Our 6 year old son were talking about Nelson Mandela yesterday. He told me that the rain we has yesterday and the day before were “Hashem’s1 tears because Nelson Mandela died”. I turned to him and asked him why G-d2 would cry for Mandela and he told me its because he has died.
I thought for a moment and told my son that G-d wouldn’t cry for Mandela because he has returned to G-d. He wouldn’t cry because Madiba has lived a long life and has done so much for so many that his life will remain an inspiration for generations. G-d wouldn’t be sad that Mandela has died, She would be smiling because he died the embodiment of the greatness we all possess and often leave to wither.
Like you, I’ve been watching much of the talk about him and what I have appreciated the most are the stories people like us have shared about their experiences with Madiba and how he has inspired them in so many ways. I never had an opportunity to meet him and its tempting to idolise him (I’ve seen the inevitable references to Mandela as G-d’s son) but President Barack Obama’s sentiment is far more meaningful:
Given the sweep of his life, the scope of his accomplishments, the adoration that he so rightly earned, it’s tempting I think to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. (Applause.) Instead, Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. “I am not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and a husband, a father and a friend. And that’s why we learned so much from him, and that’s why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, and persistence and faith. He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books, but in our own lives as well.
So, no, I don’t think the rain we had the last few days were G-d’s tears because Madiba has passed away. Instead, the rain was a cleansing rain. When it eased and the sun shone through again, the earth felt refreshed as if we had collectively begun a new chapter, as if we were somehow renewed and have an opportunity to take the best of what Nelson Mandela came to represent and embody and continue that legacy both personally and as a collective.