Time continues to confound us, moving both slowly and rushing past at a speed we cannot quite register. Seven years is a lifetime for our granddaughter; seven days is a lifetime of creation. The days in a week number 7, as do the mourning time of shiva and diametrically, seven are the blessings of new life at a wedding. Some of our holidays span 7 days, and we count seven ancestral patriarchs and matriarchs.
Is there magic or a mystical quality to the number seven? We encircle things 7 times: the walls of Jerico fell after 7 miltary passes, a bride moves around her spouse under the chuppah to signify their own emotional space. We track 7 weeks between the spring holidays of Passover and Shavuot, allow the ground in Israel to lay fallow in its 7th year, and organic species of Israel – wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), date (honey) – total seven, too.
Other numbers represent good luck, completion, protection, or unity, and while 7 may be powerful in its own context, what does it mean? Clearly seven signifies a cycle of things – a week gone by and starting anew, a holiday appearing again on the calendar, a period of time to experience joy or grief or agricultural practice.
So where does that leave my family as we approach the 7th yahrtzeit of Gilad’s passing on August 26/16 Elul? Is Gd, in His infinite wisdom, sending me a message at year seven?
My mind and spirit consider Shabbat, the 7th day of rest we enact every single week. All week long there’s a driving force propeling us forward, translating our passions into productivity. We need to accomplish and gloat about how busy we are: we rush to school or work, panic to meet deadlines, set our alarms to go here there everywhere, and squeeze in time to exercise and run errands. Yet, at the end of 6 days, we are right back where we started – with a full inbox, the to-do list growing even as we check things off. Is our life a series of frenzied sprints or where we are mindful of the present and notice that there are roses to smell?
Each Shabbat we stop and breathe and think and love and remember. We go back to Biblical times and about-face from computers and smart phones and televisions. We don’t drive to the office or pick up a little something at the store or run just a tiny errand that will take only 10 minutes. And on the seventh day you shall rest. Shabbat is the only time all week I sit on my living room couch and read; it’s when I invite friends over to connect and lounge over food and wine. The seventh day of the week is when we can have a love affair with our lives – to relish being with each other, to breathe deeply, and to truly be in the moment in a way that escapes us the other 6 days of the week.
No matter how sick Gilad was, he embraced Shabbat. He showered and changed his clothes, even if he donned pjs or sweats and T-shirts all other days. I remember him coming downstairs, all ready for Shabbat but no longer going to shul, and laying down on the couch to rest. The living room couch was our Shabbat space, so even these simple actions were different and holy. Gilad sat at the table with us for as many weeks as he was able, even if he needed a comfier chair, even if he was not really eating. One of our most powerful memories is of Gilad singing at the Friday nite table – and then later us singing at his bedside – with his eyes closed and voice clear, as true as prayer can get. These images of Gilad and Shabbat resonate deeply in my heart. He may have had his issues with Gd, as he wasn’t being allowed to live his life as an adult on his own terms. And although I was not privvy to all that Gilad practiced or chose not to, I was witness to his keeping Shabbat close to his heart until his last days on earth.
At year seven I persist in my struggle to make sense of it all, and continue to challenge Gd with unanswerable questions. But in the spirit of the number 7 and our beautiful, charming son, who should-have-been could-have-been a fabulously successful and gorgeous adult, I too am intensely keeping Shabbat…and remembering Gilad every day each week as we count seven over and over again.