Category Archives: filial responsibility

Do we Deserve our Kids?

Our tradition speaks at great lengths about filial obligations, the responsibilities of children to honor and revere their parents. Likewise, much is written about our obligations as parents to raise children properly, to teach them, and to prepare them for the world. But do we teach them Torah when we do not live it our selves? We do not teach them to build a better world but instead how to selfishly survive in it.

We offer them a world based on material gain, our nation withdrawing from its predominant place in the world, communal strife, a political system challenging the legitimacy of its fundamental institutions, and an economy that will burden them with almost intolerable crushing debt. We have not built a better world for them. And yet, these young people have galvanized in the wake of the Parkland horror. And that gives me hope. For even though we have not done right by them, they seek changes that will benefit us all.

Do we deserve our kids? That remains an open question until we begin to act as though they truly are the most prized things in our lives. We can start by supporting them in their efforts to address gun violence, this grievous wrong in our society that has murdered so many of them. Support them as they raise their voices, join them as they march in March. Help make the world they inherit better than what we have now.

 

 

 

 

 

The legacy of the Exodus

Crossing the Red Sea
by Yoram Raanan

We are in the midst of that transformational epic Jewish creation myth known as the Exodus. This is the beginning of the discussion of our core identity a God who has freed us from bondage so that we may serve. There is an inherent tension in this idea freedom and service juxtaposed. But also at play is our meaning relative to this Eternal One. When do we actually count? Are we only meaningful in a corporate existence in the arc of history, or do individuals matter?

The narrative begs the question by leading with being remembered after 210 years sojourning in Egypt. Then God remembers and 600thousand with their families are lead out. We cross into the wilderness and begin a two-week trek to the Promised Land that takes 40 years, a deliberate amount of time so that the entire generation that was freed will not survive to reach their goal. What about those poor souls who suffered during 210 years of deteriorating conditions in Egypt? What about those poor souls who would have found satisfaction with enough food to eat and water to drink and would have returned to bondage just for those basic needs? There are many who did not make it along the way. What about them?

For so many of us, living in this new Promised Land came at the expense of untold millions who suffered harsh lives and died ignominious deaths at human hands that practiced hate. How do we remember them properly, with respect and the knowledge that were it not for them, we would not be here. Can we simply say “there but for the grace of God Go I” that we are merely the lucky ones? Aren’t we compelled to practice an active gratitude acknowledging and cherishing those who have come before to make our lives possible and using our blessings and positions to help those who continue to struggle, who have not experienced full redemption? Our tradition suggests that it is our responsibility, not God’s.

When we say goodbye to someone we grieve the loss as we should.   The tradition says Zichrono Livracha- May their memory be a blessing. Our task is to fulfill this aspiration and continue to journey.

Conversations for Life and Legacy

I am excited to announce the launch of Conversations for Life and Legacy™.

Conversations for Life and Legacy™ is a whole new approach to sharing our wisdom, making meaning in our lives, and connecting beyond ourselves drawing upon the insights of Jewish tradition and text.

Conversations for Life and Legacy™ goes far beyond an Ethical Will to share our sacred stories in unique new ways. Among the particular innovations are using a rabbi trained in chaplaincy to guide the interview and capturing it all on video.

Please look at our new website: www.ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy.com to explore this new approach; see what it can mean to you and how it can be brought to your community.

Today we also launch a Facebook page: ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy and we will be on Twitter as well @rabbidavidlevincll.

It’s time to have the Conversations of your Life!

Conversations for Life and Legacy™

www.ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy.com

 

How do I tell Dad that Mom has died?

How do you tell Dad that Mom has died? This challenging question confronted old friends this past week.

Compassion is such a difficult practice. It is often so difficult to know what is the right thing to do for another person.oldyoung hands

 A friend’s mother recently passed away after a protracted decline. Sadly her dad is suffering from dementia. My friend and her siblings struggled with whether they should tell him that his wife, their mom, has just passed away. Would he find the loss overwhelming? Would he even comprehend the sad news they would share? He has a right to know and grieve the loss of his wife. But if the news was too much for him to handle, should they wait until there was a better time to inform him?

 Further complicating things, he was physically unable to attend the funeral.

 Both options, to tell him or not, are based on compassion for dad. But which one is right for him? She reached out to me for counsel.

My first suggestion was to consult dad’s doctor, someone who knows him and is skilled in these medical issues. The doctor can help ascertain how aware is dad of his surroundings. The children, all adults, can also shed some light on dad’s cognitive abilities, but they are emotionally very close to the situation and may not clearly assess how well dad will process the news. It is likely that despite all attempts to know, it is all but impossible to appreciate how much dad truly understands.

 We cannot know how people will react to this kind of news even without the complications of these circumstances. Maybe dad will have only a moment of clarity or possibly the news will stay with him. He may work through his grief or become overwhelmed by it. I have learned along my journey that we actually only have moments together. Sometimes these moments last and create enduring memories. Sometimes they fade away. The best we can do is to be fully present in each moment together and hope that it endures. The struggle that this family confronts is a struggle we all face, for each of us will experience loss and then try to reconcile with it in the aftermath. We can try to anticipate how people will respond, but we need to be careful in presuming too much, acting for them instead of allowing them the dignity of exercising his or her own agency.

