By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
It’s not often that I make use of this column to express personal feelings, but today I feel I must share with you some very powerful emotions I felt this past week in Israel. It began with a state of confusion, attempting to sort out contradictory feelings, and ended with a uniquely Jewish experience.
I was in Israel on the whirlwind of a last-minute decision, to join my daughter, son-in-law and the rest of my kids living and studying in Israel for the bris of our first grandson. One could not imagine greater joy and nachas than to participate in a simcha such as that.
At the same time, auspiciously, the day of the bris fell on the same day of my dear father’s yahrzeit. Although that felt very special, it also contained within it a vast dichotomy of feelings. The yahrzeit is always a special time for me, remembering the life of my father, a Holocaust survivor and builder of a Jewish family. It is a day that I finish a tractate of Talmud in my father’s memory, leading services and reciting Kaddish, receiving an aliyah the Shabbat before, sponsoring a l’chayim in shul that morning.
How would all that happen in Israel in a shul not mine? And how would all that fit in with the bris preparations and goings-on? Which emotions should I focus on that day?
My son-in-law, Rabbi Noam Gross, pulled it all together for me during his speech at the bris. After delivering an intricate talk on one of the laws of bris, he described his own dichotomy of emotions; the baby was born on the eve of his own mother’s yahrzeit, a very special woman who was tragically taken at a young age. He described dealing with the birth, leading services for his mother’s memory, back to the hospital, back to shul … much of what I was dealing with.
Noam explained that it’s really not a contradiction at all; this is the true cycle of life; it’s life itself. This is precisely the Jewish experience; we deal with tragedy as we deal with joy. We accept it all as God’s will and all sides of the spectrum pull together to create the full and rich experience of life.
This theme was reflected by the name given to our grandson: Eliyahu. My daughter and son-in-law chose that name because he was born on the fast of the 10th of Tevet, which marks the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem that eventually led to the destruction of the Temple and exile of the Jews.
They decided to name him after Elijah the prophet, who, tradition teaches, will be the one to eventually inform us of the coming of Messiah. They wanted him to be a living tikkun to what transpired on the day of his birth, joy and Torah vs. exile and destruction.
May he and all of us live to see that day.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.