Today I performed possibly the saddest mitzvah (commandment) I have encountered yet, burying another Jew.
On Shabbat Hagaddol (The Great Shabbat), the Shabbat that comes right before Pesach (Passover), which was this past Saturday, April 23, a member of our community died under horrible circumstances. This man was up in West Palm Beach and driving down to Miami to meet with his family that night to celebrate Pesach, when the rear tire of his Izusu Rodeo came off, sending the car into a violent spin across the median and into the opposite lane, before stopping at the other side of the road. The man was ejected from the spinning vehicle–he was not wearing a seatbelt–and died a most violent death which I do not wish to repeat.
This man was only 33, just three years older than me, and had pretty much everything he wanted in life, and Hashem decreed that his time here was up.
Since he died on Shabbat, and Pesach was immediately after, his funeral and burial were today. I took the time off from work to go to both and offer whatever miniscule support I could by my presence there. It tore my heart and soul, to be utterly honest. I didn’t really know the man; it’s not like we were friends or anything, and though he was part of the community it was more becayse his sister and her family live in our community, and he came often. But everytime I saw him he had a smile and a greeting for you, and whenever his help was needed, it was given freely and gladly. Perhaps he was not the most observant Jew, but he strove to be, and though he failed, he always tried again. The greatest tragedy of his death is that it happened on Shabbat while he was driving, something he knew full well he should not have done.
I don’t believe in Divine punishment, not like its generally understood, so I don’t think his death was a direct punishment for him driving on Shabbat (we’d almost be out of Jews by now), but one cannot avoid the fact that there is a lesson in this tragedy, though it may be a different one for different people. To me, being a 30-year old, this is a very clear reminder that our time here is not guaranteed by our age (he was 33), nor our wealth (he was rich by anyone’s meassures), nor our plans (he wanted to marry his 5-year girlfriend and have a family of his own). I think of where I am today, of the plans I have for the future, of the things I want to accomplish, of the milestones I have yet to reach, and I try to imagine all that being stopped, brought to a screeching halt. It is a frightful thought, to be honest, but it is a very empowering thought as well: I have only today to make a difference. We are here because G-d wants us to be here, and finding out why–our mission, if you will–and then fulfilling that divine will is all that matters. Everything else is mist.
Pouring the shovelfulls of earth onto the simple pine box that held the body of this man was really hard. It meant confronting my own mortality, and then putting it aside to fulfill a commandment for another Jew, to help his soul complete the trip to Heaven. My rabbi said it best, though: “Take an example from him, and do as he did–help others, give of your time, give charity–this will be an elevation for his soul and for ours.”
May the soul of Abraham ben Yosef find an elevation, may he rest in the presence of Hashem, and may the final redemption come soon, so that we may all meet again.