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Thoughts Upon My Brother's Sudden Death

Thoughts Upon My Brother's Sudden Death

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When tragedy strikes, when someone passes suddenly, I have a sickening feeling in the pit in my stomach. Who's next? What next? Will it, G‑d forbid, be me?!

I wonder if you can relate to this. Something tells me that perhaps you can.

What if that was my brother?

My husband?

My son?

Will I too get that dreaded phone call one day . . . ?

And as much as my heart cries for the family who is suffering most, that self-preserving voice within me is frantic with fear . . . fear of some tragedy, G‑d forbid, striking even closer to home . . .

On Tuesday afternoon, the 7th of Shevat, I joined a conference call with some friends of mine from my childhood. We had started a weekly Torah conference call in honor of three fathers and one brother of my classmates who had passed away—too young—over the last decade. As I got off the call, I couldn't help but feel heavy. We are too young to have four out of twelve people in our graduating class missing a family member!

And then I had a thought: Why do I deserve to have all of my immediate family members alive? Although I tried to push the thought out of my mind, it lingered for a bit.

The following morning, on the 8th of Shevat, my brother Rabbi Ariel Rav-Noy passed away suddenly.

Of course, I will not take blame for what happened. (Although it is a natural reaction to take blame. We are all bombarded with feelings of guilt. I could have . . . I should have . . . if only . . . Perhaps we do that as a way of gaining control over an out-of-control situation? Perhaps we think if we can take blame, we can also change the past or safeguard the future? But G‑d runs this world, and this was all His doing . . .)

However, this experience sharply reminded me of the most powerful teaching I have ever learned from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"Va'yirah Moshe,"Moses was afraid,” we are told in the beginning of Exodus. It is unusual for us to hear about emotions in the Torah. Delving into those verses, it becomes clear that it was the fear of Moses that caused what happened in the next verse. The actualization of that fear. Moses was afraid that the merciless King Pharaoh would find out that he murdered an Egyptian. And indeed, Pharaoh heard, and Moses was in life-threatening danger.

Our thoughts are powerful—super, super powerful!

We under-estimate how powerful and how potent each and every thought of ours is.

Late at night, when it’s quiet, I cry. I feel terror at the thought of tragic loss.

And now I can't help but wonder who out there shares my fear . . .

How many hundreds and thousands out there are also afraid, when alone with their thoughts . . .

I have decided to take upon myself a meditation. A meditation to set the tone for my day, right at the end of the daily morning prayers.

This last prayer begins with the words "Al tirah," "Do not fear." I meditate on this: Do not fear sudden terror! Do not fear tragedy! Do not fear illness, pain and suffering!

The next few words take me to a higher level: "even when the enemies plot . . ." Even when negativity is brewing! Even when I have reason to believe that negativity may befall us, G‑d forbid, "ki imanu kel," “G‑d is with us” . . . and I trust in Him.

But the third rung of this meditation takes the most effort by far. "Ve'ad ziknah," “From old age I do not fear, for G‑d has created me.” Old age? Everyone will experience that at some point, no? How can I not fear old age, and all the challenges that come along with it? Isn't that just a part of the natural order of things? Isn't that just expected?

Yet here are the words that I learned that have been life-changing, and that I hope to meditate on until the coming of Moshiach and beyond. "Ani asisi," “G‑d has created me!” G‑d has created the nature of old age. The nature of life-not-being-so-perfect. He created the reality of "no pain, no gain." And just as easily as He created it, He can change it!

A Jew is not subject to the laws of nature! A Jew is meant to believe, to trust, that only good will come his way—always. Even negative occurrences that are bound to unfold at some point don't have to. The same G‑d who created those realities can switch them over in a moment.

Really? But why do I deserve to have all of my immediate family members alive? That voice from that Tuesday afternoon comes back to me . . . But the Rebbe teaches me that those words must not be allowed into my conscious thoughts. They may knock on the door of my mind as long as they'd like. But I don't let them in. As Jews, we are to welcome only the most positive of thoughts, so as not to allow our fears to materialize as Moses’ did.

But why do I deserve to have all the goodness and blessings I have in my life? Why do I deserve to come home to a loving husband? I truly, truly do not feel deserving!

But it is not about who deserves and who does not deserve. It is about a kind, loving, and Almighty G‑d who created this universe with a master plan. In His master plan, he asked us all to think positive. He asked us to trust that He will take care of us.

It's so hard to believe, though! Especially when I can list people who believed and trusted their guts out, and did not experience the results they so hoped for.

Yet I do believe—and I do trust—simply because G‑d said I should. And the trust itself enhances my relationship with Him.

I believe that we can live together with our loved ones, forever, until the final Redemption and beyond.

Do I believe my brother can come back to life with the Resurrection of the Dead during the final Redemption?

Oh boy, now that’s a tough one! I saw the burial with my own eyes. The practicalities of that are way too complicated for me to imagine.

Yet I believe—because "we are believers, sons of believers." This belief is one of the 13 Principles of Faith. I am a Jew, and G‑d wants me to welcome this belief into my every breath.

It happens to be a pretty incredible thing to believe, anyhow, don't you think?

These are some of the things that I tell my fears . . .

Racheli Muchnik is a wife, mother, co-director of Chabad of Oxnard , and founder of Lamplighters Jewish Academy. She shares her writing on her blog, Racheli’s Thoughts.
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Dolly Murley Fair Haven, Michigan August 30, 2015

I related to your article very strongly. I too have some scary thoughts in the middle of the night. I pray to G.d to protect my family. I'm sure he hears me but, I would like to have a copy of the prayer you repeat every morning. I feel a need for more structure in my prayers.
I fear for Israel, my grandchildren and my children.
thank you so much. Reply