This piece is excerpted with permission from "The Blessing of a Broken Heart" by Sherri Mandell (The Toby Press, 2003).
There are 903 ways to die, according to the Talmud. The way that Koby died may be the worst way. There are probably 902 easier ways to die. In fact, the Talmud has a discussion of which is the harder death: stoning or fire, and most sages agree that stoning is the most difficult death. In the hierarchy of pain, I am a winner.
Avraham brought his son to be sacrificed, but in the end, Isaac was spared. A Midrash tells us that Sarah died when she heard that Isaac had almost been killed. Her keening is the origin of the wailing sound of the ram's horn, the shofar, that is blown on Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShana, the sound that is supposed to awaken us to repentance.
I also serve that function. I feel that people look at me and love their kids more. When I'm in the supermarket in Efrat, I see how people look at me. I know that now when I walk around, many people look at me and think: thank God I'm not her, thank God I still have my kids, my family intact. Thank God I still have my wholeness. And they're right. Koby's murder is a robbery, an amputation, and a rape. I stand naked, battered. Yet I also stand with my angels, my belief, my openness to life.
Still, the other mothers console themselves by comparing the deaths of their children to Koby's death, which seems more brutal to them. A mother whose daughter was killed in a drive-by shooting near Jerusalem said to me: "I suffer, but not like you. I know my daughter died instantly."
Another mother, whose daughter died of cancer, says: "I suffer, but not like you. I know my daughter died peacefully. I was with her when she died. But you?"
In fact, my friends tell me I'm famous for my pain, famous because of Koby. Few have had a son killed as cruelly as I.
Rabbi Breitowitz, the rabbi of a congregation in Silver Spring, Maryland, told me that dying because you are Jewish means that you die sanctifying God's name. As a result, your soul goes straight up to God. Usually, according to Jewish sources, the soul undergoes a waiting period, a period of purification before ascending to God. But Koby was pure. In fact, Rabbi Breitowitz told me, the usual procedure of cleansing the body of a dead person was not necessary for Koby and Yosef, since they died as pure souls.
There are different opinions but our tradition tells us that the soul hovers around the body for a year, because the soul misses the body. But not Koby. He was free of his body the moment he died. He was already one of God's beloved, sitting on God's lap. That's why I didn't feel him at his grave the day of his funeral. And I am the woman whom people don't know how to address. I fill people with the dread of death. I remind them that death is around us.But by being the person nobody wants to be, I can console others because I am not separate from anybody's pain. I can't distance myself. I don't have that luxury. I can be there for others because my suffering includes so many of the permutations of pain.
Yesterday, eight months after his big brother Koby was killed, my six-year-old son said to me: "Mommy if everything God does is for the good, how can Koby being dead be good?"
He got it, right to the heart of the problem.
I told him that it's not good for us, but maybe it's good for the world, maybe they needed a great kid like Koby to die, so good things could come out of it. For example, parents have told me that they've become better parents from hearing my story.
I will never say that my son's death is good. I miss him and mourn him too much. But I don't want to carry death like the dead bird that last week caught on the hood of my car, thumping up and down, in and out of my vision, a symbol of pain and captivity. I want to carry death as an awareness of a bird that is free, soaring beyond the horizon of what I can see.