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Noach 5781 ~ October 23, 2020

 

Have you wondered how G-d relates to the deaths that have occurred during this past year that were a direct result of Covid 19? We can transpose that question to say any death of any individual who was taken before their time. While G-d put into place the flood during the time of Noah, should we assume that G-d was pleased with the events that took place – the obliteration of all life in His world, with the intent of re-creating His world through the genes of the most righteous person of the world of that time?

The word יקר (yakar) is normally translated as “precious.” In Psalm 116 the word “yakar” reflects how G-d relates to death.  As we read the Psalm, the word “yakar” may have many different ways of being understood.  One such interpretation suggests that “precious” is the death in G-d’s eyes l’chasidav,” which Siddur Lev Shalem translates as “his faithful.”  Would one assume the implication that G-d was “pleased” with the death of those during the time of Noah? I am hoping not!

Rashi, the medieval commentary, suggests that yakar means heavy or difficult is the death in the eyes of G-d. As I reflect upon these words, I am trusting that the word “precious” reflects G-d’s compassion and empathy; that every life is treasured and every death reflects the “precious” values that were lived by that individual soul. (As a note Siddur Lev Shalem translates the verse interpretively to read: “How grave in ADONAI’s sight is the death of the faithful.”) "Unfortunately, G-d was not able to single them out, one by one, as He did with the animals that eventually embarked ‘two by two” onto Noah’s ark.

The Torah specifically remarks “how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all of the time.” Surely during the one hundred and twenty years that Noah built the ark, there must have been others beside Noah who understood their role in the world with acts of kindness and honesty. Their lives should have been spared!

If we correctly interpret the words of the Psalmist, then perhaps we might understand the words to mean: the death of the faithful  were “precious” in the eyes of G-d, implying  that G-d was equally pained as we are to the death of even one individual, even if the effect for the world might have heralded a brand-new day. The key to understanding the verse is the word לחסידיו (l’chasidav). While the Lev Shalem Siddur translates the word to mean “of his faithful,” some translate the term to mean “to his faithful,” implying that just as each and every soul is precious to “His faithful,” so too are they precious to G-d Himself. While this thought may be anthropomorphic, I would prefer to venture to the thought that G-d is pained by the death of each individual.  Even though death is a natural part of life, it does come with a need to reflect the preciousness of that soul, knowing that each soul has its specific perfections and faults.

The words we offer at the time of illness or death to the one who is sick or bereaved are so very important to the understanding of how we understand this concept. The Talmud suggests that when one is ill we recite the phrase: “Hamakom yerachem alekha betoch cholei Yisrael,” “May the Makom, have compassion upon you amongst those who are ill….” Similarly, at death we recite the words:   “Hamakom yenechem etchem b’toch sha’ar avlei tziyon v’yerushalayim” “May the Makom comfort you, with all of the other mourners in Zion and Jerusalem.” I believe these words reflect our understanding that the death of any individual is as “yakar” as precious and devastating to God as was the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple, in Jerusalem. To this day, that destruction was the greatest loss in Jewish history. 

In reciting these words, we are comparing the passing of a loved one to that of the destruction of the greatest loss in Jewish history.  And in that regard the Psalmist is sharing with us his understanding of the preciousness of each life and each death to G-d.

May the Makom provide compassion and comfort to those experiencing both illness and mourning during this moment in the continuing creation of G-d’s and our world.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782