The Talmud has a well known, but somewhat bizarre, statement connected to this week's Parsha. The Talmud in Sotah says, “Rabbah the son of Chamah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: “Matching a couple is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.” Now, we all know how difficult it can be to find the right match for someone, and it is a miracle that a person could ever find someone they wanted to spend their entire life with, but as difficult as splitting the Red Sea? Why does the Talmud use that analogy as opposed to any other miracle found in the Torah?
When I was eighteen years old I was in my first year at Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim in Jerusalem. I had really enjoyed the first half of my year, but as I was being told, my life was about to change. The second year guys, and the Rabbis, kept talking about these mythical creatures that would soon be invading our space. Identical twin brothers who doubled as a walking two man comedy troupe would be rejoining the Yeshiva for the second half of the year. The mere mention of their name would bring smiles to the faces of those who knew them, and stories and catch phrases would soon spill out. “The Galenas are coming”, “The Galenas will be here soon”. I kept picturing Thing 1 and Thing 2 from “The Cat in the Hat”. A hurricane was coming and I was ducking for cover, what was I about to encounter?
Then they arrived. Like a whirlwind, Isaac and Seth Galena were in constant motion. Though not large in stature, they instantly owned every room they were in. They were magnetic, it was fun and cool just to be around them. Within a few weeks everyone was talking like them and mimicking their mannerisms. They gave every guy in the Yeshiva a nickname and it stuck. They started calling me “Coach Murray” because they thought I looked like their High School gym coach, and so I was Coach Murray for the next six months.
They loved to take popular songs and create lyrics related to Yeshiva life. My favorite was to the disco hit “I will Survive” (When first I learned Pshat I was petrified, I thought I'd never be able to learn Talmud without the Artscroll by my side...). Simply put, there was a magnetism to them.
Guys that funny and charismatic can have a mean streak, cutting the younger guys down, as boys often do at that age, but they never did. They quickly got to know all of the first year guys and didn't look down at anyone. There wasn't a bad bone in their body.
We moved on to YU and kept up our friendship. I was never extremely close to them, but always friendly, and we had a mutual friend who was very close to both of us. Their YU apartment was a welcome respite from the grind of the YU schedule, and on a Saturday night I delighted in hearing the breakdown of one of their dates, including the essential question, “Who won the looks contest?” For the record, a Galena has never lost the looks contest.
They moved on to the West Side of Manhattan and then their Q score skyrocketed They started a web site, www.bangitout.com, that satirized and embraced the West Side Jewish singles scene. To those who knew them, the site perfectly captured their sense of humor. They took some heat for it, but the site took off and became a focal point of West Side Jewish life. Us Reishit alumni would simply say, “figures, the Galenas took over the West Side.” There was a sense of pride in seeing one of our Reishit alumni “make it big”. We had been in the Yeshiva in its formative years and we didn't have prestigious alumni, well, anywhere. But we had the Galenas, and they were now capturing the West Side.
Life moves on. 22 becomes 25 and becomes 30. Six years ago Seth spent a Shabbos with us in San Francisco and I could tell that he was ready to settle down. Seth did settle down, but in a way that only he could. He proposed to his fiancée, Hindy Poupko, on national television. I still have no idea how he convinced CBS to let him do that. Then again, it is difficult to say no to Seth Galena.
Things were working out perfectly for Seth. Good job, happy marriage, and then they were blessed with a daughter, Ayelet. There couldn't be a happier and more proud father. His Facebook page was blowing up with pictures and videos of his little girl. It seemed like he was trying to capture her every move.
