‘Dear God, open my lips and my mouth will offer your praises.”
This is one of many prayers that asks for God’s help in expression. Words are often inadequate to the fullness of our feeling. In a famous passage Flaubert writes of Madame Bovary, whose speech is pedestrian but whose feelings overflow: “Human speech is like a cracked tin kettle, on which we hammer out tunes to make bears dance when we long to move the stars.”
Mourning is very personal. Some will weep, others will be stoic. Do not measure the depth of love by the degree of evident emotion. There is no “right” way to grieve. You are there to comfort, not to judge.
Some wisdom is so often repeated that it must be both true and not easily heard. Here is a message that echoes through all spiritual teaching:
The Baal Shem Tov told us when we find a fault in the world we must first look for that fault inside ourselves. Shakespeare emphasized that the fault is not in the stars but in ourselves. And the English Jacobean Webster put it this way: “Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust/ Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.”
Some have argued that Jews are optimists and others that Jews are pessimists. I think Jews are struggelists.From the outset the Torah teaches that the world is not paradise. One afternoon in Eden is all we get and then we leave the womb to wail and walk. This is the eternal story; the very name of the Jewish people, Israel, means to struggle with God. Each generation is beset with challenges and both overcomes and succumbs.
Some have argued that Jews are optimists and others that Jews are pessimists. I think Jews are struggelists.
From the outset the Torah teaches that the world is not paradise. One afternoon in Eden is all we get and then we leave the womb to wail and walk. This is the eternal story; the very name of the Jewish people, Israel, means to struggle with God. Each generation is beset with challenges and both overcomes and succumbs.
My father’s father died when my father was 11. His mother was a widow at 34, and he — an only child — bore much of his grief alone. In accordance with traditional practice, he began to walk very early to synagogue each morning to say prayers in his father’s memory, a practice lasting for a year after a parent’s death.
The most famous tale spinner in the Jewish tradition was Rabbi Jacob Ben Ze’ev Kranz, the Maggid (storyteller) of Dubno, born in Setil, a town in the district of Vilna, in 1741. He was asked by his friend, the great scholar the Vilna Gaon, why he always answered questions with stories.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was a tortured soul with a brilliant mind. Although an unquestionably difficult person, he inspired love and loyalty among his disciples. And he could speak spiritual truths. Here are words of advice he offers to Maurice O’Connor Drury, a student who became a psychiatrist: “Look at your patients more closely as human beings in trouble and enjoy more the opportunity you have to say ‘good night’ to so many people. This alone is a gift from heaven which many people would envy you.