Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Am My Father

As the year of mourning for my father draws to a close, I find comfort in remembering him and the times we shared: my father standing in line to buy us tickets to baseball’s all-star game the year it was played in Kansas City, even though he wasn’t a sports fan, because he knew how much going meant to me; the way he would soothe me with a talk and walk around the block; the pride he felt in the Sukkah he built for us when I came home too late to make one myself; or just watching TV with him and laughing because he was laughing so hard at a funny line in “The Odd Couple” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Memories aside, my father consoles me simply because he is my father. The love between father and son, as I happened to learn in a Chassidic discourse shortly before he died, expresses a stronger bond than any other love.

Chassidic philosophy speaks of two kinds of love: emotional and essential. Love, as the other emotions, is self-interested. Completely absorbed in the Self, to become aroused love must feel itself.

When I drive my car, I feel the cold steering wheel touching my hands. But I’m really not feeling the steering wheel or even the cold on it. I’m feeling the sensation in my hands. Similarly, when I’m loving someone, I don’t feel the loveable qualities of my friend; I experience my own sensations of love within me and the recognition – transmitted to my emotions from my brain – that my friend’s decency and caring are good for me.

Essential love, in contrast, does not need to sense any virtue or act of kindness from the loved one to become aroused. Essential love exists whenever two people – a father and son – are connected to each other’s essence. I long for my father because I want his essence and being, my essence and being.

To generate feelings of love for my friend I must think about his warm smile and the dinner he bought me on my birthday. I love my father because when I bow my head, close my eyes and think for a moment about who I am, my father is there. To want my father I just have to be his son.

Love does not stop when one life ends. We remain connected, and because of that bond I say Kaddish for 11 months. The recitation of Kaddish, blessing G-d’s name in public to which the minyan answers “Amen,” eases the soul’s transition from this world to the next. Three time a day, before reciting the final “Kaddish d’Rabbanan,” I say to myself, as the Rebbe did when he mourned for his wife, a line from the first Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Tanya, which expresses the soul’s intrinsic bond with G-d: “The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly ‘a part of G-d above.’”

Like the son, who derives his essence from his father, the soul’s essence always stays bound to its source, G-d above. And like the son, who is connected to the father even before he is born, the soul at the outset of its journey back to G-d is already one with its Father.