Saturday, September 4, 2010
Kiss of Death
iss of death. Kiss of death. The thread of these words has been running through my mind like a cheap Goth romance, repetitive and gory.
The terror attack last week seemed like a sore that came to a head and burst. The whole strange and fruitless year—was it leading up to this? I had the sense all this time that I was in a kind of emotional frenzy that I must quell, to be a grownup and allow logic and sensibility to rule. But I was never very successful at this endeavor.
Yesterday, my reading took me to Maimonides' take on the deaths of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. COD: a kiss. "The philosophers have explained that the bodily faculties impede in youth the attainment of most of the moral virtues, and all the more those of pure thought, which is achieved through the perfection of the intelligibles that lead to passionate love of Him … For it is impossible that it should be achieved while the bodily humors are in effervescence. Yet in the measure in which the faculties of the body are weakened and the fires of the desires quenched, the intellect is strengthened, its lights achieve a wider extension, its apprehension is purified, and it rejoices in what it apprehends. The result is that when a perfect man is stricken with years and approaches death, this apprehension increases very powerfully; for over this apprehension and a great love for the object of apprehension become stronger, until the soul is separated from the body at that moment in this state of pleasure. Because of this the Sages have indicated, with reference to the deaths of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, that the three of them died by a kiss… Their purpose was to indicate that the three of them died in the pleasure of this apprehension due to the intensity of passionate love…" from Menachem Kellner, Maimonides on Human Perfection.
Somehow, this passage seemed intertwined with the reporting of the murder of four Israeli civilians last week. On duty with Zaka, the rescue and recovery organization, the night of the shooting, was Maimon Even-Haim, the husband of murder victim Kochava Even-Haim, a kindergarten teacher in my town of Efrat.
The other volunteers, on realizing that Maimon's wife was among those murdered, tried to keep him away from the bloody scene, but he wouldn't be put off—he had to go to the side of his beloved. He said, "She looked so beautiful, so pure. I kept telling her, I'm here, I'm here, but she didn't move."
Even Haim's colleagues tried to tell him she had died in an instant, but he said that when he saw her face, he knew this was not true. "She didn't. I saw her face and could tell she didn't die right away."
I flashed back to a Yom Kippur, many years ago, when fasting and pregnant, I retired to bed to pass the long hours until I could drink and eat. Dov noticed my absence in shul, came home to check on me, found me in bed and declared, "You have to break your fast."
He brought me a drink and insisted I drink it down. He said that something in my face told him that I needed to break the fast. He said that a husband can see things about his wife, by looking into her face.
What did Maimon see in Kochava's face? Did Kochava HY"D come to a powerful apprehension as her life ebbed away? Was this the reason Maimon thought her appearance so pure and beautiful? Did Hashem speed things up on her account and grant her this ultimate state of apprehension to compensate for a life cut short? Did she die not by the hands of a terrorist but through a kiss?
This could be a great gift. Oh, I hope so. It could be she cheated the ugly heart of that death-wielding evil. It could be she reached some kind of perfection during those moments between her wound and her death. After all, her husband saw something.
He, of all people, would know if Kochava had cheated evil of its satisfaction and had gained perfection, instead.