My Wife Danced While I Cried
By Rabbi Levi Avtzon
Overview: After losing his father suddenly, Rabbi Avtzon explores the dichotomy of sitting shiva and participating in a family simcha and seeing Hashem as the True Judge.

Life is supposed to make sense.

And for me, it generally does. Even the impossible question of “why do bad things happen to good people?” is often abstract and impersonal. My lack of understanding doesn’t often hit me in the gut. I’m comfortable with the limits of my comprehension.

And then my father died. Suddenly. On my mother’s birthday. It was Wednesday afternoon, just hours before my wife was scheduled to board a direct flight from our hometown of Johannesburg to NYC for her brother’s wedding. I was going to watch the kids in Johannesburg. The flight was 9:40 p.m. My wife was packed and I was working on an essay. At 3:13 p.m. I saw a WhatsApp on my family group.



Tatty is not responsive!!!!!!!!

We are calling Hatzalah.

Nine endless minutes later:

Nothing they can do

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet

Get over here now

We soon found out that he had died peacefully in his sleep from a massive heart attack.

There was no time to even feel. Logistics took over. The flight to New York was leaving in six hours. We quickly bought a ticket. Three hours later we were heading to the airport (my sister-in-law and her parents graciously took in the kids for the week).

I was going to a funeral. My wife was headed to a sibling’s wedding. On the very same flight! She was flying with her gowns; I was flying with clothes that would soon be ripped and then worn for the week of mourning.

It was surreal. I kept pinching myself to remind myself that it was real. My young father had gone without warning, and my dear brother-in-law was getting married. All at once. The 16-hour flight is always long, but this time it was endless.

On that flight I let go of logic. Logic was of no help.

We landed Thursday morning and soon went to the funeral. Three days later my wife put on her gown and joined her siblings, parents, grandparents, and hundreds of others at a beautiful wedding just five minutes’ walk from where my mother, siblings, aunts, uncles, and I were sitting shiva.

Just minutes before the ceremony was to begin, the groom stopped by. I walked outside (according to Jewish law a bride or groom may not enter a home of mourning on their wedding day). He was dressed so handsomely. I was in ripped, scruffy clothing. We hugged. We cried. I blessed him with everything good in this world. He shared words of comfort. And then I went back to join the ring of mourners and he went to put a ring on his bride’s finger.

Does any of this make sense? Not to me.

Math makes sense. Science makes sense. We attempt to make sense of history and human psychology. Most of the educational system is about giving us the tools to make sense of life around us.

Now, you might say that as a faithful Jew (and a rabbi at that!) I’m quite comfortable with the nonsensical or illogical. After all, isn’t faith the antithesis of logic?

Something that isn’t logical isn’t by definition illogical. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not automatically nonsense.

There are some things that are indeed “below” logic—silly or nonsensical. Then there are things that are truly logical. There are also, however, those things that are above logic—larger and greater than the laws of logic.

I’m not often confronted with this third level.

In the day-to-day life of a religious person, there is lots of sense and logic. The existence of a Creator is logical to me. The existence of a Divine Code is historically true and commonsensical to me (after all, why would G‑d create life without a manual?).

Following halachah (Jewish law), even those laws which my mind cannot understand, is a logical progression for me. Once my mind wraps around the idea that there is a G‑d who is above nature, who created a manual, and who is interested in a relationship with me, the nuance of His requests are acceptable to me, regardless of whether I understand them.

This is true in every relationship, especially marriage. We all do things for our loved ones which seem illogical to us, just because our beloveds want it and we love them. The logic of love is to give up logic for the sake of love.

This week’s parshah is Mishpatim. Mishpatim literally means “judgements.” The sages explain that mishpatim refers to the category of mitzvot that we understand logically—the many elements of the religion that our mind can comprehend. Then there are mitzvot which are beyond logic.

Indeed, letting go of logic has been the only solace at this time. There is a time for Mishpatim, for making sense and marrying our brain with Torah. Then there is time to let go and embrace the Dayan Haemet, the True Judge, whose judgement defies logic.

There is a G‑d Who creates a reality stranger than any fiction. And He is in charge. I am finite. Running the world is His domain; living faithfully is mine.

And in some strange way, having my one family celebrate a wedding at the same time that my other family mourned offered me immense comfort. In the greatest darkness, there is light. Life never stops; joy always finds its way in.

Baruch Dayan Haemet, blessed is the True Judge, for taking my father, R’ Yonah ben R’ Meir, at the prime of his life.

Mazal tov, dear Levi and Mimi. May you build an everlasting edifice based upon the foundation of Torah and mitzvot.


Originally published here


Rabbi Levi Avtzon
Rabbi Levi Avtzon is the rabbi of the Linksfield Senderwood Hebrew Congregation in Johannesburg, SA.