Sunday, June 19, 2005

An Unfinished Article

How do we balance the passing of a loved one with the continuity of life?

The routine of normalcy, trying, naturally, to normalize my routines, keeps on knocking on the door marked Different. Do I wish to return to the shallowly mundane environment of the “Status Quo” or do I wish to imitate that infamous Infiniti tagline: “more status, less quo”? I think the Infiniti of automobiles reflects the Infiniti of the Divine – yes, the Divine would never settle for the “quo” (with quotation marks) – not even for a quid-pro-quo.

Still, the question remains: after the transition of a loved one from this world to the next, should we wish for the normalcy of every-day life or should we hold on to the memories of the one we hold so dear? On the one hand, it would surely be an insult and dishonor to try and forget the one we love; on the other, life must go on. However cold and cerebral the question may sound, this query has been plaguing my conscious, as well as subconscious (albeit unconsciously), these past few days: how does one balance the shock of death with the realization life? Where do we go from here?

On Sunday, chof Iyar, I am sitting in our apartment here in Budapest, my fingers ever so softly dancing over the keyboard of my computer – I am writing an article for the Algemeiner Journal. I begin by quoting from the fourth Perek of Pirkei Avos, “unwillingly do we live; unwillingly do we die”; then proceed to go into an elaborate, though by no means original, account of Tension and Resolution – Rotzoi v’Shuv – how one Yearns to Return and then Returns to Yearn: the Ying-Yang saga called life. Unfortunately, I never get to finish the article; instead, my phone rings, the uncontrollable sobbing on the other end informs me that my grandfather received the ultimate press-pass – heaven.

Back in Budapest, after a rather morose and intense week in The States, I find myself reading the article that I had begun writing. That first quote passes off the LCD screen of my computer through the pupils of my eyes, and into the gray mush of my brain – bam, it sends me reeling – the answer to that age-old question posed above, is, indeed, right there in the Mishnah.

Coincidence, coincidently, is nothing more than G-d sending a message; it is G-d saying: there is a meaningful connection between these rambunctiously random and neurotically natural events. A leaf floating to the ground is more than just a leaf floating to the ground – what it is, we do not always know – that leaf affects the whole of creation. If this is the case with an unsuspecting event, a leaf falling to the ground, how much more so with a suspecting event, the passing of a loved one. The question, unquestionably, has been answered before it has been asked. There is no doubt in my fragile mind that G-d flashed before me that line from the Mishnah, and the Rotzoi v’Shuv concept, to belie any doubts that might creep into that psyche of mine.

After all that mumbo jumbo, truly how does one balance the shock of death with the realization of life?

Life is made of paradoxes. We are made of paradoxes: here we have the Body; here we have the Soul. In one corner, weighing in at an astronomical two hundred pounds of pure flesh and blood, sits the Physical; in the other corner, weighing in at nothing at all but pulling a lot of weight, floats the spiritual. The boxing idiom is more than apt for this battle of Body vs. Soul: the two of them are thrown into a ring called earth; the Body has a nasty left hook called Matter; the Soul has a wicked uppercut called Spirit; they spar, no shadow boxing here; round one to Body; round two to Soul; on and on until we reach the final round; now, when it really counts, who will land the last punch, who will push his opponent to the ropes. But is this it – are we just fighting through life, hoping for a knockout or, at the least, a favorable judges decision? Is Life nothing more than a battle?

Life is not a battle in the classic sense: it is not to be won by beating your opponent; the only way to be victorious in this match is to realize that your enemy is really your best friend, to see that your opponent is really nothing but catalyst egging you on. It is called friction. It is rubbing two stones and creating fire. In truth, the Body is as important to life as the Soul. The Soul without a Body is a flame without a wick, a painting without a canvass. And, of course, a Body without a Soul is words without a language, an instrument without music. Thus, the Body and Soul are not fighting until death; they are fighting until life. They clash not to strike the other; they clash only so that they can fall into a passionate embrace.

This is the Rotzoi and Shuv of life: the Soul yearns to heaven; the Body returns to earth. The Soul returns back to earth only to yearn for heaven; the Body yearns for the Soul only to return it to earth. You have the Yearn without the Return and you have a lively death; you have the Return without the Yearn and you have a deathly life. You have the two of them and you have life the way it was meant to be – lively.

The Tension is as necessary to life as breathing – but only if it leads to Resolution; if it doesn’t, it becomes as detrimental as walking into a furnace.

How do we balance the passing of a loved one with the continuity of life? By imitating the loved one:

Zaidy was unique in that: on the one hand, he was a newspaperman and, on the other, he was devoted to a cause beyond the “front page”. For him, the newspaper was more than just news, it was more than filling the margins – it was a vehicle, a tool with which to relate a message of Unity and of Truth, a means with which to “cover the earth with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea”.

How did he balance the “Tension” of a physical deadline with the “Resolution” of a spiritual purpose? Simply – he was beyond the pettiness of their dispute; he saw them not as two different entities, but, rather, as one entity with a common goal – making this earth more than just earth; and, for that matter, making heaven more than just heaven.

“Unwillingly do you live; unwillingly do you die.” In this one line the Mishnah says more than entire books. Unwillingly does the Soul leave the bliss of heaven for the pains of earth; unwillingly does the body leave its mission here on earth for the predictability of heaven. This is life: true, ours is a physical universe, and thus a physical life is needed to transcend it; however, one should remember that we are only here by default – unwillingly do we live – and that this physicality is not an end in itself. Yet, after the persons mission on this earth is over, unwillingly does he die. Why – if one is here only by default, why should he not leap to return to heaven? Because the person knows that he is only seeing half a picture. Yes, we are here out of necessity – necessity to change the universe – but we are also here because this is where it’s at. Heaven, for all its wonderful pros, has one con: it can never be more than it is; whereas earth, with the humans touch, can become Divine. Therefore unwillingly does one transit from earth to heaven.

Zaidy epitomized this line in the Mishnah: on one hand, he lived life as a mission; on the other, his mission was life – he was here because there was a job to be done, but he was also here because this is where it’s at.

So, let us imitate our loved one. Let us live life with a purpose, with a meaning, with a mission. Let us continue Zadys dream of combining the physical and the spiritual, of uniting the yearning Soul and the returning Body.

This is how we balance the passing of a loved one with the continuity of life.


Blogger Yossi ! said...

hey j

6/19/2005 4:48 PM  
Blogger Yossi ! said...

you should have told me you have a blog, good work!

6/19/2005 4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


what are you doing this summer?

6/24/2005 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

alef - visiting jewish people in prison

6/25/2005 11:48 PM  
Blogger Dovid said...

JAKEYOLOGY, what ever happened to your promised update?! I'm waiting for inspiration...

6/26/2005 11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You made it on to Its actually a very unassuming (short) post. Very Uncharacteristic of the blogger...

6/27/2005 3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The main problem or dilema that I think most people face, is not that life demands that we move on, and yet we feel we must mourn. but rather that the one that died wants us to move on.

So we do both. We move on for him, and mourn for us.


7/04/2005 7:26 PM  

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