The gift of perspective.

March 10, 2008

Last night I attended the burial of a 91-year-old rabbi who could boast perfect health but was involved in a tragic accident last week in New Jersey. The reason I was there, really, was because that rabbi was the father of my own hometown rabbi, who I have known and respected since… forever.

Anyway, if you don’t know the whole circumstance of his untimely death, you can read about it here. In short:

…Rabbi Zev Segal, 91… headed to Livingston, N.J., on an errand.

He never arrived.

On Thursday, Rabbi Segal was found dead inside his car, submerged in the Hackensack River.

The authorities here say that Rabbi Segal… may have driven his car… off Duncan Avenue, which dead-ends into the Hackensack River… (nytimes)

Perspectives… I think it’s important to not get too caught up in the tragedy of his death but to remember the amazing things for which he was known. He was a major rabbi in the New York area and committed his life to attaining many goals for observant Judaism, including leading a large congregation in New Jersey.

To put this in another perspective: At his funeral, it was made known he had expressed his wish that at his funeral there should be no time spent on eulogies, but instead spent on reciting the tehillim prayers.

After the burial, I waited around to pay respects to my own rabbi, this man’s son. Of course, funerals are not comfortable or happy places, but they are usually enlightening if you let them be.

He walked over to me and offered the following, his own perspective:

The death was in fact not a tragedy at all (he smiled when he said this), but one last job for him in this world. When he went missing, it is said that over 200 Jewish volunteers searched for him in the New York-New Jersey areas for over 24 hours. Hundreds – if not more – Jews spent time praying for his safe return. Hatzolah, a Jewish-run emergency service, organized worldwide, was on top of the search mission before the New Jersey police came on the scene. They were complimented by how organized and efficient they were. If this is not a kiddush Hashem – a display of good behavior honoring God – than what could be?

Now, I’m usually skeptical of religious rationalization, but when it comes to significant life events, the truth is, after seeing the peacefulness in my rabbi’s eyes as he shared this insight with me, I felt completely engulfed in comfort and peace. It was a kind of human spirit overtaking my sadness.

When you take a step back and manage to gain perspective on something – happy or tragic – I believe it adds to our humanity. The human experience is guided by perspective and it is our job to shape our skill for gaining it so that it comes to us with ease as we grow older and, hopefully, wiser.

It’s a gift we are born with, but too many of us lose sight of it… Perhaps that is something else we can take from this tragedy – that it needn’t be a tragedy at all if you see it through the right perspective.