Tonight we begin the commemoration of our Uncle Menachem’s Second Yahrzeit.
Last year, as we stood on Har Hamenuchos at the Hakamas Matzeiva (unveiling) of my mother’s brother, Menachem, I had an awesome thought. In this world, Menachem was severely impaired and was never able to speak or care for himself. While in life, Menachem never quite fit in, now he has a final resting place among his people, with great Jewish leaders lying all around him. His headstone shares the same physical dimensions as those surrounding him and the format and epitaph on his matzeiva are so similar to his neighbors in The World to Come. While in life, he could not modulate himself to the cadence of others, now it does not matter.
He is buried next to my father, who was a Torah masmid (diligent Torah scholar) and returned his soul to The Creator six weeks after Menachem. He is buried in the section right above our beloved Rav, Rabbi Shlomo Weinberger, who was a pedigreed yet modest Talmid Chocham (Torah scholar). He is in the same section as Dr. David and Nava Applebaum, who were murdered on the eve of Nava’s wedding. David was the paradigm of a caring ER doctor, treating victims and perpetrators of terror with extraordinary heart and exemplary skill. Nava represented the pure and unlimited potential of the Jewish bride. In גוש ל״ו חלקה א׳, we have leaders of our great nation who inspired us in their lifetime and beyond.
This thought made me contemplate. If Menachem is lying among leaders now, how do we make sense of his limited life lived outside “the camp”? How do we understand a life that was filled with pain and inability, lived away from the mainstream? If we are all part of G-d’s orchestra, what piece did wordless and disabled Menachem play? Can it be that he was a dispensable part of the orchestra, a mistakenly chosen member asked to silence his instrument?
If we understand that there are no mistakes in this world, we must believe that difficulties are designed to test us and strengthen us, even as we fear that they will break us. While Menachem endured gawking, he was chosen to be a part of the world in the time and place where he was born. Why he suffered we will never know in this world, as we are limited in our understanding of the finite world, believing that only G-d transcends time and space
What we do know is that Menachem’s out-of-sync music was chosen for the world into which we were born. I was chosen to be a musician in the same orchestra as Menachem, born about ten years after him. Because every player’s contribution is vital to the composition, The Composer must have had a vision for Menachem’s silent music, entrusting us to play our own piece, while enhancing the unique music of our cohorts.
A rare flaw often adds value to a diamond, a stamp or a top model. The inclusion of another gem or material in a diamond can increase its market price exponentially. A watermark on a stamp that is applied sideways creates rarity and increases value. A model who has a broad forehead or vitiligo of the skin can flaunt the flaw to become a top model, precisely because of the defect. Their flaw makes them unique, relatable and recognizable. Even in the world of the living, our generation has learned to include and celebrate those who are different. Perhaps, Menachem’s dissonance was precisely his contribution to our music, adding a unique depth and making our music relatable and recognizable to others.
Menachem’s music was one of purity and goodness. He was a gentle soul who was incapable of harming another. While he was out of step with his world, he was a modulator, slowing down our frenzied rhythm to notice and care for his needs. While his instrumental was silent and awkward, he made ours more divine and nuanced.
Beautiful music touches our souls and inspires others to deep spiritual connection. Menachem’s music brought the instrumentalists in our family together to create our own unique melody. In his lifetime, we came together to share, visit and care for his needs. For this yarzheit, our family has undertaken to recite the entire sefer (book) of tehillim (psalms) on his behalf. We now realize that together our music can be more exquisite than that of any one individual within our group. Menachem is our catalyst for growth and increased sensitivity, for leaving our own comfort zones in his service.
In life, Menachem was rarely understood by others, gesturing and hitting himself. As we see his matzeiva among those around him, we finally see him at peace surrounded by our family, our leaders and our great nation. Here, there is no dissonance or impairment. He is at home.