Then a year ago, things suddenly changed. Ayelet was diagnosed with a rare immune deficiency and needed a bone marrow transplant. Seth and Hindy sprung in to action. He used his considerable marketing and people skills to spread the word. Ayelet became an Internet celebrity. Celebrities were Tweeting and Facebooking for people to get swabbed to be on the national bone marrow transplant list. Ayelet's Facebook page became a destination site. Seth would update everyone with pictures, videos and detailed updates that were painfully truthful and humorous. This was no longer just their fight, it was all of our fight. We were Team Ayelet. Ayelet's ups and downs were chronicled by tens of thousands of people on a regular basis, many who didn't even know them. Swabbing drives were held around the world. We in San Francisco held a drive in our Shul last Purim-Seth and Hindy's message reaching around the world. Our hopes and prayers and effort collectively trying to give them strength, even as our own strength wavered. The news was up and down, but there was a nagging suspicion that things didn't look good. Even after she received the transplant in August she couldn't seem to stay out of the hospital for long. And those pictures. Her face and body ballooned, she stopped resembling the same little girl we saw at the beginning of the fight.
Her parents never gave up hope, and Ayelet never stopped fighting. Somehow, they kept inspiring us, instead of the other way around. As a parent myself, I couldn't help but put myself in their shoes and could only wonder where they got the strength. Every night after I read an update I went into my childrens' rooms, eyes welled up with tears, and gave my sleeping kids a kiss and a wistful look. Becoming a parent has a way of weakening you for the good-and realizing how little control we have over life. How could I do anything but enjoy these moments with our children when Seth and Hindy were enjoying every moment with Ayelet in such difficult circumstances. If they could smile, I could smile. If they were laughing, I needed to make sure I was finding the time to laugh with my children. I'm sure thousands of other parent across the country were doing the same.
Seth and Hindy never asked to be our role models. They never deserved this challenge from Hashem and Ayelet didn't deserve to have her precious soul put in some a limited body. However, they were uniquely qualified to do just that. They were just being themselves, but we got to see it and learn from it. Their strength, courage, humility and faith in Hashem were on full display. Ayelet forced it out of them in this most public way, and it became our communal gift. Ayelet's smile became a beacon of light. She was not a ray of sunshine, but a bolt of lightning. Whatever darkness hovered around us, she came into our lives with a flash, temporarily illuminating the world around us and allowing us to use her light to give us perspective. Just as quickly she was gone. It was now our responsibility to use the memory of that light as we struggle to find our bearings in the future. Her struggles helped bring together our people. She was the essence of purity and innocence, and she brought out our purity and innocence.
When she passed, that purity and innocence remained for eternity, never to be tarnished.
The difficulty in bringing together a man and woman isn't merely in finding two people who can stand each other enough to stay married. It is finding two people who can team up and create something greater than themselves individually. The splitting of the sea was a moment that brought the world to an elevated state. It wasn't just a cool way to save the Jews. It provided salvation to the Jewish people, destruction to the evil Egyptians, closure for the Jewish slaves and sent a message to the world of the power and justice of Hashem. This confluence of variables made it bigger than the miracle itself. So too, a couple who can come together to form something greater than themselves, to collectively use their strengths to make the world a better place, that takes a miracle.
Listening to the eulogies today online I was stunned. In his eulogy Seth referred to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 4 Mishnah 1) “Who is rich? One who is happy with their lot.” I would like to add that the previous line in the mishnah is just as apropos: “Who is strong? One who controls their Yetzer Harah (destructive passions). Being dealt theses cards, Seth and Hindy could have reverted back to the most basic emotions one could feel: anger, distrust, self pity. But they never did. They could have completely lost faith in Hashem or allowed their relationship to deteriorate, but they never did. They fought off all of the self destructive negativity and allowed their light to emerge from such a thick darkness.
I can't believe Hindy and Seth spoke at the funeral, who could have the strength? I can't believe Hindy thanked the Jewish Center for allowing them to use the space, we should all be thanking you for letting us into your lives. A tragedy like this can tear a couple apart, and yet their bond seems stronger then ever-where do they find the love? When Seth spoke so eloquently and insightfully, adding an appropriate touch of humor with an outpouring from the recesses of his soul, I was awed-who could possibly have such perspective and faith?
We all mourn the loss of Ayelet Galena z”l, but she did not die in vain. She brought beauty and peace into the world, and helped teach people how to care and how to give. Most importantly, she shared her special parents with the world, and for that, we are eternally grateful.