Why weren’t you Zusia?
Once, the great Hassidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.
“Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”
“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”
The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”
Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’”
His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”
“And I have learned,” Zusia sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?’”
One of his followers approached Zusia and placed his hands on Zusia’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”
“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?’”
So goes the traditional Jewish parable, as published by Hasidic Stories and many others.
According to the scholar Ellen Levine, two of the most important commandments in Jewish culture are to honor the dead and to comfort the mourner. Traditional rituals help us to honor the dead, and our inclination to be physically and emotionally available help us to comfort the mourner.
Consider this ancient Jewish tale, spread by storytellers throughout the culture. What does it mean for the way you live life, the way you honor those you’ve lost, and the way you comfort those who mourn?
Perhaps in comforting the mourning and honoring lives lost, you might best celebrate the life of the person who has died. What was their unique contribution to life around them? What will you miss once they are gone? You can mourn the loss of such things, while at once celebrating the joy they brought to your life and the lives of those around you.
Lastly, in your own life, don’t forget to be uniquely you. Consider what you contribute to life around you, what others might miss once you’re gone. Never forget the value you offer, and don’t forget to celebrate that in your own life once in a while.