Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The essence of Jewish living

On Shabbat, the last day of Passover in the Diaspora, we shall observe Yizkor. We shall remember all our dearly departed family and friends by lighting yahrzeit candles the night before and saying special prayers along with the mourners’ kaddish Shabbat morning.  How we remember them depends upon how they lived their lives.

Let me share with you two opposing stories to illustrate my point.  Recently I buried a woman who wasn’t a member of Marathon JCC. Since I didn’t know her at all, I obviously had to interview the survivors. When I spoke to the son, he shocked me into silence.  He told me that he had a better relationship with his mother than his sister and he had nothing good to say about his mother. Since I don’t lie or exaggerate, this eulogy was rather short.

Preparing for my seder, I read about the last will of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik.

          Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s grandfather was the famed Rabbi Chaim
          Soloveitchik.  He was arguably the most brilliant Talmudic mind of the
Nineteenth century. Rav Chaim, as he is affectionately known, had revolutionized 
the study of Talmud by creating a systematic scientificmethodology 
that clarifies the entire Talmud. He himself formulated a new system 
of analysis that has been adopted by Talmud students the world over.

As Rav Chaim was nearing the end of his life, he insisted that only 
one attribute be engraved on his tombstone…not gaon, “Torah genius,” nor
“Rabbi,” or “Sage of the Jewish community”… but only the words:
rav hesed, which means “great in kindness.” As impressive as one’s
intellectual abilities and Talmudic expertise may be, these attributes do not 
reflect a person’s highest attributes.  The greatness of a Jew lies in
 hesed-how one exhibits kindness and mercy throughout one’s life. 
(from: The Night that Unites: Passover Haggadah, page 69)

We all have the ability to change for the better.  From the second seder on, we’ve been counting the omer, counting up to Shavuot, the holiday of revelation when we received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Kabbalists believe that this time is set aside for us to improve our ways and thus be worthy of receiving the Torah. Besides that, there only 6 more months before the High Holidays.  Our tradition is teaching us not to procrastinate by waiting for the High Holidays!  The opportunity to become the people we truly want to become is right now. If we seize this chance now, why then in 120 years our descendants we remember us as fondly as we now shall remember our ancestors.