Monday, December 28, 2009

Making sense of the non-sense

The recent murder of Rav Meir Chai has to challenge anyone’s faith. Could there be a better man? Father of seven, idealistic settler, beloved rebbe of children, beacon of faith. For Heaven’s sake, his last name means “life,” and he will be forever remembered for his death. His first and second names, Meir and Avshalom mean light and father of peace, while his life came to an abrupt end amidst darkness and violence. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a philosophical conversation that I had with a friend a few weeks ago. He commented that people either experience Gd as the all-loving father or the abusive parent. Well, score one for the abusive parent scenario. Or so it seems… The success of terrorism is not so much in the amount of lives it takes. It’s in the amount of lives it effects. We have a greater chance of being in a car crash then being in a terrorist attack, and yet most of us don’t think twice about getting in the car. But we live with the fear of terror and grapple with the loving presence of Gd. The word Olam, world, shares a root with the word Ilaim, hidden. We live in a world where truth is hidden and terror is the supreme master of illusion. When a 40-year-old father and teacher is gunned down in broad daylight for the crime of living in the Jewish homeland, we are left wondering ‘where was Gd?’ I can hear the answers, ones that make sense, but still leave us wondering. I’m sure there is someone out there explaining that his last name “Chai” indicates that he is living on in the Real Life of the next world. That’s the same idea of calling a cemetery “eretz Hachaim,” “land of the living.” Nice, but not all that convincing for someone who has just lost a loved one. Someone else is undoubtedly connecting this week’s Parsha, Vayechi, which means ‘and he lived’ to Rav Chai. Just as “and he lived” is the heading for the segment in which Jacob dies, so to Rav Chai’s death is described as life. In both cases they live on through their children. While this may be true, no one can deny that living on in memory is no comparison for truly being alive long enough to walk one’s children to the Chupah. The most satisfying answer so far is a story that was reported in the Yehiva World News. The story claims that 12 years before last week’s murder, Rav Chai had been in a terrible car crash – one that claimed his life. Yes, this article claims that Rav Chai died 12 years ago and went up to the Heavenly Court. He cried and pleaded to be able to come back and help raise his new son. He was told that he would get 12 more years. That baby boy turned 12 on the day of Rav Chai’s murder. According to this story, Rav Chai’s life-span was not the result of an abusive parent, but of a loving and merciful Father in Heaven. Now it all makes sense. If only it was true. Which it may be. Or it may not be. Remember the story about the Ethiopian kid who was killed in the Rav Kook massacre? There was a beautiful story circulating the Jewish world describing how he was rejected from the school for lack of knowledge and agreed to work in the kitchen instead just so that he could be there. Ultimately, he worked so hard at learning that he made it out of the kitchen and into the Yeshiva, just like the legendary Hillel the elder who learned his first bits of Torah by climbing on the roof and listening in on the lectures he was not privileged to attend. Touching story. Only, it never happened. So the jury is still out about the story of Rav Chai and his extra 12 years of life. We don’t know if it’s true or not. I guess the only thing that we can say for sure is that it could be true. It could have happened. Whether he told the story over or he never uttered it to a soul, or he never experienced it consciously himself, it could have happened. There are also dozens of other scenarios relating to heavenly courts and out of body experiences that could have happened, only we don’t know about them. In the end, knowing that we don’t know is the only way to make sense of the non-sensible. And for now, that will have to be enough.

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