longer and mincha/maariv is now at 5:35 pm. With a flight out of BWI at 7:45 pm, I thought, it should be a no brainer to daven mincha/maariv in Silver Spring before leaving for the airport, drive to BWI, and easily make our flight.
Oh how wrong I was.
I left my office at 4:30 pm so as to make mincha/maariv at YISE at 5:35 pm. Maariv was over a little after 6:00 pm. I came straight home, packed the car, and off we went to the airport.. And then it dawned on me – I had miscalculated. The flight might be scheduled to take off at 7:45 pm but we needed to be at the airport at least 45 minutes before takeoff so that our bags 9filled with “goodies” for our kids in St Louis) would make the flight. As we drove down Kemp Mill Road I began to think, what could I do to cut down the drive time to the airport? And then traffic was at a standstill; on Kemp Mill Road? Really? There is never traffic on that street! I made a u turn and headed for University Boulevard, the Beltway and 95. Time was fleeting. Once on 95 I bobbed and weaved my way through the end of rush traffic at speeds of 70-80 mph plus. Finally, we made it to the airport at 7:15pm. I raced to check the bags, Marilyn parked the car and 20 minutes later we met at the gate.
In the end it all worked out – I davened mincha and maariv, said kaddish, we made our flight and so did our bags.
But not without stress and rush.
For the last twenty nine years of her life my mother was a sad woman. She never recovered from the loss of my father and her personality was impacted by her feelings of loss, anger and loneliness. As a result of so many years of her sadness, my recollections of what she was like are almost entirely formed by the last twenty nine years. I have trouble picturing what she was like before my father’s illness and death.
Until this week.
On Wednesday I went for my semiannual kidney stone check up. As I was driving back to my office my mind wandered back to when I was eighteen and first began to suffer from kidney stones. For a couple of years I was in and out of the hospital with kidney stone attacks. As I turned onto Mass Ave, I began to recall how distraught my mother was during those attacks. How every day I laid in pain was a day of pain for her. How she and my father visited me every day for hours in the hospital. How she would insist on going with me for follow up checkups and tests. It was as if she too was suffering from kidney stones.
It was refreshing to have a clearer view back to my mother before her long period of sadness; to get a glimpse of what she was like before her world was turned upside down.
It is strange how even after nine months of mourning – out of the blue – I find myself reminiscing in my own mind about my mother.
While saying kaddish provides a structure for the mourning process, what we make of it is up to each one of us. In my case it is helping me remember back to better days.
One of the rewarding aspects of saying kaddish is seeing the kindness and generosity in others. Yesterday, a Washington DC snow day, was a prime example of the goodness in man.
By Washington standards the five inches that fell overnight represented a major snow storm shutting down the federal government, all school systems, and much of the bus and rail public transit in the metropolitan area. I awoke at 4:30 am cleaned off my car, shoveled the driveway, and left for shul at 6:15 am. I wanted to give myself at least two chances for a minyan – the 6:30am “rocket minyan” and if that minyan did not materialize due to the snow, I would try my regular 6:55 minyan. While the snow shut down the government it did not shut down any of the minyanim. To the contrary, each minyan convened as usual and I was therefore able to say kaddish at the 6:30 am minyan. When I finished I stopped by the 6:55 am minyan to make sure they had enough men present to make a minyan. As I entered the sanctuary I saw a close friend who did not make it to the Daf Yomi class the night before due to the snow. He came up to me and after I gave him a hard time for missing the class he told me that he specifically came to shul that morning “to make sure you had a minyan”.
With more people like my friend George, Moshiach (the Messiah) will surely come.
The weather in the Washington DC area has been brutal over the last two days; single digit temperatures, below zero wind chills, snow, and icy roads. While the number of attendees at minyan has been less than usual, the mourners saying kaddish have been at minyan; adverse weather and road conditions notwithstanding.
Because that is what we do.
Because saying kaddish is a special responsibility with which we are charged for the year of mourning.
During the many months I have been saying kaddish, I have been frequently asked by non-Jewish friends and colleagues and by non-observant Jews how it is that I attend services three times daily, day in day out, for an eleven month period in order to say kaddish. I respond that I am not at all unusual; that there are many others who do as I do. Saying kaddish for a departed parent, I explain, is not to be viewed as on “obligation” but, rather, as a sacred opportunity afforded a surviving child to honor his departed parent and pay respect to one’s parent’s life and soul. When viewed through this prism, the challenges (and stress) that are a part of saying kaddish are mere annoyances – and not obstacles – in fulfilling a sacred personal mission.
Judging by the attendance of my fellow mourners over the last two days I am clearly not the only one who views the challenges – this week frigid temperatures, snow, and ice – as annoyances but never as obstructions that stop each of us from fulfilling our sacred mission.
Yesterday was the first time since I have been saying kaddish that I was able to go back and forth to Columbus in a single day and make all my minyanim. I davened shachris at the YISE “rocket minyan” (unfortunately), rushed to BWI, and made an 8:30 am flight to Columbus. In the evening after my client meetings I rushed to mincha maariv at Ahavas Shalom and then made the last flight out.
