As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. How could I have asked my friend such a stupid question?Of course, not everyone was together for Shabbat. For fifteen years the family could never be all together for Shabbat. It was fifteen years ago that my friend’s son, Shmuel, h’yd, was murdered in a terror attack at a bus stop in Jerusalem. It was his upcoming yahrzeit* that inspired his brothers and sisters to come to their childhood home for Shabbat.
In the past fifteen years Shmuel’s family had grown. Three of his siblings are married and he has a number of nieces and nephews. Three nephews bear his name. There’s a comfort there but there’s also a blaring gap in the family.
If he were still alive Shmuel would be thirty-two years old. This past Shabbat, the Shabbat when the rest of his family were all together, was his birthday. His younger brother read Chukat, the Torah portion that Shmuel had read on his Bar Mitzvah.
In Chukat we learn the laws of the red heifer which fall in the category of classic chok, a decree whose meaning isn’t clear. Among other choks are the laws of keeping kosher. Many have tried to find logical explanations for all the dietary laws. Some explain it’s a way to keep the Jewish people from assimilating. Others think it’s a health issue. Truth is, no matter what rationales one may find, Jews keep kosher with the faith that the Almighty had His reasons for commanding us to do so. Another chok is why good things happen to bad people and vice versa. Even harder to understand is death.
Fifteen years ago, a few days before he was murdered, Shmuel read the Torah portion of Chukat as he’d done the four years following his Bar Mitzvah. My daughter, then six-years-old, decided that HaShem had let him survive the terror attack at his high school three weeks earlier so he would be able to read from the Torah one more time.
That seems a reasonable explanation but who can really understand how the Almighty works? Following Chukat we read the portion Balak, where HaShem prevents Balaam from cursing the Jewish nation and they are not even aware of His protection.
I believe that the time will come when all our questions will be answered, all the choks will be explained, and we’ll understand the Almighty’s plan. I believe that Eliayhu, the prophet, will herald the arrival of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. Then Shmuel’s family can all be together for Shabbat again. I pray that it will happen speedily in our days.
*anniversary of a death