2018-08-29 / Religion Column

Life can be fragile, but God’s presence is forever

RABBI NOGAH MARSHALL
Educational Director/ Cong. Beth El

In just a matter of days, Jews around the world will gather together and recite the words of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer. We sing, “mi yichye u mi yamoot,” who shall live and who shall die. This year for my family, this prayer is more than words, it is our reality.

A year ago, just two days after Rosh Hashanah, my brother and my hero, Eyal David Sherman, of blessed memory, passed away, at the age of 36. Eyal had been a quadriplegic for 32 years, after suffering a brain tumor and stroke. Eyal could not move a limb of his body and he could not make a sound with his voice. Yet, Eyal graduated college and became an unbelievable artist.

Eyal’s medical case was extremely intellectually challenging.

Yet, with all the difficulties and struggles Eyal faced, he never complained. Our family, for 32 years, would create a sacred space for Eyal at his most vulnerable times. Eyal taught everyone he met how to live a meaningful life with disabilities and limitations.

The High Holy Days are a wonderful time of the year. But for many of us, this season is difficult. For many of us, we are faced with the question of how does one face a new year with a broken heart? For many, the heartbreak may not be about grief, but instead, illness, family tensions, divorce, economic setbacks, and injustice.

Rabbi Steven Leder writes in his book “The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things”: “Time is finite and insight elusive. Sometimes the search seems futile, lonely, and unsure. But if there is meaning in life—real, deep, eternal meaning— it is hiding in that force which drives us to be with each other. A child’s smile, the warmth of human love, surviving pain, God’s beautiful earth and its creatures, knowing that the music of our lives must someday cease—therefore how precious is the melody while it lasts—all of this is meaning, all of this sacred, all of this can be ours.”

Rabbi Leder is right. Yes, some of our old dreams will almost certainly be lost to us. But by searching for that hidden meaning and learning to redefine key dimensions of our lives, we can gradually gain access to new treasures, discovering richness and meaning where before there seemed none. We have the ability to look forward. We can take those moments of laughter and happy memories, savor them, and draw on them for strength. Because those little moments of lightness and joy are truly good for us.

From Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur and then again for eight days of Sukkot, we will gather as a community and remember how fragile and precious life can be, yet we recall that God’s presence is forever. As you recite the woods of “mi yichye u mi yamoot,” let us remember that every moment we have on God’s earth is a moment to lead a life of purpose.

I know that as my family approaches the first Rosh Hashanah without our beloved Eyal, we will recall how blessed we were to have Eyal in our lives for 36 years. We will continue to share stories and keep his memory alive and search for that hidden light. May his life inspire all of us in the year ahead to acts of charity and loving kindness.

Usually I would offer a wish of Happy New Year. But this year, for those being tested, I wish a peaceful year, with some moments of gratitude and joy sneaking in.

Gmar Chatima Tova. 

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