Strange Days Indeed
I'm not sure what the point of this post is exactly—unless, of course, that is the point.
I went to a bat mitzvah the other night. In preparation for what promised to be a heckuva soiree, I didn't eat anything after breakfast that day and went to the gym for good measure. I arrived hungry, thirsty, and ready to socialize.
A glass of champagne, a shot of single malt, and a plate of sushi later, I was chatting and laughing at the shmorg with some close friends, generally enjoying life. I know that there are those out there who despise the conspicuous consumption—even for simchos—of the wealthier classes within the Jewish community. But I am not one of those people. And while I do have mixed feelings on the subject, the bottom line with me is: feel free to spend your money any way you want; just be careful how you spend your time.
We moved along to the dining room, where after an appetizer of duck crepe, I was served a bowl of asparagus soup. I had never had asparagus soup before, but I'm happy to report that it has vaulted past the newly-kosher Campbell's Vegetarian Vegetable soup to the number one position on my list of favorite soups.
Then came the requisite dancing, followed by speeches. In keeping with the spirit of the bat mitzvah, no men spoke. Instead, the bat mitzvah girl spoke, the rebbetzin of the shul spoke, and finally the mother of the bat mitzvah spoke.
Our host talked about her own mother and how much she loves and admires her. In a world where you hear a lot about the strife between parents and children, it is heartwarming to hear a daughter describe her mother in such glowing terms—as a role model and a best friend. I was moved close to tears, and went over to her afterward to tell her how beautifully she spoke.
The main course was served, followed by desert and more dancing. I had another shot of scotch. My table-mates and I were in deep discussion, when I sensed something odd. The music had quieted suddenly and there was some shuffling going on. Then I heard crying.
The grandmother of the bat mitzvah girl was lying on the floor. She’d had a heart attack.
I asked someone if he had the number for Hatzolah, and he told me that they’d already been called. A few people were administering CPR. Someone said that a cardiologist was with her. A woman was asking, to nobody in particular, “Why doesn’t anyone have an aspirin?” One of the other granddaughters was sitting, weeping, saying Tehillim.
Slowly, people filed out.
Twelve hours later, the funeral began.
It was hard to ignore the circumstances under which this woman, whose tzidkus in the neighborhood was legendary, left this world, and indeed the eulogists all made reference to her dying among family and friends, surrounded by Yiddishe nachas.
Yet that didn't take away from the weirdness of it all, nor did it deflate the notion that there had to be a message in it for all of us. I was eerily reminded of the words of my Rosh Yeshiva after a bochur died on Purim—that his death was a signal for the whole yeshiva to do teshuvah.
Thus, I was left with two conflicting thoughts.
The first was severe: Was this a message from Above cautioning us to be more careful? A warning that too much whiskey, too much dancing, too much socializing was not the reason we were put on this planet? What ever became of the verse, “Az yimalei sechok pinu—Then [when the Temple is rebuilt and not before] our mouths will be filled with laughter”?
The other consideration was more serene: Perhaps she was given extra time on this world (yes, it turned out she had had a heart condition but kept it quiet) to attend her granddaughter's simchah. She died surrounded by family and friends, the culmination of a lifetime of achievement as a builder of a bayit ne’eman beYisrael. If one must go—as we all surely must someday—isn’t this a glorious way to do it? Weren’t the sweet words of her daughter still ringing in her ears as she moved on to the Next World?
Was what happened a manifestation of G-d’s displeasure? Or was it a manifestation of his kindness?
Or was it both?