osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Tzaka G'dollah: A personal reflection

Forgive my indulging in a bit of therapy below.

Today they are dedicating a sefer torah (Torah scroll) at Aaron's school (MJBHA) in memory of Dov Kluggerman. It stirs up something I occassionally still have nightmares about.

The Biblical phrase tzaka g'dollah is usually translated as "great cry." It appears in reference to moments of great personal anguish or grief. For example, Esav is said to have given a tzaka g'dollah when he discovered that Yaakov had stolen his blessing from his father. For evoking this cry, the Midrash tells us that Yaakov was parted from his parents for 20 years so that he might understand his brother's grief at the loss of the bond with his father. Exodus reports with regard to the plague of "Death of the First Born" that "in all the land of Egypt, a tzaka g'dollah went up, for there was no house -- not even the House of Pharo -- in which there was not one dead."

Until Dov Kluggerman's funeral, I had no genuine conception of tzaka g'dollah and why it should inspire sympathy even for those designated as our enemies by the Torah. If anything, we should expect a less sympathetic response when punishment is visited upon our foes. As psalms says, after recording the taunting of the Babylonians in our exile, "Happy is he that dashes your infants to the rocks." What, then is the quality of "tzaka g'dollah" and why should it so move us?

Dov was 16 when he was hit by a car crossing the street erev Shavuout. Dov lingered for 9 days while the community prayed, but finally succumbed to his injuries. Although not personally close to the family, I attended the funeral. Dov's father, Tzvi, is Principal of the Middle School at MJBHA and a close friend of my brother. Noam Kluggerman, Dov's younger brother, is in Aaron's class and a friend of Aaron.

Dov was a well liked child, and his family are well-known and well liked in the community. Also, the community had become particularly invested in Dov from our communal prayer and the tragedy of one so young, with so much potential, and a model of good behavior, killed on the eve of a holiday. The crowd overflowed into the parking lot, with speakers set up so that those of us outside could hear.

Certainly there was sadness. Many wiped away tears when they heard the eulogy of Rabbi Ainemar. Many of us felt the palpable grief and confusion when Dov's father, Rabbi Kluggerman, spoke -- not as a Rabbi, but as a grieving parent struggling with personal tragedy. "Sons should bury their fathers. Fathers shouldn't bury their sons."

Then Dov's mother spoke. "Dovie! What am I doing here, in the shul where it feels you just had your bar mitzvah? I should be dancing at your wedding, not crying at your funeral!"

At that, she let out a great cry, the memory of which is so powerful that even as I type this it makes me tremble. At the sound of that cry all burst into tears. But among parents its affect was most profound and terrible. Women swayed and clutched at one another. Men wept openly --I not least among them -- tearing at their clothes and beard. And the noise of our wailing in response to that cry surpased any noise of grief that I have ever heard before or since.

For in the sound of that cry I heard the echoes of my worst nightmare, that I would stand beside my son's grave and lay my son to rest. And every father that had ever held a child on his knee, every mother that had ever held her babe in her arms to her breast, likewise heard in that cry the inescapable grief of inconsolable bereavement and felt the echo of it in his or her own heart. So much so that even to this day it haunts my dreams. And I cannot read the words tzaka g'dollah without hearing in my mind that terrible and dreadful cry.

But this wisdom I may perhaps take. Why does the Torah use the term tzaka g'dollah for our enemies, and why was Yaakov punished for evoking it? Because, I believe, tzaka g'dollah reflects a loss that should -- if we have not lost our humanity -- resonate within us. But for such a cry to issue from a person, for it to evoke such empathy, it must reflect feelings beyond pure selfishness. It is the grief that comes not from the loss of material treasure, or even from the loss of some treasured relative or friend that we know, at some level, is mortal. It is the unexpected tragic grief, the wound of the heart that can know no solace, that produces tzaka g'dollah. That Esav could issue a tzaka g'dollah shows that, for all his selfishness and callousness, he loved his father. That we should therefore interpret his cry of "but have you no blessing left for me" not as the demand of the indifferent spolied child greedy for gain but as the cry of the child suddenly bereft of a bond with his father. That though the Egyptians cooperated in our enslavement and attempted genocide, we should not delight in the cruelty of their punishment.

For there is this also, I believe. What God wills God wills. That is not a comforting thought, save to those of us that believe that God is neither needlessly cruel nor arbitrary. But those who offer as comfort that a loss is not truly a loss because it is the will of God miss the point. There is loss, and God knows it and expects us to acknowledge it as human beings. And if there is any lesson to draw, it is perhaps that He has given us the means to comfort one another, and the requirement to do so.

For there will always be tzaka g'dollah in the world, as assuredly as their are moments of indescribable joy. But as we live from day to day in the world we will never fully understand, we neither deny our grief nor surrender to it utterly. I have heard the tzaka g'dollah of another, and it has changed me. And the world continues, and I must make my way in it as best I can.

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