Judaism is in many ways a religion of questions, not answers.
We have two Creation stories that contradict, neither of which is likely to be literally “true” as most 21st century people understand that word. The message seems to be “wrestle with it” or simply, “ask questions.”
In another story in our scripture, one of our patriarchs wrestles with a figure who is not identified: God? An angel? Himself? Our sages disagree. We are left to wrestle with it, and to ask questions.
At the worst of times, we do not offer or accept easy answers. Today we buried one of our own, an eight year old boy, the son of parents who are beloved leaders in our community. No one connected with Sammy Sommer “deserved” to suffer, or was “improved” by his or their suffering. There is no reason, no answer for such suffering. We are left to wrestle with it. We are left with questions.
As Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr wrote, Sam is not “in a better place,” he did not “pass,” and today’s funeral did not “celebrate” anything. He died, and we mourn. We do not have any answers, only questions and memory. No one whose life was touched by “Superman Sam” will ever forget him.
In the end, what we have is the stories: memories of Sam, just as we have memories of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, memories of all the fathers and sons and mothers and daughters who have gone before us. Torah is not history, it is memory. It offers not answers, but stories.
And we, the living, will remember.
We, the living, will also wrestle with the questions, as we embrace the mourners in our midst. We accept the sorrow and we do not minimize it. As we stand with the mourners, we will ask ourselves, what could be different, in the future? What can we do? In the face of this terrible grief, what must we do?
And those, finally, are the questions we can answer.
Friends and colleagues of Rabbis Michael and Phyllis Sommer are working to raise funds for pediatric cancer research as a memorial to Sammy, and as an answer to the question, “what shall we do?” To contribute or to participate in 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave, follow this link.
- ‘Superman Sam,’ leukemia patient who inspired fundraisers, dies at 8 (jta.org)
- Rabbis shave hair for ‘St. Baldrick’ (timesofisrael.com)