By Larry Gordon
“Your father is here; he sees you and will guide you, but you just cannot see him.”
Those words were spoken to two of my grandchildren on Friday by Rav Osher Weiss of Jerusalem. The rav was in Woodmere last Shabbos where he addressed the Young Israel of Woodmere.
I was standing behind the boys as Rav Weiss spoke. I don’t know if the kids, ages 11 and 10, were able to adequately absorb what he was saying, but I can say that I took those words to heart and they comforted me.
Our son-in-law Moshe Hirsch passed away last week suddenly, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts and an impossible void in our lives and that of his wife, our daughter Malkie, and their five young children.
Now I sit here groping for the words that can communicate what we have experienced, trying, somehow, to string together a few sentences and ideas that comfort us and give us all hope for the future.
My mom used to say that what does not destroy you makes you stronger, so as we conclude the shivah for our dear Moshe, we are looking to latch on to some of that latent strength hanging out there somewhere.
You probably want to know what happened. It was a combination of circumstances that make no sense and that we will, over time, have to accept because there is just no other way.
Moshe went to his office in Brooklyn as he usually does Monday through Friday. He was in his office, on the phone and exchanging emails with some clients. My best understanding is that around 11:30 a.m. last Wednesday all that stopped. He passed out, and, according to those on the scene, they could not revive him.
For the next 24 hours, we, other family members, friends, and neighbors were stunned and inconsolable; an occurrence like this was, until the moment that it happened, inconceivable and unfathomable.
Sitting here now, it occurs to me that in recent months I have written about events very often pertaining to simcha. We were overjoyed at the wedding of our youngest child, and I think I shared those sentiments both gladly and effectively.
But today we find ourselves, for now, anyway, in a contrasting position. The expression of the joy was easy and enjoyable; contemplating how to deal with the sorrow inflicted upon us last week is laborious and painful.
The question we are trained and even encouraged not to ask is “Why?” But our sources in the Torah seem to slightly contradict that well-worn advice. It was none other than Moshe Rabbeinu himself who was mystified by this issue.
In the aftermath of the national transgression that included constructing the Golden Calf in the desert, it was Moshe, the leader of the fledgling nation, who was charged with seeking forgiveness from Hashem for the Jewish people.
Moshe challenged G-d and demanded that if He will not forgive, He might as well remove Moshe’s name from “His book,” the Torah. And then there was the persuasive argument posited that the former Egyptian slave-owners will think that Hashem had a weakness and that He could not deliver the Jewish people to the land of Israel as promised.
This was apparently a winning argument; after Moshe suggested it, Hashem replied, “I will forgive them according to your words.”
Noticing that he had struck a chord, so to speak, in the Holy One, Moshe saw this as an opportunity to step up his inquiry. He sought an answer to a matter that had apparently troubled him from the time we were introduced to him in Sefer Sh’mos. It was at this point that Moshe went for the philosophical jugular and asked Hashem directly: “Horeini K’vodechah,” asking that Hashem reveal the puzzling and enigmatic logic behind what He does and how He runs the world.
Hashem heard and even entertained his petition, our sages say. They explain that what Moshe really wanted to know was why it is that seemingly bad things happen to good people. That is something that we have always wanted some clarification about. It is, however, a few thousand years since that exchange and we still do not have a good answer.
But Hashem did explain to Moshe that what he is really asking is to know or be shown the depth of who Hashem is and what His grand plan is, which I think we can all agree would be nice and useful to know.
Nonetheless, we still do not have clarification on that. What we do know is that Hashem explained to Moshe that “No man can see the face of G-d and live.” That is, as best as I can understand, that as flesh-and-blood humans with limited intellect, we are simply not sufficiently equipped by the Creator Himself to understand His ways.
But Hashem told Moshe that He can show him “the back of His neck,” so to speak, which will provide him — and us, all these years later — with some limited access to have a bit more insight into the concept of why bad things happen to good people. That does not mean it will be clear, just sometimes clearer.
And now here we are — very much anxious, interested, and looking for something close to an answer to that same mystery of “why?” The partial explanation seems to be that it is by design, as frustrating as that is, that we cannot successfully find a satisfactory — or, for that matter, any — answer. So we live with that vexing issue and invoke our abiding faith in Him to get us through this crisis.
At the same time, as the condolences poured in last week and this week, we discovered something touching and beautiful about our people, who we are, and how we care for one another.
These last few days, I have been the beneficiary of and have observed a deep and penetrating kindness that was present anywhere we turned. Of course, as we heard repeatedly, there were no words that could help us grasp what had occurred. Had those magical words existed, we certainly would have heard them, but they are just not there.
But I heard other things from people whose lives were touched in some fashion by our son-in-law. On the first day of the shivah, a neighbor approached me to say that, going forward, it would be his honor to take the boys to shul on Shabbos if we were not there.
Another young man told me on Sunday that he works just a few blocks away from the Yeshiva of South Shore, the school the boys attend. He said that he finishes work at 2 p.m. and that if it was helpful, he could go to the yeshiva for Minchah to help the older boys (ages 11 and 10) recite Kaddish.
Moshe Hirsch was an exemplary young man. He was kind, considerate, and giving. Someone cornered me on Sunday night to relate to me that Moshe had donated a specific significant sum to a certain project and that they wanted to recognize the contribution in some way. He told me that Moshe absolutely refused to have the contribution acknowledged publicly in any way. And if that is how he felt about these things, then I’ve said too much already.
I had the z’chus to speak at his levayah. This is what I said:
We are stunned and broken about the loss of our dear son Moshe. He was soft-spoken and genuine, kind and giving beyond what anyone here knew, and that is exactly the way he wanted it. I always said he was one of my heroes, a great husband to Malkie and extraordinary father to Dovid, Nisson, Yosef, Gavriel, and Rosie.
The one thing we have been hearing for the last 24 hours is that there are no words, and nothing that we can say is more accurate than that. But then it is one of those anomalies that at a time like this, all we have to deal with our wounded emotions are words.
This week’s parashah, Shemini, toward the end of the sedrah, talks about various types of utensils and how their composition determines the circumstances under which they become tamei, or defiled. For example, if a vessel made of wood or metal touches a dead animal, it becomes tamei and has to be dipped in a mikveh before it can be used again. On the other hand, an earthenware vessel that is blasted out of the combination of earth and fire only becomes defiled if it is touched on the inside.
This type of vessel, composed of earth and fire, is who Moshe was, a person who could not be deceived or fooled. He was earth and fire. Earth, representing the humbleness and humility of who he was, and fire, representing his warmth, dedication, and connection to everything good and those who needed him most.
An earthenware vessel cannot be dipped in a mikveh and reused; it has to be shattered and broken into pieces and then re-blasted if it is to be used again.
Today it is we who are shattered and broken, and there are no other words. He was a holy vessel, and why we are here today is a matter beyond our comprehension. But we are, and we will go forward, and like that fragmented kli, we will be reshaped and re-inspired by the life he led and the great eternal good that he did in his years here.
Moshe, our love for you is not lessened; it will never wane.