It’s the month(s) of Adar, a time of increased joy. As Purim continues to approach, the excitement continues to mount, especially after a longer winter than usual. But I ask you to please indulge me briefly, as I share our family’s sadness with the passing of my beloved father-in-law, Nathan Mermelstein, on the morning of Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Ki Sisa, 18 Adar I.
I assure you that at the end of the article I will connect our tragedy to the joy of Purim in a way that will also serve as a comfort for our family.
Dr. Seuss writes about “A most useless place, the waiting place.”
My father-in-law had been sick for some time. In fact, this column has been dedicated to his r’fuah since he was diagnosed in November 2020.
But last week, my father-in-law took a sudden turn for the worse. Thankfully, the COVID rules have been easing and, because of the gravity of his situation, the family was granted special permission to be together in his hospital room. For almost a week, his closest family were at his bedside.
As I sat at my father-in-law’s bedside, I realized that it was the seventh time in my life that I sat at the hospital bedside of someone very near and dear to me for many hours on end. But the first six times had a very different outcome. Each time, we came home after those hospital stays with a new member of the family. In fact, one time we were blessed to come home with two new members, when our twins were born.
I was reflecting on the contrast of those previous six times with this time:
As we waited for the baby to be born, we felt nervous excitement. We knew it was imminent but had no way of knowing how imminent. We impatiently watched beeping and maddening monitors and lines dance across the screen.
After many anxious hours late into the night, we fell into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by nurses monitoring, changing fluids, and checking vitals.
Our anxiety that all should go well was tempered with mounting excitement that we would be going home with a new bundle of life and joy.
There were many details and so much anticipation. But all we could do was wait impatiently for what was coming.
Last week, the experience was somewhat similar and yet drastically different. The last few months have been a terrible roller-coaster. When my father-in-law had a slight improvement in one area, it was soon followed by a major setback in another area. Then, suddenly, my father-in-law’s systems began shutting down. We held onto the slightest bit of hope, even as we were faced with the terrible and merciless reality.
As we waited for what we were told was inevitable, we felt incredibly sad. We knew it was imminent but had no way of knowing how imminent. We anxiously watched the beeping and maddening monitors and lines dance across the screen.
After many anxious hours, late into the night, we fell into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by nurses monitoring, changing fluids, and checking vitals.
It is devastating to know that someone you love and who has been part of your life won’t ever be leaving the hospital. A life lived was now coming to its end.
At the same time, we were apprehensive that it should go as smoothly as possible. We hoped that we would be able to handle our raw overwhelming emotions and take care of all the details and arrangements necessary.
The Gemara (Megillah 13b) relates that when Haman chose the month of Adar as the time to carry out his nefarious plan of genocide, he was happy, because Moshe Rabbeinu died in Adar (7 Adar). The Gemara adds that Haman failed to realize that Moshe was also born on the same day.
The obvious question is: Why did Haman care if it was Moshe’s yahrzeit? Also, why didn’t he realize that Moshe was also born then? (He should’ve gotten a better Jewish calendar.)
There’s obviously a deeper meaning to Haman’s joy. Haman viewed death as an absolute end. The Jewish people had grown distant in their connection with G-d, viewing themselves as citizens of Shushan and Achashveirosh, like every other nation.
The uniqueness of the Jewish people has always been based upon our connection and devotion to the Torah that Moshe taught. But Haman saw that Moshe was dead in the sense that the Jewish connection to Moshe had faded. Therefore, he was confident that the Jews were vulnerable, and he could destroy them.
Haman failed to realize the Jewish perspective of death. Death is not finality at all, but the birth of a new reality. The day one dies is the day his children and progeny commit themselves to maintaining his legacy and follow in the path he forged.
In a certain way, our commitment to upholding the teachings of Moshe became more entrenched after his passing. While he was alive, the nation was able to rely on Moshe to teach them and remind them of the Torah he taught them. But when he was no longer there, they recognized that it was incumbent upon them to maintain the mandate of “Zichru Toras Moshe avdi – Remember the Torah of My servant, Moshe.”
Losing a loved one is very painful. There is a gaping hole within the hearts of the remaining relatives that cannot be filled. But there is a comfort in knowing that the legacy of the niftar can live on within us, if we dedicate ourselves to that task.
Haman thought death was the end. He failed to realize that in a certain way it’s a new beginning.
In that sense, there is more commonality between the beginning of life and the end of life. Both are new beginnings that require tremendous dedication and efforts by loved ones. Birth requires care for life; death requires care to uphold what was lived for.
Purim is a celebration of renewed life and death. “A nation born will praise Hashem.” Our family awaits the day when we will once again be able to see my father-in-law in person. But until then, we will keep him alive in our hearts and souls, by preserving the wonderful legacy he left behind.