In Hebrew, ‘simcha’ means gladness or joy. It is often used as a noun to denote any celebration because a celebration is always a cause for happiness. Simchas are usually connected with one’s children: births, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, weddings. It is a blessing to share in other’s simchas, and of course, we invite our friends and families to share in ours.
Lately, we have been attending weddings of friends of Jake, children of friends of ours, our Rabbi’s son, whom we have known since he was a boy, and most recently a member of our shul, a young woman who has become the adopted daughter of the congregation. While we want to celebrate other’s happiness, it can be brutal for us. Especially when it’s a friend of Jake’s. Last year, I sat at a table in the back of the room at one of these gatherings and wondered where is my happiness? What will I get to celebrate with such unbridled joy as I was watching? It is all well and good to participate in other’s blessings, to wish them well on their journey to a new chapter in their lives, but I won’t have any of my own. There won’t be a wedding, a birth of a grandchild, a brit milah to revel in. There won’t be any more Colmans or Smilens to carry on our families names. What, exactly will we celebrate in the coming years?
At the wedding last week, held on the outside patio at our little shul, our rabbi asked for any Kohanim present to give the couple the three-fold Priestly Blessing. I already wanted to do it for them, and here was my chance. Not that I have any special power to confer blessings, I am merely the conduit. I stepped forward, raised my hands and suddenly it hit me, again. This was the blessing I gave Jake every time we parted those last few years. It all came rushing back and nearly overwhelmed me. Ambushed again. I paused and slowly, haltingly spoke the words in Hebrew: “May the lord bless you and protect you.” “May the lord make His face shine light upon you and be gracious unto you” “May the lord lift up His face unto you and grant you peace.” As I began the third one, my voice caught, and I could barely speak. Somehow, I managed to contain my emotions long enough to finish and turned away, tears flowing. Not exactly what you want at a wedding.
And this is my life now. Every celebration tinged with sadness. No longer able to rejoice completely in other’s simchas, searching for my own. And I have come to realize, I won’t really have any real simchas from now on. I can enjoy the moment, have a laugh with friends, appreciate beauty in art and nature, but the deep fulfillment that comes from the celebration of true joy, of watching your children make their way through life, which is a joy and a blessing unlike any other, is now denied to me.
Passover is in a couple of days. It is the holiday that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and the creation of the Jewish People. It is one of the most solemn and at once the most joyous holidays on the calendar. It is a holiday on which I am commanded to relate the story to my children, so we never forget we were once slaves. One of my great pleasures was leading our family seder. Friends and families gathered around our table from when Jake was born up to a few years ago. It was always a lively affair with discussion, laughter, finger puppets, and Jake’s interactive 10 plagues. I relished in my duty to relate the tale to my son. It was one of my simchas.
We haven’t had a seder here for the past three years. I simply can’t bear it. We will go to some friends homes both nights, people who knew and loved Jake. They helped us get through those first horrific days, and continue to be there for us, people who are both firefighters and builders. We will sit at their tables and help tell the Passover story to their children, our surrogate sons and daughters. We will share in their simchas as they come. But for us, we will have to be content with basking in the reflected warmth of their joy.
I wish everyone a happy and meaningful Passover. May you find freedom from your own personal Egypt, whatever limitations they may be, and may you have many simchas of your own in the days and years to come.