By Rabbi Ron Yitchok Eisenman
Last Thursday, I was informed of the death of a woman who I did not know.
She was relatively young, only 64 years old.
She left behind three sons and grandchildren.
It was a steamy, stifling, hot and humid day. The temperature was hovering over ninety degrees.
The funeral was held in Far Rockaway.
At the conclusion of the funeral, I asked the funeral director, who was driving the hearse containing the nifteres, if he has a knife for the kriah.
He handed me the knife, I helped the mourners with the kriah, and I returned the knife to the funeral director.
We continued to the cemetery for the burial. We carried the aron to the plot and commenced the burial.
We all took turns with the shovels as the nifteres was buried. The day was stifling hot and most of the men removed their jackets, their brows filled with sweat. The sons and the sisters of the nifteres were overcome with grief. All of us were exhausted and spent. We were drained both emotionally and physically. We all felt the heat of the sun and the pain and grief of the mourners. It was an emotionally laden experience.
As the levaya came to a conclusion, we all proceeded back to our cars. As I sat down in my car, I was drained and weary from the events of the day. Every funeral is painful, but perhaps because of the heat and because of the relative young age of the nifteres, I felt very tired.
All of a sudden, I look up and I see the funeral director standing by my car window.
“Did you give me back my knife? It is the only one I have and I cannot find it,” he said.
I felt terrible at the thought of not returning his knife and began to search my pockets. I said , “I’m sorry, I cannot find the knife. I’ll replace it for you.”
We were about to exit the cemetery when I realized that I didn’t have the funeral director’s address. I approached his car and said, “I am really sorry for losing your knife.”
His response was, “Don’t worry. I have a whole list of things that bother me about you… This is just one of many!”
I was stunned.
I had just met this man about two hours before. Our interactions seemed to me to be limited to my borrowing his knife. Was there something I had said or done during the funeral that had offended him? My mind was racing in anattempt to figure out what I had possibly done to offend this man that he now has a “list” of things that he has a “problem” with.
“I am so sorry,” I said. Please tell me: What I have done to offend you?”
He grinned. “Oh, I am just kidding around . You have done nothing to offend me and don’t worry. I found my knife. You did give it back to me. I like to joke around with people.”
I smiled meekly and returned to my car.
As I sat down, I realized I was shaking.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked myself.
We just completed burying a 64-year-old mother of three. It is about 100 degrees outside. We are all exhausted and our clothes and shoes are filled with the dust of the earth after burying a Jewish mother, and this man informs me that, “I like to joke around with people!”
I also like to “joke around.” However, as Shlomo Hamelech teaches us in Kohelles 3:4, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.”
This was not a time “to laugh.”
I thought about it. This man is always involved in death and burial, so he has become hardened and is no longer touched by the tragedy of death, which to him is a regular part of his life. Death has become the norm in his life.
I thought of the fact that we are now in the midst of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days, the time of national mourning for the Bais Hamikdosh. How do I find it possible to “joke around” today?
How can I kid around when I am supposed to be in the midst of mourning for the destruction of both Batei Mikdash?
Am I not exhibiting the exact same callous and caviler behavior which I found so distasteful in the funeral director?
How can I smile when, at this time of the year, thousands and thousands of Jews were being killed and ultimately the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed?
Have I become as casual and cavalier in my reactions to death as the funeral director?
As I drove on, I stopped feeling so smug and I started feeling more and more ashamed of myself for my lack of feeling for this time of the year.
Have I become unmoved because of the fact that I have lived every day of my life without a Bais Hamikdash?
Am I no longer responsive to the pain of the nation?
As I drove, I felt sadder and sadder – not so much for the nation, but, rather, for me.
I was saddened by the realization that the churban has become routine in my life, something standard and unexceptional and, most troubling, almost natural.
As the realization hit home, I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and I cried.
I cried not for the Bais Hamikdash and not for the destruction of Yerushalayim.
I cried for myself, and for the realization that I, too, had become a funeral director.