20 Cheshvan 5782 / Tuesday, October 26, 2021 | Torah Reading: Chayei Sarah
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The Life of Brian    

The Life of Brian

One of the most important aspects of Jewish outreach is that before we conquer the world, let's be a positive influence on our own parents and children...


That Friday night, my youngest was having real troubles falling asleep. Usually, her head hits the pillow and she’s out. But that night, she kept telling me that she just didn’t feel right. We tried this. We tried that. We tried everything. But eventually, I realized that she was only going to get to sleep if I put a mattress down on her floor and slept with her.
That’s where I was, when the phones started to ring at three in the morning. Usually, I turn my mobile phone off for Shabbat, but that Friday night, I forgot, and it rang twice, at 3:27AM.
I bumped into my husband in the hallway, who’d also woken up and was also headed downstairs. The mobile had stopped by the time we got to it, but the house phone started to ring incessantly, and my husband and I looked at each other: it wasn’t a wrong number; it wasn’t a computerized message; it wasn’t a mistake – someone was deliberately trying to get hold of us, at three in the morning Shabbat night.
We were debating whether or not to pick up the house phone, and just as I decided I was going to, it stopped.
We knew, but we didn’t know. We knew something ‘bad’ had happened to someone close to us, but we didn’t know who, or what.
It was Shabbat. You aren’t meant to be sad on Shabbat, so we made the joint decision to try and pretend we were being called about a lottery win, or something, and to push it out of our minds until Shabbat was finished.
It was kind of working, until we got a knock at our door just after lunchtime. Someone from out of town, someone we never met and who clearly didn’t live anywhere near us, came to tell us that we had to get in touch with my husband’s family, as soon as we could. He wouldn’t say what was happening.
Once again, we knew, but we didn’t know.
That Shabbat, my kids were playing a lot of games involving ‘Grandpa’. Usually, their games revolve around princesses, mummy and daddy, school – Grandpa didn’t usually get a look in.
But that Shabbat, ‘Grandpa’ was the star turn in the Playmobile make-believe game.
We knew, but we still didn’t know.
My husband was amazing. He gave his regular Shabbat shiur; he sang Shabbat songs; he tried to keep the day as ‘normal’ and shabbos-y as possible, bar a quick trip to the Rav in the next street over to ask a few questions about what we should do about all these messages.
There was nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to arrange, until Shabbat was over. My husband went to pray the evening service, and I started to wash up. All our family live in the UK. If they didn’t call back, we’d have to wait another hour and a half until Shabbat was out there to call them.
As G-d arranged it, the call came two minutes after my husband returned from synagogue: Grandpa had died unexpectedly, on Friday night.
My youngest – the same one who’d been having trouble sleeping - came to me and told me that she’d had a ‘feeling’ all day that something had happened to Grandpa, but she didn’t want to tell us, in case it made us sad.
The next 24 hours were a bit of a blur. My husband flew out to be with his family early the next morning; I shlepped the kids off to the passport office, because my sister was getting married – in London – the following Sunday, and while my husband was finding his passport, he’d mentioned that he couldn’t find the kids’  anywhere.
I was so busy making calls, and sending text messages, and dealing with arrangements and announcements and paperwork that it wasn’t until Monday morning that I realized I was never going to see Grandpa – Brian – again.
Brian and I had had quite a rocky start. I’d had big expectations that my husband’s family would make instant teshuva, re-do their kitchen and start keeping Shabbat once I joined them.
They didn’t, and ‘religion’ was a constant source of irritation, friction and argument for a good many years.
But after we moved to Israel, and after I realized just how arrogant I was, and just how much work I still had to do, our relationship improved tremendously. He could still annoy me a lot – and I probably also annoyed him a lot – but by the end, we’d really come to appreciate each other.
By the end, we were having some great conversations about G-d, life, death, Mashiach – the whole shebang.
The last time Brian and his wife stayed with us, I really felt that things were moving; he was on the cusp of a major teshuva breakthrough. We no longer argued about whether G-d existed – that was a given. Now, our discussions were about what G-d wanted from us, and why.
I’ll never know if Brian made that quantum teshuva leap before he died that Friday night. I pray he did.
A few weeks’ earlier, when Rav Arush was telling us all to call family members, and to encourage them to make teshuva, because Mashiach was round the corner and ‘events’ were about to kick off in a big way, my husband and I both did what we were told.
My husband had a hard, but good, conversation with both his parents about the meaning of life; the role of a Jew; what G-d wanted from us. It was a very rare ‘real’ conversation. It was the last proper conversation my husband ever had with his dad, and it came about because my husband listened to Rav Arush.
We are both so grateful that he did.
The evil inclination fools us into thinking that every tomorrow is going to be the same as today, and the same as yesterday. This week, my husband and I saw very starkly how life can change in an instant.
We may not have another day, another week, another month, to talk to our loved ones, and to encourage them to try to return to G-d. We may not have another occasion to apologize, or to make amends, or to try to fix the mess we made. Today, right now, could be the only chance we have to tell people: “I love you.” Or, “I’m so pleased G-d put you in my life.” Or, “Thanks for everything you do for me.”
We should grab it with both hands.
May this article add to the Heavenly  merit of Baruch ben Kalman.

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