On Thursday night, the 7th of Cheshvan, those of us living in Israel began adding two extra words to our daily prayers. Those words were a plea for rain. And just a little over twenty-four hours later we received rain. Somehow or other I’d slept through the thunder and lightning but once awake Shabbat morning my heart beat with excitement seeing the gentle downpour on the windows. Hashem had answered our prayers!
Sunday morning I was still full of gratitude when praying at the Kotel. As I looked at the cloudless, blue sky above the ancient wall, though, I knew that we still had a long winter ahead of us.
It wasn’t just rain that I begged for. My list of requests was long and varied. There were concerns for the needs of my family and friends, desire for true peace, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, safety and financial security for all. And, of course, good health for everyone. Among those I prayed for was my neighbor, Yitzhak Yair Ben Elisheva. Although not a close neighbor, Yair, as everyone called him, was an integral member of Shilo. Known for acts of lovingkindness and his devotion to Torah study and prayer he’d been battling a serious illness for several years. I knew he’d become weaker and weaker in his battle but I still wasn’t prepared for the message I received when I left the Kotel.
Blessed is the Perfect Judge. So began the text and I knew someone had died. I wanted to read of the name of someone aged who’d led a full life and lived to see his or her great-grandchildren married. Instead it was Yair’s name. What had happened to all of the prayers of his family, friends, and the whole house of Shilo?
It’s the ageless question that’s been asked countless times. Escorting Yair to his final rest I walked with a friend. Speaking quietly of our memories we tried to understand why HaShem hadn’t answered us the way we wanted with Yair’s full recovery? Suddenly a memory came to me from seventeen years earlier.
Baby Yehudah, five-months-old, had been travelling with his parents when Arab terrorists hurled a ten-pound cinder block through the car’s windshield. Hit in the head, Yehudah, struggled for his life for six days in the hospital while his parents, relatives, the people of Shilo, and all of Israel prayed for his full recovery. As with Yair, we weren’t given the answer we wanted.
Making a condolence call to his parents I received a glimmer of understanding of HaShem’s ways. They painted a picture of their first-born son in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit which was full of Jewish babies and young children. One by one each of those flowers of our people were released. When Yehudah died there was not one Jewish youngster left in PICU. His young parents were certain that all the prayers said in his merit had helped the other children there to get well.
Although I may never comprehend why Yair died I am certain HaShem has His plan. I know that all the prayers we said for him were not wasted. May he rest in peace and may all his loved ones be comforted among the mourners of Zion.
As I write these words it is once again raining. Perhaps the heavens are crying for the loss of Yair. Maybe Hashem is sending us His blessings to comfort us. Whatever the reason I am certain HaShem has His plan. Some day we will be able to understand all His ways.