LOSING AND REMEMBERING – Khukas – Num. 19:1—22:1, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
All through this reading we will find the imminence and effect of losing treasured people. First it is Miriam who dies. We read simply that she dies and gets buried. We don’t know who buried her, or what kind of mourning the people did. But we know they felt her loss. In her honor, says our Midrash, a miraculous well followed the Israelite people all through their 40 years in the desert. As soon as she died, they had no water to drink. That’s what they complained about.
Soon thereafter, they lose Aaron. He and his son Elazar climb the mountain, he gives Elazar his priestly robe, and his life ends. He is buried on the mountain, and the people mourn him for 30 days.
Why 30 days? Significantly, we will read no law about 30 days of mourning. Yet we still observe it. Granted, it is now just the first of 11 months of Kaddish, but the first month is the deepest, starting with the week of shiva when the mourners traditionally stay at home, and refrain from work or other regular activities while they accept sympathy calls, praying and repeating the Kaddish with the friends who help them form a minyan; then proceeding through the rest of the 30 days when it is customary not to visit the grave or to partake in entertainment. Aaron was a great man in our history, but memorializing him took no different form from how we honor each of our departed ever since. As we will read in Deuteronomy, Moses himself was also mourned by the entire people for 30 days.
Dealing with death is difficult. No law we can write or even understand limits any one lifetime. Human beings live and die by a decree we cannot know.
Personally I find this week particularly difficult since I just lost a family member who shared much of these last 8 decades. His name was David Cohen. Besides being a successful engineer, mayor of his town, fellow vet of WW2, lifelong Yankee fan, devoted husband and father, and a man with a great sense of humor, was my first cousin. For most of our years we lived in different places, but we had our Bar Mitzvah services in the same shul – he in 1937 and I in 1939! Of all the 30-some cousins in our generation, we were the two still alive. Now he has left us. But I am not alone. The good memories we shared still bless my life. Because I can say of him as we do in reverence: Zikhrono liv’rakha – His memory is to be a blessing.
All we can do for those we love while they are with us, is to help them live. After that, we can honor good people’s memories as we have always done — from the heart.