Ask the Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi Schochet

Dear Rabbi,

I was deeply upset by your response to Cynthia (25 September), who asked if it was necessary to sit a whole week rather than just a few days of shiva for her mother, a custom to which this lady clearly does not feel a connection.

Rather than acknowledging she was choosing to sit for three days and giving her encouragement and insight as to why it may be beneficial for her to consider a full week, you berated her. There are clear benefits to shiva, including therapeutic elements with people relaying personal stories and other experiences.

You are the rabbi. So your role is to teach and inform. It seems you chose to take a shock, fire and brimstone approach, rather than educating.

Benjy

 

Dear Benjy,

How truly chastised I feel. If only your voice of reason echoed in my ears before I wrote my response. Well, perhaps that’s how you’d like me to feel. If, however, you stepped out of your closed- minded box and reverted to the initial letter, you’d find that Cynthia’s dear terminally-ill mother requested she keep seven days and she thinks her mother is being selfish about that. It is that point I zeroed in on.

Despite all the reasons you can think of for Cynthia sitting seven days, or none, I didn’t care. This was her mother’s dying wish and, for everything her mother did for her throughout her life, it’s the least she could do. After I made that point abundantly clear (in my own style), I proceeded to explain the significance of the shiva as it would relate to her.

There’s a reason they have me writing this column and not you.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I was intrigued by your answer to Cynthia about the reason for sitting shiva because of the connection between the soul of the deceased and the remaining relatives.

We often look for comfort in bereavement by referencing the soul and the same was said to me after I lost my mother a few years back. But what is the proof that this idea is real and not just some comfort pill?

Jackie

 

Dear Jackie,

When you think of your mother – what you had and have no more – are you not overwhelmed by a deep and painful sense of loss? It is so deep because it is so final.

Please don’t consider this insensitive, but for illustrative purposes, what if it were possible to genetically replicate an identical clone of your mother, who will mirror her every thought, expression, action and mannerism such that you cannot distinguish between the woman in front of you and the one who raised you.

Would you feel comforted? Would it ease your pain and diminish your sense of loss? I safely assume not. It would not work for me if someone were to do the same with my late father, of blessed memory. As my connection with him was on the level of the soul, therefore, notwithstanding an identical copy, I know that whoever it is in front of me, it isn’t my father.

The soul is the Divine element that makes you uniquely you. Above your body, beyond your personality, transcending genetics and even deeper than memory is the core of your being, the ineffable essence that is you – your soul. It is soul that makes each person irreplaceable. And it is your mother’s soul you miss.

You don’t need scientific proof or blind faith. You just know it to be true. Which is why you will go to your mother’s gravesite during auspicious occasions or mention her during Yizkor, or maybe even find yourself talking to her in a quiet moment of your own. Because even as the physical can be removed from our midst, that soul connection remains intact for all eternity. Your mother continues to be your mother, always and forever.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

Why are there disabled children in this world? Why does God allow autistic or Down’s Syndrome babies to be born when they cannot be properly productive and are unable to serve Him?

Shaina

 

Dear Shaina,

Your assumption that disabled children cannot properly serve God is based on a premise of there being only one way to serve Him.

What you need to take into consideration is how these precious souls are gifts in special wrapping that unwrap within others certain emotions and actions that would otherwise not be realised. Rabbi Zvi Freeman, author of a book based on thoughts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, put it so profoundly: “Gifted souls enter this world and shine. All that surround them bathe in their light and their beauty. And when they are gone, their light is missed.

“Challenged souls enter, stumble and fall. They pick themselves up and fall again. Eventually, they climb to a higher tier, where more stumbling blocks await them. Their accomplishments often go unnoticed – although their stumbling is obvious to all. But by the time they leave, new paths have been forged, obstacles leveled, and life itself has gained a new clarity for all those yet to enter. Both are pure souls, Godly in essence.

“But while the gifted shine their light from Above, the challenged meet the enemy on its own ground. Any real change in this world is only on their account.”[divider]

Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi.