If my readers will put up with a personal Torah message, this weeks reading in Deuteronomy chapters 7 through 11 called Eykev — has a special meaning for me.
Every year certain dates bring special memories. Yortzite or Yarzeit or יארצייט or however you want to spell it the anniversary of death of a next of kin, is a hallowed observance for many of us. We light the memorial candle. We find a synagogue and say Kaddish, if we can. And we spend a few minutes with echoes and mental pictures or faded photographs of Mom or Dad or some other close relative who once shared our life.
Approaching still another such date, I revisit some of the conditions that make it significant, that make it mine.
Jewish tradition considers it a special mark of value to die on the Sabbath. Folklore tells us that a tzadik someone who is righteous meets our Maker on the holiest day of the week. Both of my parents died on Saturday. That doesnt mean I have an opportunity to honor them any more than if they died on some other day. But conceptually it tells me that Im not the only one who honors them. Tradition also identifies parents in the memorial prayer as avi mori אבי מורי or imi morati – אמי מורתי my father, or mother, my teacher. And indeed they were my first and best teachers.
Dates are also worth considering. My fathers yortzite is 18 days into the Hebrew month of Av, also called Menahem Av literally consoling the Father.
That is the date on which I am writing. Actually my father died on Shabat Eykev, which that year occurred on the 18th.
I like to think of this date as chai av chai, the Hebrew word for Life, חי with the numerical value of 18, and אב av which means Father. Thus, chai av translates father lives. But thats not how I first thought of it.
The month of Av is the saddest month of the Jewish year, the month when we commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Temple and the 1492 Expulsion from Spain, as well as other calamities, all on the same day, tisha bav the ninth of Av.
Nine plus nine = 18, my fathers yortzite. His death at just 71 hit me as a double tragedy, tisha+tisha. Only as the years passed and I found ways to honor his memory did I begin to feel the day as chai av father lives.
Reading over this weeks Torah portion today, I come to the point where Moses tells about receiving the second set of holy Tablets the Ten Commandments having broken the first set when he saw his people worshipping a golden calf. Here he also mentions the death of his brother Aaron, the High Priest, and the fact that Aarons son Elazar took his place. Commentaries note that Aaron died long after the second tablets were received, but his death is mentioned here to show that his death grieved G-d just as much as the smashing of the first set of tablets. One Hasidic commentary, in a work called Divrey David Davids words points out an additional significance. The second set of tablets was not identical to the first. The first set was G-ds creation exclusively hewn and inscribed by the Divine hand and given to Moses. The second set was Moses work, although Divinely directed. Correspondingly, Elazar was not identical to his father. He functioned as High Priest to the best of his ability, but he would never be what Aaron was to his people.
Certainly this happens many times. Children do not equal the example their parents set. Not always, but frequently.
My father of blessed memory was a scholar and dedicated rabbi, who ministered, wrote books on Judaism, and taught a couple of generations of American rabbis. I give thanks that we were able to create a foundation in memory of him and my mother, the Rabbi Samuel S. and A. Irma Cohon Memorial Foundation, which gives a substantial annual award for outstanding service to Klal Yisrael, the total Jewish People, as detailed on the website www.cohonaward.com
But I know I could never fill his place.
On Shabat Eykev and throughout the year, his memory is a blessing.
My Parents Rabbi Samuel S & A Irma Cohon