Yom Kippur 5782/2021 - Yizkor - Rabbi David Eshel

  • 5782/2021
  • Rabbi Eshel
  • Sermon
  • Yom Kippur

Like any proud father would, over the lockdown I watched all 23 Marvel comics movies with my pre-teen son. Not only did we watch the movies, we also ventured into the new television shows as well. The first being a show called Wanda Vision. My son and I were all in… debating each episode, watching every breakdown, searching for every hidden clue, and planning our weekly commitments around the show’s broadcast. This was our time together, sharing a mutual love of all things Marvel… and really just sharing mutual love.

In one particular episode, Wanda is grieving over the death of her twin brother, Pietro. Vision, her android husband, of course, tries to comfort her. Wanda attempts to explain the metaphorical weight of her sadness to Vision. Vision tries to explain that he’s never experienced grief like Wanda’s as he’s never really lost anyone. And then this quote....

Grieving is known for being a negative emotion as it is overwhelming sadness. However, the only reason why we feel this level of sadness is because of the love...the love we feel for that person we lost. The grief is actually the love we feel for that person. It’s a reminder that we loved once and that love will remain within us. Hence, grief is love persevering… 

And I’m a mess… my son looks at me and asks, "Abba...why are you crying?"... then his look of concern turns into a wide-eyed epiphany, an ah-ha moment, and he says Abba… you should write a sermon about this!... The irony is not lost on me that my son, named after my father who died when I was not much older than my son is now, is telling me to write about my loss, and my grief and my love for my father… loss, grief, love...all encapsulated in this beautiful boy sitting right in front of me…he’s right… I should... 

At moments like this, not every day, but at moments like this, on a day like today, I feel, and I would guess many of us feel... so alone, so vastly, completely alone. we feel left alone by the loss of those whom we love, and how can anyone possibly understand how that feels, how we feel… because no one... knew dad the way I did, no one knew mom, the way i did, no one knew my son, my daughter, the way I did, no one knew her, knew him, knew them the way i, we did...and we sit with that loneliness, returning to the question to which there is no answer... why God? Why? Well, I mean we can answer the technical why, old age, cancer, accident, sickness… but those do not answer the real question of why. Yet if we sit only with that question then we will forever be pained and stuck because again, there is no knowable, comprehendible answer… Which means to me we are asking the wrong question. The question is not why… the question is now what? Now, what do we do? And the answer to that question is found in a traditional Jewish saying, one says to a mourner after the death of a loved one. "Zikhronam livrakha" May their memory be for a blessing…Or... May our memories of them be a blessing in our lives today...you see, the memory itself… is not intrinsically a blessing...rather what we do with the memory of the ones we love...that is what makes it a blessing. It’s prescriptive, it’s active, it gives us something to do… 

In a moment we will recite Kaddish Yatom, the mourner’s kaddish. And it is here in the Kaddish that gives us the “how”. If you have ever seen the kaddish it looks like it’s in Hebrew. But it’s not. It is actually in a language called Aramaic which was the vernacular, the spoken language of the time when our prayers were canonized. Hebrew was prayer language, Aramaic was the language of the every day, the people’s language, that language of conversation, of laughter, and tears, and stories. So why so meaningful a prayer be recited in the common language? I believe the answer lies hidden just at the surface. You see nowhere in the Kaddish is death mentioned. Rather it is an affirmation of life… and how do we affirm life, the lives of the ones we have loved and lost? It’s through our own language, through sharing our stories and our memories, constantly sharing our stories and our memories… this is how they live now… yes, it is not the same, it is not remotely the same, it is not even in the same ballpark as the same...but it is what we have… we are vessels from which the light of our loved ones shine… we turn their memory to blessings, full and abundant and rich blessings. Even the painful ones can inform and shape our lives for the good. I am not so naive as to think all the memories of our lives with our loved ones are perfect and beautiful. Families are complicated. Believe me, I understand this. Rather it’s what we do with our lives given what they did with theirs, right and wrong. That is the blessing…We share our memories, we share our stories using them as opportunities to grow, to learn, to connect. This is how they live now.

Sitting at Rosh Hashanah dinner with friends, just a few days ago… the table was beautifully set outside. They waited until I finished services so we could all start together. Each place setting is accompanied with its own kiddish cup. Our hostess shares the story behind each cup, and then she comes to her daughter Eden’s cup. Eden’s cup was her GG’s… GG wanted Eden to have it for her bat mitzvah and now it’s hers for all the Simchas we will spend together. It’s how GG wanted it… GG’s memory is a blessing… 

Rachel told her doctors, I don’t care what you have to do, I’m going to camp. She loved camp with all her heart, her soul, and her might… and brain cancer was not going to keep her away. She made it to her final summer in 2019 and died a little over a year later. Her cousins and friends still come to camp, we gather and tell stories, our arms wrapped around each other as we sing her favorite songs. Rachel’s memory is a blessing…

Nanny loved to bake … the recipe card for her date cookies is torn and stained and only my wife, Nanny’s favorite person, can read it. She’s transposed it but the original card just carries with it extra flavor and love. She bakes them with our daughter. Our daughter has no memories of her own, of Nanny. But she knows Nanny well with every gooey bite after gooey bite of date cookies. Nanny’s memory is a blessing.

I sit with my son, who is named after my father… you should write a sermon about this he says… He’s right, I should...and I think to myself, I've been writing this sermon since the day my father died. I sit with my son...and watch marvel movies and breakdowns, and search for hidden clues, and I will always, always  make the time ...because my father didn’t… My father’s memory is a blessing… 

Let’s use today, this very moment to continue our holy and important work… to share the lives of the ones we’ve lost… zichronam livracha so we actively make our memories of them always and only for a blessing.