To Life!

by Rabbi Lee Friedlander

Dear Friends,

After almost fifty years in the rabbinate, so much of Jewish ritual still moves me.  Consider the conclusion of a traditional funeral.  Following the shoveling of earth on the coffin and the recitation of ayl malay rakhamim, the memorial prayer, mourners recite kaddish, which is a panegyric in praise of God with nary a word about death.  They are the first people to turn away from the grave to walk between two rows of comforters.  Then, upon entering the shiva house, the mourners are fed eggs.

What is the connection between these actions?  Together with the mandate that Jews should bury their dead as soon after they expire as possible, can this be seen as a denial of death?  Quite to the contrary: Given Judaism’s emphasis on life embodied in the biblical commandment to “choose life,” I see it an affirmation of living.  The recitation of a prayer attributed to the angels praising the very Source of Life, the turning from the dead to walk among the living, and the ingesting of life’s future in the form of an egg are preludes to the mourning period.  These rituals instruct that with death there is sadness and/or irresolution, but there is also life to look toward even in the shadow of death.

That’s why the teaching of Ecclesiastes (7:1) that “the day of death is better than the day of birth” seems counter to Jewish tradition, but watching my grandchildren be and grow has given me new insight into the verse.  At four months and weighing in at twenty pounds(!), Tallulah is a bundle of giggles and of wonder.  Last Sunday, her mother Ruthie, quickly dismissing my review of the play “A Prayer for the French Republic” handed Tallulah to me to tell my story to who smiled and laughed at every word I said.  An hour later, Tallulah’s seven-year-old cousin, Helaina, was happy to play UNO with me until I finally won a game when she passed me on to her just-turned four-year-old brother Isaac who took me on for the next half-an-hour until we completed the track for his trains.  I now know why my mother (z”l) never missed an opportunity to call my daughters her “jewels;” but she missed them grow into themselves becoming mothers and responsible citizens in their own right cast in her mold.  And so Tallulah is a joy to us all, but, at present, she is only potential, a potential that will be realized with guidance, affirmation, and love in decades to come.

That’s where all of you at RSNS come in.  Your warm wishes that welcomed Tallulah into the world after Ruthie’s four-and-a-half-year-long pregnancy, and the many, many contributions that were made in celebration of her birth and of her naming, have already made her presence in the world a source of happiness and of righteous acts.  God willing, Tallulah will be granted years and opportunities to do good on her own, but she already has the merit of being a force for good thanks to you.  Our family thanks you for your warm welcome of Tallulah into the world and for making her existence a blessing.

With appreciation and love,