Saturday, September 20, 2008

727. Hidden

This week's parasha, Ki Tavo, begins as follows:

Vehayah ki-tavo el-ha'arets asher Adonay Eloheycha noten lecha nachalah...
When you come to the land that God your Lord is giving you as a heritage...

"Vehayah"--when--a straightforward word. But Hassidic commentators, noted the rabbi last night at services, gave it great emphasis as a "key to the future." Why? The rabbi didn't understand the interpretation until she noticed that "vehayah" is spelled vav, hey, yod, hey. A little rearranging and you get the name of God--yod, hey, vav, hey--hidden where we least expect it, a reminder that in this month of Elul our task is to search for God in places we have forgotten or overlooked. God is always present, but sometimes we need to reorder the letters that make up our own souls in order to figure this out.

As she spoke, I thought of the two yahrzeits that always take me by surprise on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. In 1999 I learned of the death of a cousin the year before. He had fought in Vietnam, come back a different person, and disappeared when I was 9 years old; my family hired a private investigator, who found him in San Francisco. But my cousin refused all contact, even after the deaths of his mother and, a few years later, his father, my mother's brother. By the time I grew up, all that remained of his memory was a tallit bag in the bottom of a drawer. (There's much more to this story, which I wrote a few years ago and published in a small anthology. Perhaps I'll post it here in a week and a half). Three years ago, I came home from services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah to a message on my answering machine that my cousin Bunny had died, a tiny, gutsy force of perpetual energy who trained dogs and loved animals with a fierce passion (and adopted my 18-year-old cat Irving when I was shell-shocked after the death of my mother, and introduced him to macho, calico Figaro, who convinced Irving to come out of the closet both literally and figuratively so the two could spend their golden years together in feline-cohabiting bliss). Although these two people were not part of my daily life, their deaths left big holes in the fabric of a family whose few remaining fringes I hold tight.

As the rabbi spoke, I also remembered the yahrzeits of my mother: Adar 14, Purim (in years that aren't leap years); and father, Thanksgiving (in 1990, but the association always remains). I used to be angry that so many holidays bore the shadow of death for me. Why couldn't my cousins and parents have left this earth on boring, normal days? But then I thought about those particular holidays--happy, festive, full of the promise of new beginnings and connections to community as we come together and sing Sheheheyanu, laugh at ourselves, wear new (or funny) clothing, plan for the future. As in "vehayah," God was hidden in those days to make sure I would think of people I loved when I laughed, and never be alone when I cried.

4 comments:

Lovebabz said...

Wow! This is deep and so very illuminating on so many levels. I understand, I feel you on this post.

alto artist said...

Thank you. So much to think about, and try to figure out, at this time of year--more than a bit overwhelming.

--aa.

Regina Clare Jane said...

It's interesting that I read this today, aa...
Today is the second anniversary of my father's death- and it's also my husband's birthday. I wished my dad would have gone the day before or the day after, but not ON my husband's b-day. Oh my, did he take that personally...
It's hard, this particular day. I feel the loss of my dad so much that I cannot celebrate one more year of life for my husband. But I suppose that will change with the passage of time...
or maybe, it as you say in your last sentence, "God was hidden in those days to make sure I would think of people I loved when I laughed, and never be alone when I cried. "- this is something that I will take to my heart and hold there for a long time.
Thanks, aa...

alto artist said...

Regina, I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner--what a confusing, difficult day for you. I hope it was good and peaceful, and that time continues to heal.

--aa.