Sunset: On Being Halachikly Alive

May 24, 2013

“Halachikly alive.” It’s a term that, ironically enough, is only used when we’re in a situation of death and dying. My mother-in-law, who until a few months ago was a vivacious wife, mother, grandmother and Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Nutrition, is today, heart wrenchingly, only halachikly alive. This, the result of a stroke and its aftermath, which have left her without consciousness, yet breathing on her own.  

 No matter how many times I’ve been called upon for pastoral and halachik counseling in situations like this, it looks different when you’re a member of the immediate family. I’m thinking about different things, asking different questions.

 Is “halachikly alive” simply a legal category? Is it just the mathematical sum of our sacred imperative to preserve life and our legal definition of death? Or, might it be a spiritual category as well? It would a great help if it were.

 During davening this morning I was thinking about the times I’ve stood on the beach and watched the sun setting over the ocean. There always comes that point at which the setting sun no longer serves any function. It is too close to the western horizon to be providing warmth or light any longer. But we are nonetheless transfixed by it. It is the reminder, even as it disappears, of the gift that we had been given, the gift we had barely thought about, the miracle that was. It is a melancholy moment. And also wondrous.

 There is something there. Something to be near, and to touch and to wonder at. In between the letters and the words, the laws and the principles, there is the spirit.