It was on Thanksgiving last year when my family for the first time watched the videos of my nephew, Jason, taken 23 years ago. My brother in law had just bought a video camera but he didn't have a chance to take too many videos of Jason for in another month he would die. He was 4 1/2 years old.
For those of us who remember, the video cameras then were quite large and to view a video the camera had to be connected to the TV. When my sister found the stored videos all these years later but no camera, she had them transferred to a DVD.
As we all watched the DVD I looked at my older nephew, Kevin, and contemplated how he was shaped by his younger brother's death. He was only eight years old at the time. I then turned my attention to my younger nephew Corey, now a college student, who would not have been born if Jason hadn't died. I could see how intently he was watching the brother he never met. I wondered what was going through his mind.
Afterwards I saw that someone had called my cell phone three separate times. Since there weren't any messages I decided it must be a robot call. After all, who would call on Thanksgiving!
When I returned home, I saw the phone had rung again but this time there was a message. A twenty-three year old boy, the older brother of one of our seventh grade students, had died! My first thought was how Thanksgiving for this family would be forever changed! My second thought was that just like my nephews, my student's life would now be shaped by the loss of his brother.
I had spoken with my student's mother a few weeks earlier when she picked a date for his Bar Mitzvah. The day before the funeral she shared that when she was riding in the car to identify her son, she realized that the month and day of her younger son's Bar Mitzvah was the same as her older son's!
"I didn't even realize they had the same date until that moment!" she exclaimed. "Will they have the same Torah portion? It was Vayishlach and had something to do with brothers." I answered it was doubtful as the Torah portion goes by the Hebrew calendar which is based on the moon and not the secular date which is based on the sun.
A few days later I remembered our conversation and looked up the Torah portion. That evening during the Minyan service (service in house of morning) I first shared the story of how the secular date was the same. And then that the Torah portion was the same as well! It was Vayishlach, a story of two brothers, Jacob and Esau, a story of struggle and forgiveness. All of us at the service that night can attest to the Divine Presence that came into the room at that moment.
This year on Thanksgiving I again thought about the Workings of the Universe. Of how last Thanksgiving we were able to "see" my nephew Jason due to my brother in law buying the camera when he did. Of how I received the phone calls the same time I was watching the video and thinking about my nephews losing their brother. Of how the secular date of the Bar Mitzvah and Torah portion were the same for my student and his older brother.....
During his recent Bar Mitzvah ceremony my student spoke about his older brother, of how just like Jacob in Vayishlach, the leadership role of the family has been passed to him, the younger brother. He spoke of how "11 years ago today, my brother had his ceremony on this exact day and we have the same Torah portion, so this is not a coincidence."
It seems that within the Workings of the Universe, the messages are always there....
I believe they are Messages of Love....
My Student Austin and his older brother Alex.