Yom Kippur 5762 - 2001
Each human being is unique and precious to God. Each person has a purpose in God’s world, each life has a meaning. Each represents something new, something that never existed before, original and special. As is written in the Mishna, the second century law compendium: “…Whoever saves a single person, Scripture considers it as though a whole world had been saved” (Sanh. 4:5). The value of the human life is infinite.
The practice of keria, the tearing of a garment upon learning of the death of a family member, is one of the ways we express grief. It is a graphic and physical symbolic ripping that shows that the very fabric of our life has been torn.
Each of us has known loss of a loved one, a relative or friend. We know that when a loved one departs this world, the fabric of our life is affected, our very souls are torn. Each person has innumerable connections in the world of the living.
When we suffer a loss, there are a few simple things that can help. A kind word from a friend, a warm embrace, a supportive presence, a little extra help. Being together for the shiva mourning period, not being left alone. There are things that others do, or that we wish they would do, that help, a little.
When one dies at the hands of a drunk driver, we can work to make the roads safer. When one dies of a disease we can support scientists in their search for treatments and cures. When one dies after a long life we can find ways to continue their life’s work. We can create memorials to our loved ones.
Nothing can take away the feeling of loss or make things as they were before. But some things we can do can help, at least a little.
This year, we pause to remember the many dozens of our brothers and sisters, Jews, Israelis, Palestinian Arabs, Druze and others who perished in Israel and its neighbors as innocent victims of violence.
This year, we pause to remember the Six Thousand who perished in America on Tuesday two weeks ago [11 September]. Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus; Hispanics, Blacks, Whites, Asians, Indians; Men, Women, Children; Young and Old; American, British, French, Israeli; having in common tickets on the same flights, jobs or appointments in the same buildings. It would take two hours to read all their names. Were we to observe shiva for each of them in succession, it would take 120 years. We remember their innocence, their heroism, their humanity.
It is said that “The longest anyone has survived beneath the rubble of an earthquake was 13 days.” Two weeks have now passed since the Twin Tower and Pentagon catastrophe, and so we now mourn and memorialize those who perished.
For those who have carried the pain of loss of one loved one, for those who know what that means, the magnitude of loss of many thousands is perhaps incalculable. Tearing a garment is not enough; our hearts are torn.
What is said about these victims?
“There were 90 phone calls on her answering machine that day — people who knew she worked at the World Trade Center checking in to make sure she was o.k.”
“His wife was nine months pregnant with the son he would never know.”
You can read each obituary in the paper. Each person had a life, friends, family. Each was a whole world. So many in the BEKI community were touched by the loss or close call, by the trauma of being an eye-witness or live TV-witness. Each person had a network of family, of friends, of colleagues; collectively, those who perished were directly part of the lives of over a million people. Think of all the people who knew you during elementary school, college, the service, work, all of your roommates, neighbors, coworkers, relatives and friends. Each one who perished had a world of human contacts, of souls who felt pain at their loss. And tens of millions felt the horror of the terror of their passing passively before our eyes or on our television screens.
Vihi noam ha-shem elo-henu alenu, umaase yadenu konena alenu, umaase yadenu konenehu May the favor of Ad-onai our God be upon us; let the work of our hands be upheld; O uphold the work of our hands (Psalm 90).
Will our work survive? Will the products of a lifetime of work, of struggle, of labor, survive? What will be left of us after leave this world? What is the value of our accomplishments, contributions, labor?
A beautiful statement of this concern is found in “The Power of Holding Hands” by Rabbi Harold Kushner (in Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, compiled by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Dov Peretz Elkins, (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications) 2001, p. 106), in which he recounts the scene of two children playing in the sand, and what happens when a wave washes away their elaborate sandcastle. [The passage is not quoted here for copyright reasons but you can find the book in BEKI’s Rosenkrantz Family Library or you can purchase it from Amazon.com.]
What matters most is the bonds of love and life of Torah that we build. What matters is the institutionalization of our values and relationships. When we truly make a difference in this world, our work survives us.
When the period of mourning ends, in some cases it was customary to sew up, to repair, the garment that was torn for keria. That mended tear in the fabric would always show. The beauty of the original pattern could never be restored. But where it was torn and mended, the fabric would be stronger.
We rise for the Yizkor Memorial Prayers.
The following BEKI members have died since Rosh HaShana last year: See the listing at www.beki.org/deaths.html
The following members of the extended BEKI family have died since Rosh HaShana last year: See the listing at www.beki.org/deaths.html
This is a partial listing of the immediate family members (parents, siblings, children and spouses) of synagogue members and may not include their extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and others).