She walked into shul trying to not appear haughty. It was Rosh Hashanah, and she had dressed well for the occasion, for the people. She would impress.
Over and over, she imagined how she would get to her seat in the middle of the row, having to squeeze by the entire Goldman family to do so. How humiliating.
She thought that having her family name on the sanctuary would secure her a better seat, but that was not the case. The committee explained the place she wanted belonged to the Rosensteins, who had their name on the entire building. It made sense.
A man finished the Haftorah about Hannah, the childless woman. She stood with the congregation as the Torah was safely returned to the Aron Kodesh. The rabbi said, “Please take your seats.” He began his sermon.
“He is no longer with us. She has passed from this world,” the rabbi said sadly. “‘Who shall live and who shall die’ was answered through the death of our loved ones this year. Their time on this earth is over. They will not return to us. They are now with the angels. They are now with God.”
A tear fell to her dress. She was about to sob. The tastefully dressed woman wanted desperately to leave, but she couldn’t. She was wedged, like a branch in a dam, into her seat. Exiting without embarrassing herself – squeezing past that family again – was just too much.
“Who by fire?,”the rabbi asked. “Who by the sword? Who shall have rest and who shall wander?”
So she closed her eyes ever so tightly. The child’s image appeared again. He sat on the beach by the water, rigorously with clarity of purpose, scooping sand into and out of a deep hole he had created. His blond hair flowed and he laughed uncontrollably, a sort of soulful chortle, still connected to God.
“Will we survive this year, 5776, my fellow Jews?” the rabbi wondered aloud.
He laughed again. She heard it clearly. She saw his eyes bright, never did they dim, looking at her, bidding her to dig with him, around him.
The rabbi’s voice grew louder.
“How many shall pass away and how many shall be born?” he yelled this time.
It startled the little beach boy. He began to cry, and he reached for her. He reached for her. And the lady wriggled in her chair, sobbing, her arms stuck to her side unable to budge.
“Who shall live and who shall die?” the rabbi asked quietly. “We do not know, yet we are all here today to ask God that we are the Shehechiyanu in His prayer, that we are the ones sustained, enabled with His breath, that we deserve life.”
His voice bellowed: “Baruch atah Adoshem, Elokeinu Melech Haolam, she-hechiyanu v’kiyimanu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”
The sandcastle was filled, its demarcations invisible. The little boy was no longer.
The congregation stood for Kaddish. Then those sitting next to the elegant mother stepped into the aisle, allowing her to find her way out and, with dignity, find her way home.
She expressed a tearful look of appreciation and walked gracefully to the door, looking ravishing with every step.
The usher smiled respectfully. She smiled in return.