Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Goodbye Gaga- Originally written June 19, 2007

On Sunday the 17 June, 2007 my grandmother died. It was expected, she had a weak heart, severe Parkinson’s disease and was 93 years old. Repeated bouts of pneumonia kept her in and out of hospital the last few months. Ye,t with all that, she held off till the yahrtzeit of her mother, to whom she had been very close during her life.
I spent shabbos at my mother’s house (where my grandmother lived, and chose to die, refusing to go in to hospital this one last time, knowing that it was the end and wanting to die peacefully in her own bed), and spent shabbos afternoon reading and learning this coming weeks Torah portion of Chukat. What struck me, when I stood at the funeral, watching as the only grandparent I knw was buried, was how the parsha seemd to have so much in it for this week considering the circumstances.

I want to share one thought- maybe I am just writing it here because I want to write it down, not forget it, so that later I can give it to my mother since I cannot discuss it with her now- no Torah learning is allowed in the shivah house except for specific sections which are deemed sad and not joyous.

In our parsha both Miryam and Aharon die. With both of them, Bnei Israel loose something they have come to depend on in the wilderness. In both cases, it is restored in the merit of Moshe, but in both cases their is a negative result.

In the case of Miryam the well that accompanied Bnei Israel through the desert, supplying them with all their water needs, dissapeared. With Aharon’s death- the clouds of glory that surrounded Bnei Israel, smooting the way and removing poisonous things from their path dissapeared.

The consequence of the well dissapearing- in trying to restore it, Moses errs, striking the rock instead of speaking to it, and thus loosing the right to enter Israel. With the clouds of glory- the Canaanites (Rashi says this was actually the Amelekites who were trying to disguise themselves by speaking the Canaanite language but were betrayed by their looks) chose to interpret their dissapearance (even though they sunsequently re-appeared) with the abandonment of the jewish people by God.

Two tzadikkim, two gifts of Hashem to the Jewish peopel removed, two incidents with negative effects on the Jewish people. yet the incident with the well seems to be far more long reaching and the effect far worse. The attack by the Amelekites was wrong, and once again encouraged others to do so, but there is no record of it having been efeective or causing many problems.

I relfected on these two- and came up with the following idea: The well was in the merit of Miriam. It was life sustaining, without it, the Jewish people could not have survived in the desert for 40 years. The clouds of glory eased our way, they made life easier- but while they protected and showed God’s love for his people, Bnei Israel would have survived without them. Similarly, the loss Miriam seems to have a far more severe effect- the people lost a great matriarch, a prophetess, a person who had led and been with Moses from the start. The peopel, in their complaints about the lack of water were bemoaning the loss of their water, but also of their matriarch, and a grieving Moses, instead of being rational, of being cool in their face of their rebellion as he had been so many times before, reacted emotionally and committed his error.

Perhaps, from here we can see a difference in the difference of the impact of a great woman and a great man. Aharon’s death was tragic, the nation mourned- but the danger came from without- the outside world attacking Israel. With Miryam, the danger came from within, the grief so intense that it split the nation, caused Moses to err. Is our grief at the death of a great woman far more intense than that at the death of a great man? Do we react more emotionally? I believe so, in our parsha we see this, grief and something removed from the world with the death f each of these great people, but the after-effts of Miryam more intense, tearing the people internally, while with Aharon, the threat and attack come form without.

And so it is with gaga, our matriarch, our tzadikkah that taught us all so much. With her death the family looses a well, a source of life, of knowledge of family that were merely old pictures, dozens of people killed by the Nazis (yemach shemachem), Rabbis, mothers, fathers, children, husbands, wives, farmers, more than a undred members of the family that had stayed behind in Lithuiania instead of coming with my great grandmother and her family to South Africa- a decision that meant that those of us in South Africa were the last of that massive extended family, though today we are in Israel, Australia, Canada, the USA and UK.

In my family, my grandmother has always been the matriarch. My father was orphaned young, my grandfather died just after I was born- but my grandmother was always there. She was intelligent, caring, guiding. A woman that led the family, who remembered everyone, and until the day she died never forgot anyone or anything, and made sure that no birthday or special occassion went past unmarked. Her husband arrived in South Africa after studying in Kelm Yeshiva, after starting his studying in yeshiva under Rav Soloveitchik. That love of Torah permeated her own life, every night her prayers included the people around her, my uncle is the mose dedicated kohen I know. More, just as Kelm Yeshiva was famous for its mussar, for its dedication to creating ahavas Yisrael, for its hatred of lashon hara, so my grandfather and grandmother embodied these principles, having a love for all of Israel and never speaking a word against anyone. She kept the family together, so much so that today all her grandchildren know each other well, and her great grandchildren have cousins everywhere, cuosins they know well, and who are amongst their closest friends.

Thank you, gagga, you were much loved, and will be missed.

June 23, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah | , , , , | 1 Comment