"He Ain't Heavy…"* – Parshat Balak
"He Ain't Heavy…He's my brother". These are famous lyrics from a 1969 song by The Hollies. The tale is told of a young Scottish girl carrying a young boy and obviously laboring under his weight. When a minister saw her along the way and asked her if it was too much for her to carry, she reportedly answered: "He ain't heavy, Mr. He's my brother." This beautiful song has been the anthem and the rock for many people suffering the illness of a close friend or relative. There is no question of how difficult it is. People act because it needs to be done. And even if they do realize how hard or inconvenient it may be, they still do it because of their relationship with the person. And it ain't even heavy.
What does it have to do with this week's parsha, Parshat Balak?
When Bilaam was on his way to curse/bless the Jewish people, the Torah tells us that he saddled his own donkey. Rashi immediately notes that he did this himself. Why? After all, he had servants who could have done that. but Bilaam was filled with hate for the Jewish people and was, therefore so intent on getting started on his way as quickly as possible that he decided to forego protocol and do the job himself. His hate, in a way, determined his behavior.1 Rashi doesn’t leave it at that. He also brings the other extreme. Avraham, on his way to sacrifice Isaac also saddled his own donkey even though he had servants who could have done the work for him. Avraham, though, was so filled with love for God that he decided to forego protocol and do the job himself. His love, in a way, determined his behavior.
This past week I finished saying Kaddish for my mother. For 11 months I recited Kaddish2 as a prayer which will assist her soul. It was a task I had for 11 months. Some people wondered if it was difficult finding out where and when the prayers were being held and to make the effort to actually go to the synagogue to say the prayer. It was for my mother, I thought. I did it for her. I didn’t actually think of it as being hard rather as something which was a priority that I was willing and interested to do and invest time and energy in carrying out that task without thinking if it's too difficult or not.
Perhaps my saying Kaddish for her and prioritizing it even when it was inconvenient, offers me a new perspective on her life as a mother - as MY mother. It gives me, as her child, a way to appreciate that she invested in me regardless of time, money or energy. If it was 2 o'clock in the morning or if I was 6000 miles away, she always loved me. I may not always have been the perfect son. But at least I can appreciate her more.
So, Mom, thank you.
* the words come from a song written by The Hollies and published/produced in 1969. here is a link to a moving rendition of the song - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl5vi9ir49g
Have A Great Shabbat!