Va'eira 5768

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

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GOOD MORNING! What can you say to comfort a couple who lost a baby? Perhaps there is nothing one can say; perhaps that is the reason why Jewish law directs one visiting a mourner to remain silent unless the mourner initiates conversation. To be there with the mourner, to show your love and support by your presence is sometimes all that one can do. Recently my friend, Seth Clyman, published his book Touching the World of Angels - How My Daughter's Short Life Changed Mine. (Available at a Jewish bookstore or

Seth spent 6 years writing and re-writing his book to help parents who, like himself, had the pain of losing a baby. The book was not easy to write. As I read it, many times I had tears in my eyes -sometimes feeling the pain of my friend, sometimes just grateful that I haven't had to suffer that pain. It is a thoughtful, introspective book seeking to make sense of what appears senseless, of trying to find answers to so many essential questions.

Our Torah teaches us that the Almighty loves us and that ultimately everything is for our good, for our growth, for our spiritual perfection. How does one reconcile that belief with the death of a loved one, especially a baby?

There are many tidbits of wisdom and insight in the book. Thoughtful vignettes give insights into life, glimmers of understanding. I share with you one small section with hopes that the lesson for life may be learned. During the week of Shiva (mourning), Seth had a visit from a very wise friend, Mr. Karasani:

"Every one of us has a limited time in this world," Mr. Karasani continued. "We all know that. When a person dies at the ripe old age of, let's say, eighty-five, we say he lived a full life. He accomplished, became, did, achieved. When a person dies at thirty, we say he was snatched in the prime of his life, prematurely. We think about what he could have accomplished if only he had lived longer. When a child of seven dies ... life can be so cruel, he was so young. When a baby dies at two months, what can you say?"

I took over. "Highway robbery. Senseless. Pointless. Why?"

"What you're really asking," observed Mr. Karasani, "is why are we so shaken at the death of an infant and so much more accepting of the death of an eighty-five-year-old. I think what really bothers us is that the gift of life was so fleeting. We think we know how long we should live. Why isn't life the way we expect it to be?

"If someone offered you a fully paid, two-week vacation, would you take it? How about one week? Three days? Even one day? Of course! 'No strings attached? Where do I sign?'

"If someone promised you a beautiful friendship that would last eighty-five years, would you take it? How about thirty years? Seven years? Three months, maybe even less? Of course, why not?

"We are given many gifts in this world. Should we be upset that some are short-term, or should we appreciate every day of that vacation or that friendship? What should we tell our kids? Maybe we should tell them to be thankful for every day, every hour, every minute."

"I hear what you're saying, but it is just so hard when the gift is taken away. It is just so hard. The mind doesn't rule the emotions. They rule," I confessed.

I thought to myself, some special moments are worth a lifetime. We've all experienced them: sitting mesmerized by the sea's endless waves; watching the sun set in a rainbow of purples and reds; savoring your child's smiles; being with the person you love more than anyone in the world; becoming a father, a mother, or better yet, a grandparent. Then you realize life is really great. Life is made up of these moments.

Mr. Karasani helped me realize that a lifetime of these highlights can be much shorter than other lifetimes — maybe just a few years, or months, or even less. This isn't easy to accept. Although it makes sense and I understand, I fight it. (end of excerpt)

What can you say to comfort a couple who lost a baby? Maybe nothing. But you can give them this book.

For more on "Comforting Mourners" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

Here begins the story of the Ten Plagues which God put upon the Egyptians not only to effect the release of the Jewish people from bondage, but to show the world that He is the God of all creation and history. The first nine plagues are divisible into three groups: (1) the water turning to blood, frogs, lice, (2) wild beasts, pestilence/epidemic, boils, and (3) hail, locust, and darkness.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that these were punishments measure for measure for afflicting the Jewish people with slavery. The first of each group reduced Egyptians in their own land to the insecurity of strangers, the second of each group robbed them of pride, possessions and a sense of superiority; the third in each group imposed physical suffering.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And Pharaoh sent word and summoned Moses and Aaron. He said to them, 'I have sinned this time. The Almighty is righteous. I and my people are wicked! ... I will let you leave. You will not be delayed again.' "

Shortly thereafter, Pharaoh refused to let them leave.

Why did Pharaoh change his mind once the pressure of the plague was removed? Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel of the Mir Yeshiva explained that Pharaoh viewed suffering as a punishment. That is why he said, "The Almighty is a righteous judge and His punishment is fair because I have done evil."

The reality is that there is a strong element of kindness in the suffering that the Almighty sends to us. In part, it is a divine message that we have something to improve. The goal of suffering is to motivate a person to improve his behavior. Pharaoh viewed suffering only as a punishment. Therefore, as soon as the punishment was over, he changed his mind and refused to let them leave.

Our lesson: View suffering as a means to elevate yourself and you will find meaning in your suffering. Try to accept it with love and appreciation. While there is still pain involved, it is much easier to cope. Whenever you find yourself suffering, ask yourself, "How can I use this as a tool for self-improvement?"

(or go to

Jerusalem 4:13
Guatemala 5:28 - Hong Kong 5:35 - Honolulu 5:45
J'Burg 6:46 - London 3:47 - Los Angeles 4:39
Melbourne 8:28 - Mexico City 5:53 - Miami 5:27

New York 4:24 - Singapore 6:53 - Toronto 4:36


Better the pain of growth
than the comfort of emptiness.

-- Shaul Rosenblatt

With Deep Appreciation to
Bob and Tzivia Gill
for their friendship and support
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