When we encounter death and other challenges, we are faced with two options: We can succumb to despair and ask unanswerable questions, such as "why did this happen?" and "what will be?" Or, we can respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light.Rabbi Allouche
“I grieve for you, my brother; you were so dear to me.” – 2 Samuel 1:26
These words, spoken by David to Jonathan, have been reverberating in my ears this week, ever since the sudden passing of my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Micah Caplan, Spiritual leader at Congregation Or Tzion of Scottsdale, this past Sunday.
As we continue to join our hearts with the hearts of his beloved family and community, to cry, to grieve, and to also celebrate his life and legacy together, three lessons emerge:
1. Life Is Too Precious To Waste It On Trivialities:
Here’s a question: If today was your last day on earth, what would you do? Would you spend it with family, and tell them how much you love them? Would you try to fulfill any last wish?
As the sudden passing of Rabbi Caplan so painfully demonstrates, this question is not as far-fetched as it sounds. We really have no control over the timing of our death. We will never be able to know when that fateful day will arrive.
Yet, we do have control over our lives. And when we encounter death, we suddenly realize how vulnerable we are, and how we, therefore, ought to make the best of every breath we take, every moment we share, every relationship we have, and every opportunity we have.
In 2005, in his commencement address at Standford University, Steve Jobs revealed that ever since the age of 17, he “would look at himself in the mirror every morning and ask himself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Steve Jobs’s words reveal a powerful truth: Every day is filled with infinite treasures that will never return. Every moment is filled with opportunities that beg to be actualized. Every hour holds within it blessings that impatiently wait to be unleashed. Yet, too many times, we are shackled by the troubles of our past or the fears of our future that we become complacent, and forget that today may just be our last day.
So why waste it on trivialities and not heed the call of our soul?
2. What You See Is Not What You Get
Of the many conversations I had this week with many people struggling to cope with this tragedy, the most agonizing of all came from a dear friend who called me crying that he could not find solace after learning that our beloved friend, Rabbi Caplan, was interred with so few people present (due to the coronavirus). “I don’t understand how a person who was kind to so many people, could be buried without the embrace of his friends and community” he lamented.
His cry permeated my heart. And although we, finite beings, cannot always understand the infinite God and His mysterious ways, I found myself asking: What should I reply? Is there a lesson here?
“Maybe, we’re not seeing this right,” I suggested to him. “What our eyes see is not all that there is. Yes, our physical senses may help us perceive aspects of our reality. But there is so much that exists beyond all that our physical senses can see, smell, hear, taste, and touch.”
Our Sages teach that when people die, they are not “alone.” Their good deeds and many merits are with them. When people are buried, they are not surrounded only by living beings. Scores of angels also accompany their souls from this world to the next. And when these souls inhabit the heavens, they continue to be with us, watch over us, and bless us.
I then blessed my friend, with the words I bless you, my dear reader, too: “May our “spiritual senses,” not just our physical ones, help guide our ways, always. And may they continue to teach us to see the unseen, hear the unheard, taste the intangible, and smell the ethereal.”
3. A Little Bit Of Light Dispels A Lot Of Darkness:
In 1948, just three years following the Holocaust, Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel broadcasted a request to Jews worldwide: “After Hitler murdered a third of the Jewish nation, it is the foremost duty of every Jew to be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Please, I beg every Jew in the world, be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Triple your prayers, triple your good deeds, and make up for the third of our nation that was so brutally decimated.”
When we encounter death and other challenges, we are faced with two options: We can succumb to despair and ask unanswerable questions, such as “why did this happen?” and “what will be?” Or, we can follow the advice of President Weizmann, and respond to death with even more life; to despair with even more hope; to darkness with even more light.
Judaism has always chosen the latter option. “Choose life,” Moses commanded us, in the name of G-d shortly before his passing, “so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Throughout our history, we responded to every calamity with a burst of life and an expansion that eventually lifted us above our hardships, as difficult as they may have been. For, we have always known, that which was so beautifully expressed by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, that “a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”
Similarly, after the passing of good and holy people, such as Rabbi Caplan, we too must do everything in our power to increase, and “triple”, our deeds of goodness and holiness — from prayer to charity; from lighting Shabbat candles every Friday to doing a stranger a favor; from setting aside times to study Torah to lending a helping hand — to make up for the great vacuum that he has left in our world.
Their memory will then undoubtedly be a blessing, that will live on and on, in our minds, in our hearts, and most importantly, in our actions, today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.