Comfort After Deep Loss

It’s hard to think that it has been a full year, but this past Tuesday was the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the passing) of my brother-in-law, Rabbi Benny Wolff.

While that is hard to think about, the real mind-blowing part is that it was commemorated with the Grand Opening of a brand new Jewish Center in Hanover, Germany, dedicated in his name, as Beit Benyamin. At that event they also had the Rabbinical Inauguration ceremony of their new son-in-law who will take on the many roles that Benny’s passing had left void.

Throughout this past year, I watched in awe as my sister Sterni marched forward from her loss, beginning with her bold choice to bury her husband in Germany, rather than in Israel, and to remain there on her own with her 8 children.

I was out of breath just witnessing the steady flow of activities that she led (from the ongoing Chabad programs like preschool and Hebrew school to the lifecycle events, Shabbat dinner packages and so on…oh, and did I mention her daughter’s wedding?)

As if that was not enough, she managed to purchase, renovate and secure the loans and donations for a brand new building. Anyone who as every done anything can imagine just how many details, setbacks and exhausting decisions are involved in such projects.

I’ll be honest. Often times I wondered if this was the healthy approach to dealing with her grief. Was she just distracting herself from her intensely painful reality? Did she imagine this was the panacea to all the challenges her new circumstances brought?

My answer to that came in the form of a letter I read from the Rebbe. I chanced upon it this week because Israel just commemorated Yom Hazikaron, the yearly memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

In 1956, after a terribly tragic incident in Kfar Chabad, Israel, where a few students along with their teacher were gunned down by an Arab terrorist, the Rebbe wrote an empowering letter to the community.

In response to their deep shock and mourning the Rebbe’s words of consolation concluded with, “Through continued building (expansion), you will be comforted”.

These words became a call for action to the townspeople who gathered the next day to begin clearing an empty field for construction. Today a large vocational school stands in the place of prior bloodshed.

The Rebbe message applies not only to deep grief, but to every form of loss and setback. Peace and comfort will come through channeling the energy of our grief into force for good, renewal and rebuilding. (It goes without saying that this must be along side the healthy stages of grief, as outlined in the Jewish laws of mourning).

My conviction that this is indeed the way was reinforced after hearing my sister’s tone of voice and seeing the brighter light in her eyes (I attended by zoom) at the end of this intensely emotional day.

The emotions of pain now sat alongside a very deep and unequivocal sense of comfort.

Her heart had now made space for both.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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