Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Va-y’chi
In 31 years of serving as Rabbi and Chaplain, I have served at many hundreds of funerals/memorials. At each, I have always tried helping family and friends moving through their immediate grief and loss. I love knowing that even as people leave our hands, they never leave our hearts. I love that our tradition forces us to say prayers of thanksgiving, even as we return earth to the grave covering the casket of our loved ones. I love that our tradition calls on us to bring flowering plants and not cut flowers to funerals. Something beautiful has already left us; there is no need to destroy anything else.
We remember to still focus on the beauty of hope and renewal. We accept the command to love and to keep on loving. Every year we walk through four holiday memorial services at which tradition calls on us to remember our loved ones as if they were standing next to us. Every year, on the anniversary of their passing, we light a light specifically to remember how much enlightenment we have experience on account of their lives having touched ours.
We teach that once someone touches our world lovingly, we cannot live another day without feeling the impact of that touch. We experience immortality through the love that continues long after our physical presence no longer walks on Earth.
Some argue that the Torah based origin of this notion of eternal life happens in Torah this week. As Jacob prepares to die, he gathers his sons to bless them. The text tells us, “The days drew near for Israel to die.” (47:29) Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (3rd century) taught, “The days of the righteous die, but they do not die. . . . It does not say ‘Israel drew near to die,’ but ‘the days of Israel drew near to die.’”
We often get so lost in our grief that we lose perspective. Each of us is going to leave our earthly course. Our prayer is precisely that we deeply touch lives along life’s path. If no one felt a loss when we left, our lives would have been failures. Each of us will face this day of reckoning when the world determines the impact of our legacy. In that same vein, when we have to say “goodbye” to people we love and respect, the tears are tears of thanksgiving. God does not guarantee any of us even one day with each other – each is a blessing and a gift. So, we must remember that our physical days are numbered, but our lives continue so long as our impact continues to be felt in the world.
A favorite poem of mine speaks of the need for us to continue to live with people actively in our hearts and our hands as we hold people the way in which our loved ones held and helped.
“When I die, give what’s left of me away – to children and old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry, cry for your brother walking the street beside you.
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone.
And give to them what you need to give to me.
I want to leave you something, something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved.
And if you cannot give me away, at least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.
You can love me most by letting hands touch hands; by letting bodies touch bodies;
And by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die; people do.
So, when all that’s left of me is love … Give me away.”
― Merrit Malloy