ROSH HASHANAH EDITION 5779 SECTION D PAGE 19
With the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur season upon us, it is that time of year when the central philosophical question — the mystery and meaning of life itself — is most sharply on our minds and hearts.
In the world of philosophy, from Socrates onward to particular traditions of Jewish thought, be they Kabbalah, Chasidism or Musar, not to mention abundant Talmudic teachings, the elusiveness of the human condition has generated countless treatises. In literature for children, too, there is the magical book, Tuck Everlasting, which tackles the question of the limits of time versus infinity, imagining a deathless, immortal world, as the world was originally conceived in the Garden of Eden.
While we deeply yearn for endless life, this season of the year arrives, reminding us how fragile and temporary we actually are.
Sometimes, a simple letter written to a sad little girl can provides gentle yet crystal clear clarity about life’s purpose, moreso than a complex treatise.
Perhaps I found the following letter so touching because as a little girl I myself lost two little pet birds, Sammy and Susie. Originally they were a birthday gift from my mother to my father; in time, though, they became our family birds.
Or, more likely, it’s the poignancy of an esteemed scholar who took the time to pen a letter to a little girl so sad over the passing of her pet bird. This letter, an act of empathy so touching, lives as a teaching on what makes life meaningful.
I came across the following letter from Rabbi Norman Lamm, written in 1976.
A LETTER TO A YOUNG GIRL
Eulogy For A Little Bird To A Little Girl Who Mourns For It:
I just learned that your pet bird passed away. I can appreciate how badly you feel because of this. I know how attached you were to it.
I am not one of those who dismiss such things as trivial, because it is only a bird or a dog or a cat or any other living thing, When you form a warm relationship with a living creature it becomes a part of your life. So I can understand how much you miss the company of even a little bird which relied upon you and which made you so happy.
However, all of us have to learn this lesson in life. We are all mortal creatures. By this I mean that all that is created must sooner or later come to an end. This holds true not only for birds and animals and flowers, but for human beings as well. It is a sad thought, but it is a fact, and one which we have to learn to live with.
After all, if life were endless, then living might not really be worthwhile, because we would never do the things that were important — always postponing them for next year or next century. Because we know that life must end sometime, we try to cram into the span of life that G-d gives us all the love and the affection and the good deeds and the creativity that we possibly can.
It is only because life eventually ends that the living we do until then can be meaningful, happy and valuable. For instance, if you knew that you would have your bird forever and ever, you might never take the time to develop warmth toward it, feed it, and derive any pleasure from its chirping and singing. It is only because we humans know that everything in life is limited that we make the effort to fill the years we have with light and helpfulness and kindness and goodness.
So look upon the death of this little bird not only as a blow, but also as something that was necessary and that allowed you to shower your love and affection upon it for the time you did have it. In a way, it is only because it died that you were able to love it so much before. The same holds true for parents and grandparents and relatives and friends.
So, if anything, this sad occasion should give you pause for thought, as it does for me while I am writing this letter, about how very much we have to do in the time that G-d has allotted us. We have so much to achieve, so much love to show, so many mitzvot to perform. so much happiness and pride to give our parents and grandparents! . . .
I know, Laurie, that losing the bird was a painful experience, but I hope that the explanation I gave you will help you in some way to accept the fact with less anguish.
If the death of that little bird will help you achieve this kind of perspective, then that little bird will itself have made a real contribution to your life, and in that way, it will live on!
Rabbi Norman Lamm
I pray, may we all be inscribed for a year of healthy, blessed life. With more time to “cram in” all the love and the affection and the good deeds and the creativity that we possibly can.
Shana tova u-metuka, my dear readers!
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