(Interrupting the story.)
Yesterday I attended the funeral of an elderly member of my extended family. I didn't know her well, but others to whom I'm close were very close to her. She suffered greatly during the past few years, and even her son acknowledged that her death was, in that awful but appropriate phrase, a blessing in disguise. This didn't make her passing any less sad--and for me, it marked the loss of yet another person who knew my parents, and myself when I was a child. More and more I become one of the few remaining repositories of those memories.
But I was comforted on Sunday morning as I recalled the words of one of the rabbis at services on Shabbat (fittingly, since it was Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, a theme of the next two months as we prepare for the High Holidays). In last week's Torah portion, Va'ethanan, God tells Moses that he won't enter the promised land. Moses responds by writing the book of Deuteronomy and re-telling the entire story so future generations may know and learn from his experiences. He turns despair into an opportunity to teach and grow. The rabbi drew parallels between this "no" and the ones we all face in life, and spoke of others who chose to make endings into new beginnings: a prisoner she visits regularly, who decided that incarceration wouldn't mean death and began an educational program for fellow inmates; a member of our congregation who passed away last week and, upon hearing he had only a few months to live, devoted that time to resolving issues with his family. And the Gaza settlers, most of whom are facing this ending of a part of their lives with grace and hope for the future, even though it entails great pain. I thought about my elderly relative, whose "no" from God was enormous but who was optimistic and expressive of deep love until the day she died.
Jews are not big on talking about faith. One can be Jewish, even Orthodox and observant, without believing. It's the struggle to understand and acknowledge faith, or not, and to learn and grow in the process, which marks a Jewish life. But that act of learning and sharing, especially in face of a "no," seems to me like a most palpable declaration of belief. Confronted by a closed door--whether the end of life, a loss, the passing of an opportunity--we can acknowledge that something is on the other side, and continue to search for whatever it might be. I see God residing in that hope, always reminding us that we're not alone.