 The Talmud teaches that we treat parents with honor and respect.   Might the ways we do that include withholding speech or information that would be hurtful? If dad still has some comprehension, won’t he feel the sadness in those surrounding him and wonder why his wife no longer visits? Further, how will he react if he learns of his wife’s passing long after the fact without the chance to mourn her loss? Arguably we honor our parents when we include them in even the most difficult things, rather than attempting to protect them. Each of us will be called upon to grapple with a similar situation. We must take the utmost care to ensure that our motives are true and that we act in the best interests of our parents and not fulfilling our own needs disguised as compassion. My friend’s struggle was because she loved her father and wanted what was best for him.

 Zichronah Livrachah may my friends’ mother be a blessing for the family. May her father be given the opportunity to know that too.

What do we leave behind? Thoughts on Glenn Frey and our Personal Legacies

What do we leave behind?oldhandsholdingyoung

I was saddened to learn of Glenn Frey’s passing. His music and artistry were amazing gifts he shared with us all as a solo artist and through the Eagles. I watched the documentary and thought we will never see him perform again or share new poetry with us. But his legacy of music will endure. I could not help but turn inward and wonder what is my legacy?

This accounting is often referred to as Cheshbon HaNefesh in the Jewish Tradition. But it is more than looking back and making a list; the Cheshbon is more than a list, it is an assessment by us of ourselves. Such a perspective is much more than a posthumous accounting or someone else’s reflection; it means that we can be proactive managing this list and our lives for whatever time we have. We are active, not passive in the process of this accounting. Since it “ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” as the American Philosopher Yogi Berra said, we could change the course of our lives if we are willing to do so.

handsOldYoungOften we leave important conversations unspoken. The discomforts we believe these conversations will cause make us shy away from them. But then we miss an extraordinary opportunity. It is never too late to tell those we love that indeed we do love them, until they are gone. We can talk about our lives, the triumphs and the tribulations, the things in which we had success and the times when we missed the mark. We can give them an understanding of their meaning to us; for too often those thoughts are not expressed. By sharing our aspirations and our vulnerabilities we can elevate our relationships by bringing those we care about close to us.

Not all of us possess the gifts of a Glenn Frey and not all of us will have the ability or opportunity to change the whole world. But we do have the capacity to change our piece of the world. We can decide what kind of relationships we create or nurture with those we care about. We choose to add our voice and our support to the people and causes we care about. Through these we change our piece of the world and our legacy is written by us.

Remembering my Father

Memorial candle copyThis week marks the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing, z”l. I lit a candle and will say Kaddish commemorating his Yarhzeit. Around the same time dad died, another person, Debbie Friedman also passed away. She was indeed a special individual, an iconic figure in the Reform Movement, and her passing is marked by several public acknowledgements this week.

I recall returning to my studies at the seminary after Shiva and hearing the buzz about the ceremonies planned to mark Debbie’s passing and feeling the sense of loss that pervaded the institution. Her contribution to Judaism was great and many of us, including me, will miss her. I could not help but notice the disparity in the treatment of the two. Although my dad touched fewer lives, he did touch lives and many cared about him. And what’s more of course, he was my dad and the loss is profound for me.

 As a Reform Jew I usually stand on behalf of those for whom there is no one left to say Kaddish as a respectful reminder of the victims of persecutions throughout our history. I also stand with those who mourn. This week I will also do it as a son remembering his father. It is acknowledging this personal loss that makes Kaddish Yatom, the orphan’s Kaddish.

 Our losses whether personal or communal can be intimate, closely felt. Many people may figure prominently in our lives, deeply affecting us even if we never met them. My father and Debbie both died that week five years ago. The loss of one does not impact the loss of the other. Each person who touches us can be a blessing and an inspiration for us to remember, their best motivating us to live our lives better and more fully. Zichronam Livrachah, May their memories be a blessing.

Devarim– Moses teaches about him and us

 Devarim is the great repetition that isn’t.  Moses’ speeches in Devarim are a wonderful retelling of a story, but so much of it is not true; at least much of is does not comport with the stories of the previous books of Torah. So what is going on with Moses?

 Viewing Moses as a person and not the mythic Prophet, Teacher and leader, Moses is doing what so many of us do. He is trying to understand his place in history, trying to figure out whether his teachings and leadership from slavery to peoplehood was really worth it. In simple language, Moses asks himself what we ask ourselves in the sunset of our lives: “Did I do good, did I make a difference?” Even the great Moshe Rabbeinu seems to question if he did the right thing and if ultimately he will make a difference in the world. For us, the answer is an unequivocal yes, but for him in that place, he was unsure.

 Moses’ stories are retold with a tweak here and an embellishment there. In these Deuteronomy versions, Moses recalls himself prominently and his actions are above reproach. Here at this place in his life, Moses knows he is at the end of his journey and what he has done is all that he can do. There is a sense of authority in his voice, as he needs to reassure the people who will continue forward without his leadership, and there is a sense of desperation as well as he needs to reassure himself.  It is here that we can relate to Moses the man, as we sometimes find our loved ones doing as he did.

 For those of us with older parents or grandparents we too see similar behavior in their retelling of their exploits during the journey of their lives. And the subtext of their stories echoes the issues and fears of Moses. We are our most compassionate when we lovingly hold them and respect their stories as recounted. It is our way of saying to them yes my dear one, you do matter, you did make a difference to me. I will love you and remember you for these and all the other gifts you have shared.