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Parshat Chaye Sarah

11/21/2022 09:38:08 AM


Rabbi Hearshen

The first time I received a call about a funeral was my first year as a rabbi. As the assistant rabbi the expectation was that I would officiate funerals for non-members and whenever the senior rabbi was out of town or otherwise unavailable.  I still remember the name, Alice Kiksman, who had died at the Summit assisted living facility. The funeral home informed me that she had no family that was living and that the person in charge was her attorney. When I called the attorney to get some info he was not all that helpful. They were not friends and they were not social. He worked with her on her legal matters and that is where the relationship ended. The only detail that he could tell me was that she would call him every time that she was to leave town to let him know that she would be away for a time period.

That night I called the nursing home and asked to speak with the social worker. There had to be more info that could be shared. There had to be more that I could learn about Alice to help me in conducting her funeral. The social worker was not available at first but late in the evening she called me and we must have spoken for about an hour. In the meantime, I found her synagogue membership file and looked for any information in it about her and I spoke with the cantor of the synagogue about her involvement. He was able to point me in the direction of some friends of Alice’s and I interviewed them as well. This process must have taken hours. I remember writing the eulogy and that it took me over four hours that night.

This was the beginning of my officiating of funerals. It was also the beginning of my deeply held belief in the importance of the task of conducting a funeral. Alice had no family to speak of and she had very few mourners to come to her funeral but that did not change my preparations at all. I was tasked with the obligation to eulogize a person and she deserved the dignity and respect afforded to all others when they have departed this earth. Over the years I have officiated countless funerals and every single one of them is unique. Every singe one of them is its own experience. There is no such thing as a basic eulogy that I can just use at each funeral. Every one of them is special because every person is special and I feel with all of my might that this is a great honor and responsibility that I am blessed to have.

ויבא אברהם לספד לשרה/and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah.  This week in the parsha we learn of this act of eulogizing. We learn that when a person dies we do not just bury them and move on but that we reflect and mourn. We do not simply move on but rather we move forward. The text did not need to tell us that he eulogized her it only needed to tell us about the burial but it pointed out the eulogy to demonstrate that a person is more than skin and bones and that they are due a certain level of honor when they die to be able to be remembered.

Many of us have reflected on the “dash” on gravestones. There are dates of birth and death but in between those two dates there is a life. No matter how short or long that life was it was worthy of being remembered, learned from and mourned. When we allow ourselves to see people as merely science, skin and bones and biological processes we remove their sanctity and their unique aspects. This is a nice lesson on its own but what does it mean for us, the living. If people are all due a level of respect and dignity in their death then all the more so they are due that respect in their lives as well. We all need to be a part of the dashes of those around us. We all need to be a part by seeing that the stories of those around us matter. We all need to see that everyone in our lives is unique and has a their own way of seeing the world. We all must never allow ourselves to wait until one’s eulogy to respect them and tell their story. We must do better while we are living to live together those stories and values that we will eventually be remembered for when we are gone.

Mon, December 4 2023 21 Kislev 5784