A few weeks ago, I decided to research the Torah’s approach to coping with death, loss and bereavement. I spent time studying many different Biblical and Talmudic sources, narratives replete with the bpersonification of the Angel of Death as well as the rabbis’ perspective on consolation.
I reread many narratives that I studied previously, but this time through the prism of loss and mourning.
Cain and Abel. And Eve, a bereaved mother’s response: the conception and birth of Seth.
Abraham’s prayers on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah and the story of Lot.
Sarah’s death at the news of the binding of Isaac.
Abraham’s mourning for Sarah.
Jacob’s sustained and inconsolable grief at the perceived death of his son Joseph.
Aaron the high priest’s famous, ambiguous silence upon the tragic death of his sons Nadav and Avihu.
The ordeal with the tribe of Benjamin in the Book of Judges.
King David’s moving and poetic eulogy for the loss of King Saul and Jonathan, with whom he shared a complex relationship and loved dearly.
King David’s unusual coping with the illness and then death of his baby son from Bathsheba, as well as his grief as a public leader at the subsequent tragedies of his sons Absalom and Amnon.
And so many scenarios in the later prophets after the Jewish people were exiled.
The Book of Ruth, as Naomi and Ruth’s characters grapple with their respective losses. The melancholic and visceral book of Lamentations. And countless Talmudic narratives that insightfully address the searing questions and mysterious rhythms of the human condition.
I was steeped in the thoughts of the various commentaries on this subject when two tragedies of high profile Americans were highlighted in the news. One was in the private sector, the other, the public sector. Both clearly had a sense of calling and duty, of responsibility and kindness, of generosity and humility.
The first was Beau Biden, may his memory be for a blessing. As the song goes, “only the good die young.” Because above all else that I have read of his stellar accomplishments, it seems that he truly was one of those very purely good people.