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Schlepping the Distance to Bury the Dead

I schlepped to the middle of… far away… to attend the funeral of the father of some friends. Traffic was bad both ways. Being on my day off, the funeral cut into the little personal time I would have all week.  Still, I went.

There are no medals for attending someone’s funeral. Like the ritual of shoveling earth on the grave, there are no “thank you’s” for attending a funeral or a shiva minyan. And yet they rank particularly high on the Jewish ritual “must do” list. Accompanying the dead to their final resting place (halvayat hamet) is one of the acts of kindness (Gemilut Chasadim / גמילות חסדים) that the famous Mishnah in Tractate Peah 1:1 lists among the deeds “for which a person receives some reward in this world while the principal reward remains  in the world to come (דברים שאדם אוכל מפירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא).

For this funeral, I didn’t know the deceased. I met him only through the stories his daughter and son told me over the years. A man of few words and fewer expressions of emotion, his being overflowed with artistic talents that bordered on prodigious. A survivor of the Shoah, he struggled with and extended far beyond that darkest of lifetimes. Non-religious, he nonetheless birthed the beginning of a dynasty of significant rabbonim (rabbis). I learned about him and carry on his memory because of their stories and this funeral.

Perhaps that’s why we drop everything to go to funerals:

  • to attend to the communal needs of caring for the bereaved; 
  • to become a vessel of memory for a person we may not have known; 
  • to remind us that the sun does not rise or set based on our particular needs or schedule;
  • to bring the community to the mourners so they will feel valued, cared for, significant; and
  • to goad us into counting our blessings. 

So I schlepped a long distance yesterday to attend my friend’s father’s funeral.

A moment in time. A pause from life’s pressures. A gift to remind me of what is really important.

May Dave’s memory be for a blessing.

May his children and grandchildren find the courage, fortitude, love of family and God’s love to endure the difficult weeks ahead.

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