This has been a tough week in some ways; it really didn’t feel very “New Year”ish. I sang two services as cantorial soloist, and for the second one, though short, it was more like rabbi/cantor. Read Torah, fed 20 people, and POOF! Rosh Hashanah was over.
These ten days have been filled with getting back to the inbox I ignored, getting back to volunteering for Limmud Chicago which is Nov 15, 16 (don’t miss it! register now! Neshama Carlebach and Josh Nelson are going to be there!), and then there’s actual life, which in this instance, took the form of death, actually.
Two people died this week; two people I didn’t know well at all, but whose death affected people I love. One was my friend’s father. He was old and frail, in a care facility. The other was the mother of my daughter’s friend, and she just collapsed. She would have been about my age, and it sent my daughter into a tailspin. It’s hard to hug a sobbing child when she’s 800 miles away. If someone else’s mom can just drop, anyone’s can. Hers. Anyone’s.
Who shall live and who shall die.
I thought, of course, about the final parasha in the Torah. It’s called Haazinu, and some say Moses didn’t really write it because it describes things that happen after his death. Moses finally dies. He knew it was coming; it’s unclear if the people knew it, too. He found out ages ago (in Torah time) that he wouldn’t make it into the Land. Did he share that knowledge with anyone? Thoughts for another time.
But Moses did spend the entire book of Deuteronomy preparing the people for the fact that he wouldn’t always be around. They were going to have to learn to live and flourish and carry on without him. All he taught, all they experienced together – it was going to have to enough. Moses’ brain-dump that is the last book of the Torah was just going to have to suffice.
How do we know when all we’ve taught our children is enough? How do we know when everything we’ve tried to teach them has sunk in? We don’t know how long we’ll be around, and that’s more and more in our thoughts as we age, and as we come around to this time of the year again.
Here were two people, two parents, at different stages in their lives, but whatever they did up until then will have to have been enough, because there is no more.
But tefillah, teshuva, tzedakah and cancel the stern decree. Prayer, repentance, and generosity.
That’s all we have. Whether or not we can actually “cancel the stern decree”, I don’t know. Maybe lives filled with prayer, generosity and repentance will make whatever stern decrees that come our way a little easier to bear. Maybe a life lived that way will make our impact sink in, and stick around for our children, for however long we are around.
I don’t know, but it’s a place to start, as I sit in synagogue for Neilah, as the gates close and another Yom Kippur ends.
Wishing you all an easy fast, and to be sealed for a good year.