By Rabbi Cynthia Kravitz
Dedicated to the memory of my dear husband, Nathaniel Entin z”l.
Twelve years ago, my beloved husband passed away on Parshat Shelach. In my struggle to make meaning and, quite frankly, survive his death, in good rabbi form, I looked to the parshah on which he departed this earth.
About two years later, I wrote a Torah study for the Jewish Exponent about becoming a widow and the lessons that Parshat Shelach imparted to me on my journey. My message was one of optimism and positive thinking.
This was based on the fact that in this parshah, it was the report of the two scouts Joshua and Caleb about the land of Israel being a place “flowing with milk and honey” that was embraced by Moses.
The dark narrative of the other 10 scouts, who declared that “we were as grasshoppers in their sight,” meaning “don’t go forward” for fear of personal destruction, was rejected by Moses. And so, it was the minority opinion of two optimists that charted our entrance back into the land of Israel and all that followed.
My Exponent piece talked about my own journey, as a newly widowed person and the choices that I would have to make. Would I be an optimist or a pessimist, like the two and 10 scouts, as I moved forward into my own new land? Would I continue to live life forward or cower in fear and loneliness in that hand that was dealt to me?
My choice was to follow the wisdom of Moses and Jewish values and choose the optimistic route wherever it would lead me. It was a hopeful personal message as I faced an unknown and potentially frightening future, just like the people of Israel at that time.
In the years that followed, many, many people, mainly women, who had read that piece, came across crowded rooms to tell me how much it helped them when they, too, faced the first steps of living life without the physical partnership of their newly deceased spouse. I was glad and grateful that my own reflections could help others. I know that the words of these women certainly helped me.
I vowed to reflect on this parshah again in a future year, to see how I was feeling and what further insights I could offer to others who had been widowed.
And so here I am, 12 years later with some thoughts.
My insight, now on the eve of this life-changing yahrzeit, is that it was Jewish faith, observance and community that fueled the force of my optimism. I could have never survived and flourished without any of these three forces.
My Jewish faith gave me a firm footing when my ground was shaking under my feet. My Jewish observance showed me how to physically enact these beliefs in a time when my hands felt paralyzed. And my Jewish community, my synagogue and family and friends were the loving hands that embraced me, gently moved me forward and helped me to laugh again.
In a time of waning synagogue and Jewish community affiliation, I just don’t know how Jewish people can live without these forces. I couldn’t have done it for sure.
I also know that my connection to every one of these forces did not sprout overnight in times of trouble. They came about because I was nurturing and developing them and so, when a time of crisis hit me, my spiritual muscles were strong and ready to help me.
I never saw the option of walking away or disengaging from any of it at any time because I believed that deep down there sat some great guiding wisdom. Gratefully, I was blessed to find it.
This then is my report about this next step of my journey of living the next chapter of my life without my dear partner. Ongoing work on Jewish faith, observance and Jewish community connection is more important that that trip to the gym. Without spirit and optimism, even the best-toned body cannot move.
Ultimately, it is my choice to have Jewish faith, to strive to observe Jewish practice and to actively find a Jewish home for it all, namely the Jewish community and synagogue life. I made it happen because I doggedly stuck to this path, which we know is never easy, fun or always inviting. I just did it.
This then, for me, is my next understanding of Joshua and Caleb’s optimistic words and Moses’ wisdom to recognize them as wisdom.
I hope this helps. I’ll keep you posted.
Rabbi Cynthia Kravitz has served as education director of Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester for the past 20 years. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.