Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz for Atlanta Jewish Times

Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz

By Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz / rabbi@chabadnf.org

The following column is a response to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s much-shared post about the end of her 30-day mourning period for her husband, Dave Goldberg.

Dear Sheryl,

Your tragedy is personal yet has touched us all. The untimely and sudden loss of your husband at the age of 47, leaving yourself and the two children behind, is pain that no one should ever have to endure.

Yet some of us have, and that is why I write.

As one of the most famous Jewish women in America, serving as the COO of Facebook, your personal life is somewhat public. Thousands of people are mourning along with you as you go through these very difficult times.

The essay you published in commemoration of Dave’s shloshim (30-day mourning period) was extremely moving, emotional and inspiring. I encourage everyone I know to read it. You educated the world about the Jewish term shloshim while exposing us to the rawness of your grief and some important life lessons you have already learned in just the first 30 days.

Toward the end of the essay you describe an upcoming father-child activity that your children now have to attend without their dad. You discussed it with a friend and came up with a plan to fill in for dad. With tears in your eyes, you cried to your friend, “But I want Dave; I want Option A,” to which your friend responded that Option A is not available, so you will just have to make the best out of Option B. You beautifully end the essay with a commitment to Dave that in his absence you will make sure to give your children the best possible Option B.

Having myself gone through a similar tragedy a little over a year ago, with the sudden loss of my wife at the age of 37, the essay brought back so much of what I had gone through last year. She died suddenly from a brain aneurism, leaving me to raise eight children alone while trying to continue leading our growing community in suburban Atlanta.

So much of what you wrote resonated with me. The emotions, sadness, struggle, gratitude, lessons and resilience — it all felt so familiar.

There is much I would like to share with you, but please allow me to offer just one for now: Option C.

Option A is what we want and deserve: our loved ones at our side experiencing life the way it was meant to be. Sometimes, sadly, that is not the case. Whether we understand who gets selected or why, some of us go through the tragedy and pain that you unfortunately experienced.

Yet there is another option besides B. Judaism believes in the eternality of the soul. The body is a mere casing that houses the spirit of life that G-d grants us. When a person passes away, it is only the body that dies. The soul lives on forever.

In a certain sense the soul is even more powerful after death when it is not limited to the confines of the body.

I had heard this, read it, even taught it for so many years. But it only became real for me last year when Rashi passed away. Option A was no longer available, but in a strange way I felt like it still continued to be.

Winks, pokes, likes and so many other signs of the ongoing existence of our loved ones and their connections to us became the emotional lifeline for me in my new life.

Kind Bars, Sloppy Joes, delayed emails, Costco wagons, buttons — these were some of the odd places and ways that I felt the connection. We all have our individual stories, but the theme is the same. The soul is still there and continues to be a force in our life in a very real way.

We cherish Option A, and that’s the way it should be. We live in a physical world, and that is where our relationships should be experienced. We all want our own Dave. When a loved one is gone, there is pain, sadness and grief. We are material people and need tangible connections. We long for Option A.

Yet even after they are gone, we still have them at our side, for it is the soul to which we connect. Let’s call it Option C.

Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz is the spiritual leader of Chabad of North Fulton.