Passover—Yizkor- April 13, 2004 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
About seven years ago, I was sitting with one of the Gabbi’s, the ushers for the synagogue. We were thinking whom we should call to come to the service to ensure a Miniyan for the Kaddish prayers. It was a memorial service that needed to take place for someone’s mother. We looked at the membership list, and came to a person named Bernie--it was actually his own mother’s service that we were conducting. The Memorial Day for his mother was the following day.
We called Bernie, to ask for his presence, and we knew he was a well-to-do business man. I said, "Bernie, there is a service we want to have for your mother--but I need a quorum of ten congregants to have it--so I need you to come to this service." He hesitated and made excuses that he couldn’t make it because he had too many business appointments. I said, "Bernie, this is your mother, you need to be here for her at this time. You have your son and daughter who can take care of the business for you--why can’t you give an hour of your time--for your own mother?" He kept on giving me excuses and pretexts for getting out of it. I said to him, "One thing I want you to remember, you are close to 80, one day you will expect your children to honor your memory. How do you expect them to fellow in your footsteps, if you won’t step into Shul?"
Guess what? It turns out that he made time in his busy schedule and he showed up at the services. Not just that, but he came with his son and his daughter. He came to prayer services every day for several years after that until the end of his life. I asked him, "What happened?" He said, "Rabbi, my mother came to me in a dream and thanked me." He went on, "I was very touched with what you told me about my expectations for my children and I decided it was the right thing to do to help others who are having memorial services." In Judaism, no one is expected to be perfect, just better. The way we change is by seeing our mistake, admitting the mistake, and not doing it again.
The importance of ones choices is illustrated in the following tale:
There is a well-known story, about a Mexican fisherman --there was a boat docked in a tiny Mexican village where an American tourist was on vacation.
This tourist complemented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked him, "How long did it take you to catch this fine fish?"
The Mexican replied that it did not take long.
The tourist was perplexed, "But then why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?"
The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican smiled, and replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends play the guitar and sing a few songs, ta, ta, ta. As you can see, I have a full life."
The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with a processing plant and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles or even NYC. From there, you can direct your huge enterprise…"
The Mexican listened intently, but had a few questions. "How long would that take?"
"Well, to build up such an enterprise would take about 20-25 years," replied the American.
"And after that?"
"That’s when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing, "When your business gets real big, you can start selling stock and make millions."
"Millions, really--and after that?"
"Well, after that you can retire, live in a tiny village by the sea, sleep late, spend time with your children and grandchildren, take a siesta and spend an evening enjoying your friends…."
This story is a reminder that life is cyclical. Sometimes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Often, what we desire and wish for, is exactly what we already have. We learn from these stories, the importance of spirituality to life, in this transient world. Through the memorial service, we express concept that there is not only a beginning and end to physical life, but the spiritual part of our bodies remains.
At this time, we call upon these souls to have some interaction with us remaining on earth--we believe they are expecting us to follow in their footsteps, to follow their traditions for the world to be a better place. We expect them to lobby for us, and pray for us to G-d. And at this time when we are about to say the memorial service, we will sing for our beloved and all the brokenhearted all around the world. This year there are so many young widows and orphans--in Europe, Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan. Many of those who are innocent and have lost their lives or loved ones because of the viciousness of terrorism. We need to pray that these souls will be our emissaries and that God will have compassion on us and remove the tears from the eyes of the mourners. We must have hope that we will live in a better world.
May this festival also bring true peace to the people of the world and to all those who believe in G-d and believe in Peace. May the time soon come that the world becomes a place of peace and we fulfill the prophecy, of Isaiah, "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore."