Op-Ed: Sgt. Ari Weiss - Always Something There to Remind Me
This past week, singer-songwriter R. B. ("Rhythm and Blues") Greaves died. Though he never quite made it into pop music's upper echelon, he did have several hit tunes back in the late '60's and early '70's. One of my favorites was his recording of the Hal David-Bert Bacharach composition, "Always Something There To Remind Me." In many ways, this is THE theme song for anyone who has ever suffered a major loss in his or her life.
As our family commemorates the 10th yahrtzeit of our son Ari, who fell in battle during a raid on Hamas terrorist headquarters in Shechem, there is always something there to remind us of him. A favorite song; seeing one of his many friends or schoolmates on the street; the smell of his cologne or just the sound of his name, made even more familiar to us through the (so far) fourteen children named for him, including, thank God, both a nephew and a grandson.
Every loss of a loved one is tearful and traumatic. But the loss of a child is in a league of its own. When one loses a parent, a wall goes up behind us, for we can no longer reach into the past for those who came before us. But, we can still go on. And when one loses a sibling, a wall goes up to the side of us, and we can no longer reach out to those who shared our childhood and walked beside us. But we can still move forward.
However, when a child dies, a wall appears directly in front of us, obstructing our path, for this child was our future, our extension, our continuation into the generations to come. And now, that future is lost, blocked out and blacked out. We find ourselves, in a very real sense, directionless and adrift, for it was not meant to be this way in our guide books. We have to battle nature, and all our pre-conceived notions, as we stand and stare into the void, confounded by the seeming flaws in the laws of the universe.
There is no instruction manual for this kind of tragedy, despite all the valiant attempts to create one. There is only time, and trust, and tenacity.
Shortly after coming on Aliya, we celebrated our first Yom Hazikaron-Yom Ha'atzmaut in Ra'anana. Ari's school held a "bridging ceremony," as the one day morphed into the next, and Ari was chosen to play an IDF soldier in the class presentation. Susie and I laughed to see this skinny-looking kid swimming in that over-sized military uniform, and then we turned stone-cold serious and said to one another, "Do you think there will still be a need for combat soldiers in a decade, when he is due to go into the army?" At that moment, for the first time, the reality of Aliya kicked in, as we experienced that all-too-familiar blend of pride and paranoia that strikes every Israeli family that is prepared to do its rightful part in defending the nation.
In the army, he changed from a Boy into a Man, and he carved out a legacy that extends forever, far beyond his modest twenty-one years.
Well, the skinny little kid grew up, he filled out his uniform in spectacular style, and he certainly did not shirk in the least from his national responsibilities. In the army, he changed from a Boy into a Man, and he carved out a legacy that extends forever, far beyond his modest twenty-one years.
And now, a decade later, as two other of our children join the ranks of Angels-in-Green - may the Almighty guard over them and all of our holy soldiers - we still ask those same probing questions: "Will there ever come a time when we will be at rest, when we will not be forced to bear arms against cruel and barbaric enemies? Will we ever achieve a national consensus on the issues of war and peace, universal conscription and social justice? Will we merit leaders who care more about our welfare and less about their own egos?"
Frankly, there isn't a whole lot that I have learned during these ten years without Ari, but I do want to share a few kernels of wisdom that I have picked up along the way, in my search for truth and consolation:
- Don't ever second-guess God. He has His own plan, and we mortals cannot easily fathom it, let alone control it. Faith is the thing we do when reason and logic break down; it is the emotional rock we cling to when the storm is at its fiercest. Question, comment, even criticize, for that is our right; but never capitulate to faithlessness.
- Avoid cliches. Time may help, but it does not necessarily heal. The meek do not always inherit the earth, just as the strong do not always survive. And please, try your best to refrain from blurting out, "Only the good die young," for you may inadvertently cause a child to say - as overheard at our shiva - "Abba, I want to live a long life; maybe I should try to not be so good!" As always, the advice of our Sages is psychologically sound, "Nothing is better for the soul, and the body, than silence."
- King Solomon, the wisest of all men, struggled mightily with these same issues in the Book of Kohelet, and even he confessed his frustration and feelings of inadequacy. But he did come to some conclusions, one of which is that we should treasure our time while we have it, and we should use that time to express and experience as much love as possible. So tell your spouse and your kids you love them every day - there's no such thing as overload here - and be ten times quicker to forgive than to hold a grudge. If there is any emotion more devastating than grief, it is regret. For grief can be assuaged, while regret leaves a stain that can never be expunged.
Ari was known, among other things, for providing sets of Arba Minim to the Ra'anana community. Indeed, he came home from the army for his last visit with our family in order to personally give out the Lulav and Etrog, and to celebrate Sukkot and Simchat Torah. The Lulav is a metaphor for how we feel about him, how ALL the bereaved families feel about their loved ones. For a central part of the Mitzva of Lulav is the waving of the palm branch in every direction on the compass. So, too, in every direction in which we face - east, west, north, south, up and down - we see the face of the one we love - the one we will always love.
For how can I forget you?
When there is always something there to remind me.
I was born to love you, and I will never be free,
You'll always be a part of me.
(Staff Sgt. Ari Weiss Hy"d served in the Palchan anti-terror unit of the Nachal Brigade; there are numerous memorials in his name, including Gan Ari and Bet Knesset Ohel Ari in Ra'anana)
Posted with permission from Rabbi Weiss.