How can we rationalize losing a child? As sad as we may feel when our elderly parents pass, it is nothing compared to losing people before their time. For the Neufeld family, the past few weeks have been a nightmare — one that they will not wake from as their darling Emily is gone. “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Kohelet 3:2), although we still ask “why” Emily?
Emily, a beautiful teenager, was supposed to enjoy the TVT class trip to Poland and Israel. Instead, she was hospitalized and given a horrific diagnosis. It is difficult to believe it is Hashem’s will to lose such a vibrant, lovely child. Maybe His plan was for her to thoroughly enjoy her one year at TVT where she impacted so many lives. Maybe His plan was for her to take this trip of a lifetime with her classmates, for her to have these memorable experiences before taking her final journey.
We must believe that Hashem, our G-d, has called her home, because He wants to have her presence near, that He needs some charming children like Emily to help care for those younger and to bring smiles to all, that she fulfilled her lifelong mission in the short time she was here. Believing this is the only way to get through this tragedy — the only way to turn this devastating news into something a little brighter for all her family and friends.
Although none of us have traveled to Olam haBa and returned to tell what heaven is like, we want to believe in an afterlife. People having near-death experiences have spoken about bright lights that seem to beckon them, or seeing a loved one with open arms. What was Emily’s last sight? Was it seeing her loving parents Adam and Izzi trying to be strong while falling apart? Did Emily have a memory of a time with her sisters laughing together? Did she see herself scoring in volleyball or cheering for her friends at a basketball game? We don’t know what Emily saw before her. We do hope that the pain and suffering of the weeks in the hospital are no longer — that she is now healthy, well and teaching other children how to play ball or dance. Her family and friends have to think of positive memories to keep them going, to keep Emily’s memory alive. Emily’s glowing soul, her neshama, will always be with those who knew her.
In The Second Book of Why, author Alfred Kolatch states “grieving openly is considered cathartic, purifying,” and this community surely mourns for Emily. This week Adam, Izzi, Ally, Rachael and the multitudes of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends need to grieve:
המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים.
(“May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”)
“Ruchama,” the name added for Emily when she took ill, means “to be spared, pitied or to have mercy on.” Prayers from all over the world were said for Ruchama Chendel bat Elisheva. The news spread quickly once people heard about her illness. Messages spread through social media like a wildfire. Unfortunately, by the time she was diagnosed, the damage was done. Even the best medical care in Israel could not save her. The prayers for her well-being became tefillot to spare her from more pain and suffering. Rucham, compassion, is still needed for all those left behind.
The world is not perfect. If we lived in a perfect, peaceful world, we would still not know how to appreciate what we have. It is unfortunate that we don’t always understand why bad things happen to good people or why Hashem’s choice is not always the path we most desire. We are not thankful enough for the blessings we are surrounded with until we lose one.
There is a tradition to bless our children at the Shabbat dinner table. In traditional households it is usually the father who bestows these blessings, but there is certainly no reason why mom can’t do the same. The Shabbat candles are lit, the kiddush cup filled, challah covered and the children blessed. Our children may not be close enough to receive our Shabbat hug and kiss, but it is a wonderful time to thank Hashem. Maybe this Shabbat, with Emily in mind, more of you will bless your children too. As you bless your own children, send a kiss to the one we have lost.
For boys, the introductory line is:
May you be like Ephraim and Menashe.
יְשִׂימְךָ אֱלקים כְּאֶפְרַיְם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה.
For girls, the introductory line is:
May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלקום כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.
For both boys and girls, the rest of the blessing is:
May God bless you and guard you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ ה’ וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May God show you favor and be gracious to you.
יָאֵר ה׳ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
יִשָּׂא ה׳ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום