Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD & Chancellor Arnold Eisen, PhD – March 15, 2019
From the Rabbi David Lyon
“Will they honor her memory by choosing to do the same?”
The Jewish New Year 5779, is just a week away. Before it comes, we’ll read in Torah, the portion called Ki Tavo, which means “When you enter.” It’s the portion in Deuteronomy that is part of Moses’ final speeches to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land without him. He admonished and urged them to remember the long way that God had brought them from Egypt, to keep the Sabbath and holidays, and to behave ethically with each other and with deference to God’s acts of creation.
It’s a lesson that wasn’t lost on the bat mitzvah last Saturday afternoon. She led the service beautifully and chanted exquisitely from Torah. In my words to her, I explained that up until the moment of her bat mitzvah, all her lessons about mitzvah, holidays, and history, were in preparation for the moment when she would be held more responsible for her own Jewish life. “Ki Tavo” was the perfect portion for a young woman who demonstrated that she was prepared to make more of her own decisions as she entered the “land” of her adolescence and adulthood.
Likewise, the portion spoke to a grieving family this past week. They accompanied their mother to her final resting place on earth with copious tears following her unexpected though peaceful death. At the shiva minyan, I taught that their mother, who was a role model of tzedakah, generosity of spirit, unconditional love for her family and others, and a mitzvah-maven if there ever was one, prepared them, her children and grandchildren, for the time when they would live on without her physical presence. Even as the Jewish year is ending, they are now preparing to enter the New Year without her. Though their grief is raw and deep, it should give way to increasing strength that is reflective of her hopes for them to be the people she modeled for them. Will they be good to each other, will they give generously and act kindly, will they keep a Jewish home and support the synagogue like she and her husband, who preceded her in death, and will they instill in their own children her love of Judaism and Jewish participation?
These questions just begin to scratch the surface of her concerns for them. The truth is that, as they tell it, she was a quintessential Jewish exemplar of ethical and ritual mitzvot. So, the first questions is, simply, will they honor her memory by choosing to do the same? There are three children; perhaps they can accomplish the task by sharing it between them. But, better yet, because she reared three bright and accomplished children and loved six adoring grandchildren, they already know how to do it, and more importantly, why they should do it.
Moses led the Israelites to the boundary of the Promised Land. Upon his death, they mourned. Though Moses’ life ended without the privilege to enter the Land with them, all that he inspired in them through selfless lessons and examples went with them as long as they remembered God and Torah. Moses’ leadership was conveyed to Joshua, his successor. To him, Moses said, “Hazak v’amatz,” be strong and of good courage. The people prevailed with Joshua at the helm and God’s promise in the lead.
Let’s bring with us into the New Year everything that’s been bequeathed to us by those who have prepared us, reared us, and shown us how to do it. We are inheritors of Torah teachings that highlight mitzvot we must do for the sake of others and for the sake of our covenant with God. May the New Year be sweetened by all our deeds that contribute to personal well-being, communal strength, and enduring peace.
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM, every Sunday at 6:45 a.m. CT, and is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights 2011) available on Amazon.com.