Category Archives: Yizhor

Memorial Day

Today, this Memorial day, we remember with awe and reverence those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in the defense of our nation. All lives matter, but they were among our best and brightest.

 We honor their memories best by re-dedicating ourselves to the struggle to make our country live up to its values, a place for all of us and worthy of the fallen and those who returned home willing to make that sacrifice and forever changed by their extraordinary service.

 A blessed and happy Memorial Day to all.

Finding Relevance in Eikev

Robin Williams’ untimely passing touched the hearts of many of us.  He touched our hearts because we had a personal connection.  His gifts of comedy and acting his brilliant artistry found a way into each of us.  And now we lament his passing on a personal level.

My father died about the time that Debbie Friedman passed away. Debbie was an iconic figure. Her passing created a tragic sense of personal loss in the Jewish community.  And as deeply as I cared for Debbie, I was more focused on the loss of my dad.  It was then that I noticed how we routinely find some losses to deeply affect us and others devolve from a human connection to a mere statistic.  

This approach to death is a coping mechanism;  If each death affected us deeply, we would be overwhelmed by the emotions and paralyzed.  The mind and heart do what they need to do in order for us to move on about our lives.  But beneath this, for those who are lost, what do they leave behind?  

This is the question I find myself asking about Moses in the Torah portion Eikev.  Moses is the iconic humble servant.  And yet, in this portion, Moses repeats several times that it was because of what he did that saved the people from oblivion.  Moses’ humility moves to the background as the need to be relevant takes over.  

Might Moses be scared?  He is the last of his generation, the generation that was to completely perish before the people would enter the Promised Land.  Might Moses be scared that he would fade into oblivion, and be a simple footnote to history?  The extraordinary experiences of creating a nation over the past 40 years might be obscured while the people are so focused on moving forward into the promise that the future holds.  

History and our entire tradition holds Moses up as the great leader and teacher.  We still recall Moshe Rabeinu with awe as we retell the stories of his life inextricably bound to the unfolding of our people’s destiny. But Moses did not know that at the time.  In this, his second discourse, Moses knows the end is drawing near.  In the remaining time left to him, Moses struggles to share the highlights of forging of a rag-tag group of slaves into B’nei Israel, about to enter and conquer the Land.  He can hope that his entire life’s work means something to those he has shepherded.  But it is only his hope that they will remember him, embraced his teachings and teach the generations to come; that they will become the people who God has offered as possible.  Yes Moses, we did hear and we did learn and we are still struggling to achieve the vision set before us.  

For our elders, this might explain the strident moments in your conversations with your children.  For our children, this might offer insight into the motivations of your parents.    Knowing this might help us to better understand the personal connection between parent and child.  We will feel the loss when our parents are gone.  But we can share and appreciate the wisdom of our elders now, while they are present in our lives.

My father was God

A beautiful poem I shared for Yizkor Shavuot by Yehuda Amichai-

My father was God and did not know it.

He gave me
The Ten Commandments
neither in thunder nor in fury; neither in fire nor in cloud
But rather in gentleness and love. And he added caresses and kind words
and he added “I beg You,” and “please.”And he sang “keep” and “remember” the Shabbat         In a single melody and he pleaded and

cried quietly between one utterance and the next ,“Do not take the name of God in vain,”       do not take it, not in vain,I beg you, “do not bear false witness against your neighbor.”           And he hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear“
Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not murder.”

And he put the palms of his open hands
On my head with the Yom Kippur blessing.“Honor, love, that your days might be long On the earth.”  And my father’s voice was white like the hair on his head.
Later on he turned his face to me one last time
Like on the day when he died in my arms and said
I want to add Two to the Ten Commandments:
The eleventh commandment – “Thou shall not change.”
And the twelfth commandment – “Thou must surely change.”
So said my father and then he turned from me and walked off
Disappearing into his strange distances.

אבי היה אלוהים / יהודה עמיחי

אבי היה אלוהים ולא ידע.הוא נתן לי את עשרת הדיברות לא ברעם ולא בזעם, לא באש ולא בענן אלא ברכות ובאהבה. והוסיף לטופים והוסיף מילים טובות, והוסיף “אנא” והוסיף “בבקשה”. וזמר זכור ושמור בניגון אחד והתחנן ובכה בשקט בין דבר לדבר, לא תשא שם אלוהיך לשוא, לא תשא, לא לשוא, אנא, אל תענה ברעך עד שקר.וחבק אותי חזק ולחש באוזני, לא תגנב, לא תנאף, לא תרצח. ושם את כפות ידיו הפתוחות על ראשי בברכת יום כפור. כבד, אהב, למען יאריכון ימיך על פני האדמה. וקול אבי לבן כמו שער ראשו. אחר כך הפנה את פניו אלי בפעם האחרונה כמו ביום שבו מת בזרועותיי, ואמר:”אני רוצה להוסיף שנים לעשרת הדברות:הדבר האחד-עשר, “לא תשתנה”והדבר השנים-עשר,”השתנה, תשתנה”כך אמר אבי ופנה ממני והלך ונעלם במרחקיו המוזרים.

—Yehuda Amichai