My mother, Elsie Novak, died peacefully in her sleep last Thursday evening the 6th of November at 10:10pm, the 14th day of Cheshvan. My mother often shared with me her deepest fear that the death process be a painful one. Thank G!d, it was quite the opposite.
What I sensed over her last few days was that her soul was disentangling itself from her body, as if it were undoing the stitching that attached it to its physical container. In BT Moed Katan 28a, we find this story:
“Rava was seated at the bedside of Rabbi Nachman, and he saw that his teacher was dying. Said Rabbi Nachman to him, ‘Please tell the Angel of Death not to torment me.’ To which Rava replies, “Why are you asking me to do this for you? Are you not an ‘adam chashuv’, a person of status? Rabbi Nachman responds and says, “Before the Angel of Death, who is esteemed, who is regarded, who is distinguished?” Rava then says, “Will you show yourself in a dream to me after you die?”, and Rabbi Nachman replies that he will if he can.
Sure enough, some time after he dies, Rabbi Nachman appears to Rava in a dream. Rava asks him the question that we would all like to ask if we could. He says to him, “Did you suffer much pain while you were dying?” Rabbi Nachman says; “It was like removing a hair from a glass of milk.”
A few years ago I started to include in my daily davvenen, in the paragraph that begins with shma koleynu, my prayer that when it was time for my mother's soul to return to its' source, that it do so without pain, like "removing a hair from a glass of milk."
I don't know which hurts more, when prayers are realized or when they are not, because my heart is broken open and my tears flow like rain from the very notion that my prayer has been answered.
Thanks to all who have written to express your condolences. Everyone should be as blessed as I am, to feel held in times of sorrow by sacred community, both near and far. I look forward to sharing more with you about my mom in the coming year.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and