By Gavriel Sitrit
The words of Shlomo Hamelech that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of joy took on a whole new meaning for me after I paid R’ Gavriel Sassoon a shivah visit this past Friday.
Not knowing what to expect, I precipitously entered the basement of the shul where he was sitting and took my seat next to him. What I saw can only be explained as a combination of faith, service to Hashem and love.
He was interested in hearing stories about his kids and told those sitting around how proud he was of them. He had heard over the past few days so many stories from all kinds of visitors that clearly moved him. How his son’s school bus was stuck behind a garbage truck and when the garbage truck moved over to the side to make way for them, his son called out to the driver and said “Thank you”. When another kids asked why he did that, he explained that we need express our Hakoras Hatov for what the
garbage men do, especially with Pesach coming when they will be working extra
On a chair, next to him was a small hand drawn picture of the Kosel with the stones colored in with markers. He explained that on each stone was a kabbala that a child had made l’ilioy nishmas his children. He clearly cherished it.
People were telling him what an impression he made on everyone with his speeches at both funerals- in New York and Israel and that seemed to light him up. He said that at the funeral in Israel he said that his kids were a korban Tzibbur, a sacrifice for the public and was hoping that was the case. Based on all the stories he was hearing, the impact this story made on people all over the world confirmed that at least it positively impacted
the public consciousness. In Israel, he said, people flocked to him the day after the funeral and were telling him all their problems. Many explained how they were so bitter about their lives but that all changed the day before, after they saw what he was going through, his faith and how he handled it.
He wondered that if his story is the catalyst for positive change amongst so many, perhaps that is the ultimate zechus his children have and the merit may possibly be greater than if they had lived out full lives. His greatest hope is that the inspiration people have now stays with them long after the shock of this story wears off.
An older women who knew him when he a little child came in and reminisced about his childhood. She spoke about his parents, both of whom haven’t been alive since before he was married. Reminded of his parents, he turned to his brother in law who was sitting next to him and pointed out that now it’s his parents turn to enjoy the grandchildren.
At one point a person requested that he tell him one thing he should take upon himself as a zechus for the children and he will bli neder do it. R Gavriel felt uncomfortable saying anything but the man kept on pressing him. Finally he gave in and said he will give the man some homework. The homework is to think of an area that needs improvement and think of one step to take towards improving it. The man promised to do so and said he would report back that coming Sunday. Maybe we can do similarly.
As the hour passed I realized that he was not at all interested in talking about the pain. He wanted to talk about the good. How did he stay so focused on the positive where there was so much negative I wondered? It didn’t look like it took any effort but rather was totally natural. I got my answer shortly before I left. I’m not sure how it came up but he philosophically explained that people grieve because they want to stay connected to the ones they lost and grief is a way to feel that connection. If they were to stop grieving they would stop thinking about their lost ones and feel disconnected so instead they choose to wallow in the pain. However they don’t realize that you can maintain that same connection to the departed through love. You can still love those you lost, do things in their merit and thereby maintain that connection. He obviously is choosing that route. That was my greatest take away. Love life, except that which Hashem puts into your life and stay focused on the positive. Even from a huge tragedy like this, there is positive. Every human being has a choice to either wallow in apathy, anger, grief and despair or realize that Hashem is in control of everything, be at peace with it, find the positive, even find the opportunity in it and you can live life to the fullest, even under the most trying of circumstance.
Yehi zichrom boruch.