It heals to look even if not to touch

BY RABBI ALLEN SELIS

The phone rang its way into the midst of an uneventful Monday evening.

In just a few seconds, life would be a lot different.

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“Grandma fell. She had a stroke…in ICU…looking bad…How fast can you get to Baltimore!? Tomorrow?”

The funeral was Thursday.

We hugged, and cried a lot as families do. Told stories over bagels at shivah and caught up with relatives to whom we hadn’t spoken in way too long.

With the death of our last grandparent, something enormous had changed in life. Once the children … we were now the adults. The adults had become our family’s elders. Our elders were now memories. All of us had moved on a step, and wished we could go back in time, if just for a day.

Instead, we brought out photo albums. Poring over the faces of friends and family, we were treated to the sight of my grandmother’s face as a younger woman, then as the mother of two brides at her daughters’ weddings. Then a proud grandmother, and later great-grandmother, as her family grew. Looking at those photos brought us back to times of joy, letting loose a swell of memories and a surge of love that soothed our sense of loss.

In this week’s Torah portion, something similar happens to Moshe. Told by God that he may not enter the land of Israel, Moshe entreats “let me cross over the Jordan River, and just see the land!” The answer is “no,” as if to say “There are things in life that can’t be changed. There are places that you just can’t go.” Still, Moshe implores, “Just let me see…” According to of Rashi, the Eleventh Century rabbi and Biblical scholar, God offers Moshe a compassionate solution. “You may not cross over into the land, but come and see. From the top of a mountain on the other side of the Jordan, look down. From there, I will show you all of the land.” The chance to look, if not to touch, eases Moshe’s spirit.

By the final day of shivah, I felt some kinship with Moshe. To look, if not to touch, was healing. All the photos that we viewed over the last few days came back, along with my grandmother’s smiling face. As I packed to leave her apartment for the last time, I noticed a rack of hooks with key chains by the front door. Dangling next to an extra door key, I found a pink plastic square with an eyepiece. Holding it up to the light, I was greeted by a photo of both of my grandparents, arms embraced, their faces younger and radiant. To look…even if not to touch…was healing. I slipped the photo into my bag, and made my way to the airport for the journey home.

Rabbi Allen Selis, Head of School of the Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis, is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.