It is one day before my father’s funeral and I think of the words to say at his eulogy. I want to say words that will not just be heard and forgotten by the listeners, but words that will stay. He taught me one of the greatest secrets of life, how to relieve high pain by the act of faith.
My father, Alav Hashalom, suffered eight strokes and one heart attack, with the first of the strokes occurring in his thirties. He became Ba’al Teshuva (an Orthodox Jew) in his early 20’s and showed great faith through the good times and bad.
A few months ago, as I was visiting him in the rehabilitation center I asked him a question about something I had been wondering about. “What do you do when you have taken all of the pain medicine you can take and are doing everything you can but are still in pain?” Very simply he answered, “I pray.” Knowing my father and how he engaged in different methods of prayer-like meditation (according to Rabbi Nachman of Breslav meditation is a form of prayer), I asked him how he prayed and he said that he imagines Hashem (G-d) next to him. When he said this, I knew how powerful our conversation just was. Here I was sitting across from a man who was suffering immensely, yet held the power to feel serene and at peace and make others in his presence feel that way, too.
Being that I knew my father well and also knew that he had extreme difficulty talking after his recent stroke, I knew that he had just told me the answer of how he shines when there is so much darkness in his life; he feels the light, presence, and love of Hashem and allows it to shine through him and bring him comfort, serenity, meaning, and relief.
The last three years of his life, he spent in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation centers. My visits with him were sad but fun. No matter how much brain function he lost after each of his strokes, his laughter always voiced, and his eyes continued to shine with joy. He was also one of the nurse’s favorite patients because of his personable and positive attitude and my friends enjoyed visiting him, too. This goes to show how deep his inner joy was, especially when he suffered from aphasia (loss of ability to speak), significant brain damage, incoherence, pain, and much more. He stayed truthful to his love for life and G-d which showed through his sparkling eyes and serene expression.
Prayer was a strong emotional connection between himself and his creator. Years ago, when he was well enough to make Kiddush (blessing over the wine) at the Shabbat (Sabbath) table, there would be tears in his eyes as he slowly said the words with concentration on his face. I wondered why he had such strong feelings, and it would be easy for me to say that his strong emotions were just another result of his strokes (I am sure that it partially was), but the other part was his close connection to Hashem which he showed me he has throughout his life.
When people who left the orthodox stream ask me why I remain orthodox, I have a hard time explaining what Orthodox Judaism means to me. But the truth is, it’s not only the meaning behind this strict religious stream that is behind my observance. It is also the comfort, love, relief from pain, and joy this stream of Judaism gives back to me.
My father’s greatest attribute was his ability to use faith as his comfort, guardian, and pain relief throughout extremely difficult times. Faith is the doorway through pain, and on the other side, pain is experienced on a different level, one that is much easier to cope with. It is my hope that this article will be of an Illuy Neshama (Hebrew for the concept of getting closer to G-d in heaven) for him.
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