I had the severely painful experience this past Sunday of attending the levayah for a six year old boy r”l. Reuven Dovida”h went for a walk with his father R’ Yehuda Herbst and R’ Dovid Reichenberga”h shortly after Hurricane Irene. He touched a fence that was electrified by a downed power line, burning himself and his father. R’ Dovid Reichenberg died trying to save the boy. Reuven Dovid himself lived nearly two more weeks, passing away shortly before Shabbos. Because of those two weeks of mental preparation for the event, R’ Yehuda Herbst was capable of giving an intelligible hesped for his little boy. One thought that was both beautiful and not too heartbreaking for me to share bears repeating.
For two weeks, little Reuven Dovid was kept alive by machines. But the doctors soon gave up hope. Their efforts were palliative, rather than trying to rescue the boy. Rabbi Herbst, as a man of trust in the Almighty wasn’t ready to give up hope, and tried pressing them to try harder, despite their assurances that there was nothing left to be done. At one point the doctor told him, “If the boy would give just one small cry, some sign that there is activity in the brain, we would do everything in our power to try to save him. But without any activity in the brain, there is nothing to do.”
It struck R’ Herbst how much this is a metaphor for Elul.
Hashem would do anything (short of tampering with our free will and individuality) to save us. But He is waiting: Is the soul still alive; does the person still have spiritual function? All Hashem needs is just one small cry, one small step taken by the person himself, and the Almighty will rush in and help with the rest.