Mourning the Father I Never Knew

Friday, July 25th, 2015
8 Av 5775

Mourning Without Knowing

Last week I returned from a glorious and inspiring 8 days in Israel with 12 women from Denver whom I had the privilege to take to the Kotel (the Western Wall), some for the very first time. At the home where I was staying in NY where I was giving a seminar, I happened to see an article by Sara Yocheved Rigler where she talks about how the world changed after her father died, and how that realization gave her an insight into the meaning of Tisha B’Av.

Just back in Denver, the other day I attended the funeral of the father of a good friend of mine Dr.Hanah Polotsky. It was an extremely moving, meaningful and inspiring funeral, as her father, Lev Nadelson was an extraordinary person.

As the family and friends shoveled dirt over the grave like one puts a blanket on a loved one who is ill, I found myself, as one often does at a funeral, in a state of reflection.

My father Harvey Werstein, Zvi Moshe ben Eliyahu Leibel passed away when I was only 6 months old. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer when I was 5 weeks old and he died 5 months later. They say that he didn’t hold me once he started radiation, as he did not want me to somehow get poisoned by it. So in a very real sense, I never had the chance to know what it was like to have my father. Although I am grateful that my mother remarried when I was 4, it doesn’t detract from the fact that I never had the first hand experience of my father.

So after hearing Hanah speak about her father and the influence he had on her (much of which she only realized as she wrote his eulogy) I could not help but think about how I did not have that. I was so happy for her that she had the opportunity to have her father’s presence in her life, and I was sad that I did not. While she would miss him desperately, and her world would be changed, she at least knew what there was to miss. I don’t. I never had the opportunity to experience his presence and therefore can only imagine what there is to miss. Father’s Day and his yartzeit (Jewish anniversary of his death) are always strange days for me, as I feel the loss but I don’t really know what I lost.

And this, my friends, is the very predicament that we, the Jewish people are in, as we try to mourn the loss of the Holy Temple each year on the 9th of the month of Av “Tisha B’Av,” when we refrain from food and drink and other earthly pleasures for those 25 hours in mourning of this loss. The 2nd Temple was destroyed close to 2000 years ago. No one today or for a very long time has had a firsthand experience of the Divine Presence which connected heaven and earth. We REALLY DON’T know what we are missing.

But sadder than not knowing what to miss, is not even knowing that there is something TO miss. Most people will innocently go about their day this Sunday , as if it is just another summer Sunday. They won’t even know they are missing that which for many years gave light to the Jewish people and the world.

When I took those ladies to the Kotel, I had to explain that although we were standing at the outer wall of the Temple, this was as close as we could get to The Holy of Holies, where the Divine Presence once dwelt.

The 2nd Temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred, one Jew to another. We can remedy it with senseless love which to me looks like respecting people for who they are (made in the image of God) even if I don’t agree with their actions.

One day soon, please God, we will know firsthand what we are missing. And then, we will be celebrating with food and drink and worldly pleasures on Tisha B’Av.

The thing that gives me the most comfort, joy and inspiration is knowing that through doing the mitzvot God gave us via the Torah, I am truly connected to my father in heaven.

So too, when we, the Jewish people do the mitzvot (and I am emphasizing her that the ones between person and person are just as important as the ones between person and God), we are truly connected to Our Father In Heaven.

One thought on “Mourning the Father I Never Knew

  1. Thank you Chaya. It is the paradox that “we don’t know what we got ’till it’s gone.” And, it’s difficult to mourn a relationship that never had a physical form. Just as everything in this world is a reflection of our Creator so too are you a reflection of your father who created you. May we all be a source of blessings to our physical fathers and spiritual Father.


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