I am in Columbus so frequently that I have gotten to recognize some of the TSA agents. Among the regular agents there is a bearded TSA agent who is Orthodox and wears a yarmulke. He is frequently on duty when I go through security and we chit chat briefly as he is checking my bags. Last night he stopped to talk and asked me where I had davened mincha and maariv. I told him and he wanted to know if maariv was followed by a daf yomi shiur. I told him that I thought so but that I would be learning the daf on my return flight. He then told me that he goes to a daf yomi shiur in the morning.
“Oh so you have been studying all about davar sheino miskaven”, I said.
To which he responded, “I have not really been following it too well”.
“Let me explain it to you”, I said to him.
And there we were – he is in his TSA uniform, me at the checkpoint – discussing the machlokes (differing views) between Reb Shimon and Reb Yehuda regarding davar sheino miskaven.
It does not get better than this!
A personal note
Today is the date of my parents’ wedding anniversary. Since my father a”h passed away in the fall of 1985, February 8 was a bittersweet day for my mother a”h. She never recovered from the loss of her beloved husband and the day of their anniversary made her focus even more on his absence and her loss. Today, for the first time in twenty nine years they are celebrating together, arm in arm, never to be separated again.
Time – Continued
Throughout my many months of saying kaddish I have been struck by the fact that the prayer which the mourner is obligated to recite multiple times each day has nothing to do with the departed and is instead all about the greatness of G-d. One would think that if it is so important to pray for a departed parent that the prayer one recites would be a memorial prayer – or at least one that mentions the soul of the departed. Instead, our rabbis established kaddish which focuses on the greatness of G-d and does not mention anything about the soul of the departed.
As I ponder the meaning of time (see my last blog) it dawned on me that perhaps the very reason why we are obligated to say kaddish and not a memorial prayer is connected to the need for the mourner to focus of on the meaning of time. During the year of aveilus it is nearly impossible not to recognize that the life of one’s departed parent, no matter how long in years, was a mere “split second” in the annals of time. When this recognition is turned inward one begins to seriously ponder the meaning of one’s own time in this world.
Saying kaddish multiple times each day can give one a rather clear path forward in terms of purpose. Being “forced” to repeatedly proclaim the greatness of G-d multiple times every day at the very time when one is pondering the meaning of life and death, instills in the aveil an understanding that life and one’s time on this earth should be focused on serving G-d. Only then does our own time become infinite.
Truth be told as I enter my ninth month of aveilus, I feel as if I have been in mourning for “a long time”. Eight plus months of saying kaddish, the stress and logistics that go with it, and all the other restrictions and practices are all becoming a bit “old”. I must admit, I have begun to look forward to my aveilus ending and getting back to a normal life. Eight months of aveilus feels like a “long time” to me.
This weekend we visited two shiva houses mourning for parents who lived long and full lives – in one case a mother who lived to be over one hundred years old. It is amazing how quickly even one hundred years can go. Time in these shiva houses did not feel like a “long time”. Time, as my wife put it, is like a “the blink of an eye”.
The mourning process should teach us that time is our most valuable commodity. No matter how long we may live our time is limited and in short quantity. We can either waste our time on this earth or we can make the most of it by making a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. But we cannot and should not take time for granted. For no matter how much time we think there is available to us at any given moment, it will be over in split second.
Eight months does not feel like a “long time” any more.
My carefully choreographed plans for my two day trip to Houston were upended Sunday night by the constantly changing predictions of when a major snowstorm would hit the east coast. As a result of a revised forecast which had the snow arriving during the day on Monday, I had to change my original flight plans which had me leaving after maariv on Monday evening I flew out on a 9:00 am flight. In addition to losing a much needed day in the office, I was forced to attend the 6:15am rocket minyan at YISE. Were I not saying kaddish I would have davened at home rather than attend this “drive by” minyan.
I arrived in Houston mid afternoon and attended mincha/maariv at the Young Israel of Houston. I was literally shocked by the obvious robustness of the Houston Orthodox community. There is a community Kollel in Houston and many who came to that mincha minyan were either members of or associated with the Kollel.
The 6:15 am shachris minyan (one of two regular minyanim) was even more impressive. At least 75 men attended this early shachris minyan.
Another added benefit was a fairly nice newly opened steak restaurant at which I was able to comfortably entertain business associates for dinner.
The only downside is that I will have to miss mincha today. The shul is an hour away from the airport due to Houston’s terrible traffic during the evening rush. So I changed my originally scheduled 7:00 pm flight to a mid afternoon flight so that I can hopefully make maariv at the Yeshiva tonight.
UPDATE FROM THE AIR
Just when you think you have things under control Hashem reminds who is really in charge. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time; the flight boarded on time; pulled out onto the runway; and then the plane taxied off the runway and the pilot announced that there was a “minor” maintenance issue which would delay take off a few minutes.
An hour and forty-five minutes later we finally took off. And now my plan, which I was very confident would enable me to say kaddish at maariv in the Yeshiva, is very much at risk. An important reminder applicable to life. All man can do is his “hishtadlus” (effort). Success is in G-d’s hands