top of page

Parshas Shemini (RWW Email Series)

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Death of a Child: How to Move Forward in the Face of Tragedy

From the RWW Email Series (04/21/18)

The Shoshie Stern Rules:

Life lessons from an amazing 12-year-old.

By Rabbi Simcha Barnett

Death of a Child: How to Move Forward in the Face of Tragedy

From the RWW Email Series (04/21/18)

Dear Chevra,

The blessing this Shabbos for Rosh Chodesh Iyar is so hard for Denise and I as we ask Hashem to bless us with all good things that give us true life. 4 years ago, on Rosh Chodesh I asked for all good things and within a week, we lost our daughter in a tragic accident. As I stand there this Shabbos I will again ask for all good things but realize that what is truly good in our eyes isn't necessarily the same in the Almighty's eyes. We still cannot wrap our heads around the tragedy, it is a very sad time for us. At the same time, we cannot begin to fathom God's ways for anything that happens. We are very sad but we still have faith that Hashem knows what he is doing. This Torah portion begins to prepare us and many others on the loss of a child. The word used for "silent" is Vayidome - Where else does the Torah use that word? It says in Sefer Yehoshua "Vayidome Hashemesh" - the sun had stopped. Perhaps the connection could be that just as the sun stopped from plunging into the sunset - (an abyss) so too Aaron prevented himself from plunging into the abyss of depression because he realized that he'll have to move forward. There is a fine line one has to tow when in the throes of difficulty and tragedy.

Not pretending that nothing happened Gd forbid (something significant did happen) but realizing that getting to a point of paralysis would be over-indulging in some way in one's emotions. Why?

Because the point of life is to move forward, be productive, contribute and fulfill one's potential. There isn't a lot one can do to get a clarity of understanding of why did we lose a child? What purpose is it? How does it fit into the master plan? Not realizing this is unanswerable brings upon paralysis. Realizing these are unanswerable questions can free you to move forward.

It's not like Denise and I don't have our moments where we are just total wrecks.

I cry at least once every week. We are just so sad I can't begin to describe it.

I shake my head and cry out for Shoshie all the time. But Denise and I do realize from this tragedy, just how short life is and doing what we can with the moments we have is the only real and true choice that we have.

So let's cry together and that's comforting but we would really rather get together and have happy hour together. Thanks for listening. We love you too.

Mike and Denise


The Shoshie Stern Rules:

Life lessons from an amazing 12-year-old.

by Rabbi Simcha Barnett

As an Aish Rabbi, my wife and I have a lot of guests at our Shabbat table.

And at the beginning of every Shabbat meal, our guests hear me invoke

what I call the "Mike Stern Rules": Please take what is in front of you, pass

it to your neighbor, and the most important thing of all is to make sure it all

ends up by me! (which always draws a nice laugh) Every guest in our home

has heard the rules, and feel as if they know this rabbi named Mike Stern.

Mike and I are best friends, and over the years I spent a lot of time at his

Shabbat table, where he and his wife Denise took tremendously good care

of their guests, making everyone feel extremely comfortable and well-fed.

Denise would prepare the first course of incredible bounty and variety, and

Mike would jokingly refer to the rules cited above to break the ice, making

a connection with the many disparate people at the table (and also to get

the food circulating). Mike and Denise are my chesed (kindness) mentors,

and I keep them with me always at my Shabbat table through the Rules.

Tragically, Mike and Denise lost their 12-year-old daughter Shoshie a"h last

week in a tragic accident, and though I didn't really know Shoshie well, I feel

that through the experience of the funeral and Shiva, I got a glimpse into the

soul of a rare human being, one created in the Stern image, yet with her

own unique spin. Through this experience, I discovered a whole new set of

rules - The Shoshie Stern Rules:

  1. Give up your seat.

  2. Make peace.

  3. See the good in everyone.

i. Give up your seat

One of Mike's rabbis, who doubled as a driver in Shoshie's daily 45-minute

carpool ride to school explained that Shoshie never cared about her seat in

the car. If someone extra came into the carpool, Shoshie would willingly give

up her seat to make the other girl comfortable. The rabbi remarked how rare

a trait this is in a child. In fact, he continued that many adults are far too

concerned about where they are "seated" - at a meeting or a bar mitzvah,

and rarely think to give up their seats for another. "Giving up your seat"

exemplifies being concerned for others, not as a detriment to oneself but

rather as a beautiful expression of self. On a deeper level, Shoshie turned

this ability to "take a back seat" into a life philosophy of giving others the

space to rise to the top and flourish. This character trait is far beyond most

12-year-olds, but as Mike said in his eulogy of Shoshie, "She just got it."

ii. Make peace

Twelve is an age when girls are often insecure and form little cliques which

can be quite hurtful and exclusive. Shoshie was above all of that as well.

Shortly after her arrival at her new school in North Miami Beach, though

she was a naturally popular girl, she befriended some girls who were not

part of the "in clique". Though a brief squabble ensued Shoshie made peace

and brought all the kids together. She seemed to be above the pettiness we

all sometimes fall into. She showed herself to be a true disciple of the

biblical Aaron, who loved and pursued peace.

iii. See the good in everyone

As a picture of this wonderful girl was emerging in my mind, I realized that

she came from parents who act with love and kindness to all people, every

day of their lives. There is not a garbage man, UPS driver or mailman that

has not been invited into the Stern's house and shown incredible kindness,

regardless of occupation or background. Caring for others doesn't always

come so naturally to us. But the Sterns see the good in everyone, as

created in the Image of God, a child of the Almighty. The Torah says:

"Love your neighbor as yourself." The Sages question why the need to

end the verse with "like yourself"; just say, "love your neighbor." The

answer is that in order to love others you have to see that you are the

same. Only by being in touch with your soul, the image of God within you,

are you able to see the image of God in others. Shoshie saw the good in

everyone, and because of this special "Godly vision" she was able to bring

people together, love them for who they are, and see them as not

competitors, but as true friends. This past Shabbat, my thoughts turned

to my dear friends the Sterns, who were amidst a heart-wrenching mourning

period. But instead of the familiar Mike Stern Rules, I invoked a new set of

rules at the Shabbat table: the Shoshie Stern Rules: Give up your seat,

make peace, and see the good in everyone.

I'm hoping to apply the Shoshie Stern Rules to my life. May it add merit to

her soul for eternity.