Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Letter from Mother: "Please Don't Cremate Me"


Dear Son,

Please heed my silent cry.

You cannot hear it because it isn't audible.

I can no longer communicate with you, though I helplessly wish I could.

This transition is traumatic for me, and it's difficult to describe in human terms.

My earthly life has ended, but my spirit is very much alive... alive in a different way. My soul is also aware, struggling to make sense of my departure from the body that housed me for all these years, with which I had so strongly identified.

I have now come to realize that this body was never me, but a cocoon of sorts.

My earthly remains are not me, but the remnant of the cocoon I left behind.
In fact, these earthly remains are not even "mine" anymore.

They belong to the Infinite One to Whom I am returning.

This new realization is unsettling, to put it lightly, but also liberating.

Dearest Son, please understand.

I am now in a place of truth. All the plans, goals, and stated wishes I may have articulated to you during my mortal stay on earth are irrelevant to me now.

The 401K means nothing to me, nor does the yacht, wardrobe or estate I may have fretted over so much in the past.

Please don't get stuck and feel obliged to perpetuate those things in my memory. I have absolutely no need or interest in those things now.

It's not about "me" anymore. In fact, I now understand that it was never about "me" to begin with.

Most importantly:

Please don't pay attention to final requests I might have articulated that were made out of blind ignorance, misinformation and apathy that are so prevalent in the mortal world. The corporeal body was so overwhelming that it blurred my vision. Please know that where I am now, in a place of truth, I most certainly do NOT wish for the remains of my erstwhile body to be incinerated or pulverized.

That will cause me much trauma, confusion and grief.

Please treat that body respectfully. Do not destroy or deface it. Return it to my Infinite Creator Who had lent it to me for the past 80 years of my mortal life. Please gently restore it back to His earth, the same earth from which He fashioned it.

Please bury those earthly remains that served as my body for the entire eighty years of my mortal sojourn. It experienced my joy, my suffering, my deepest emotions, aspirations, all the good deeds that I accomplished. I am very proud of those, and the body through which I accomplished them serves as reminder of them.

Please don't burn it destructively. Don't reduce it to ashes. Don't destroy that lasting testimony to my sojourning on earth. Don’t dispose of me.

Don't poison the earth's precarious environment with harmful gases that are emitted when human corpses are cremated, polluting the earth's waterways and wildlife. How could I bear such a legacy... that my remains were disposed of in a way that recklessly pollutes and poisons the earth that hosted me for eighty years!

Instead, place it peacefully and gently into the earth. Let its remains regenerate the earth, giving back its fertility to the cosmos.

Let the earth embrace and cradle that lifeless body that served as my cocoon. Think of it as planting a seed. Those remains are still meaningful to me, and the site on earth where those remains are interred will always pull on my soul strings, so to say.

When my remains are planted in the earth, it represents that my legacy will germinate and flourish upon high, and also down below in the hearts of those who remember me.

Moreover, that body will someday house me again in the resurrection of the dead. I know this seems unrealistic and even mythological to you. I can relate, as I had always felt the same way in the past. Now, however, I see things quite differently. My mortal life passed like a fleeting dream. The resurrection isn't too far off, from my present perspective.

Incineration is an awful and violent way to treat those precious remains of my time on earth. It recalls the most horrific abuses against our people during the Holocaust and other times in history.

Remnants of something sacred and cherished aren’t burned but buried, like a faded Torah scroll reverently laid to rest.

Trash gets incinerated. Effigies get set ablaze and reduced to ash in an act of scorn, derision and hatred.

Please lay me to rest in an act of love, reverence, and compassion.

I know that you are probably skeptical while reading my earnest plea. You are probably thinking that some rabbi just concocted it in a creative attempt to convince you of his "religious" precepts.

No! Some rabbi may have written these words, but they capture my sentiments exactly.

I am now a helpless victim of my own poor misinformed (past) choices, and the only one who can save me is you, my dearest child.

Please don't send my mortal remains to some for-profit business where workers, who are paid barely-livable wages, manhandle corpses with their radios blasting. Instead, send it to a Chevra Kadisha ("Holy Fellowship"), a Jewish burial society run by men and women of the community who volunteer out of awe and veneration for the miracle of life and the sanctity of my soul's earthly cocoon. Those upstanding individuals, who consider it the highest privilege to care for my body, will undoubtedly treat it with love and respect it deserves.

Please don't dishonor my remains with chemicals or toxic injections to artificially prevent it from becoming one with the earth from which it was fashioned. Don't embalm me. Don't drain the blood from my body. Please just respect me and leave my body intact. Let it reunite with nature in its present natural state. 

Please don't imprison my body in a non-biodegradable box that prevents it from returning to the earth either. 

Instead, let those benevolent women of the Chevra Kadisha reverently wash my body with purifying waters of the mikva. Let them dress it with traditional humble shrouds and ensconce it in a natural pine casket.

In the place where I now find myself, the fact that I am Jew is incredibly important. As such, the cadaver that once housed me is a Jewish body.

Please bury my body in a Jewish place. I know I may not have lived my life in such a consistently-Jewish manner, but that's irrelevant now. Please restore me to my people. More accurately, please help me assert who I am and always was by returning my body to where it rightfully belongs, in a burial grounds surrounded by the earthly remains of my fellow Jews.

Once we're on the topic, please avoid memorial parks with fancy concrete liners. Just the plain old earth will do just fine. Even better if you can bury my body in the holy soil of Israel with no casket at all.


Whatever you do, please don't put me in one of those upright concrete mausoleums that purport to be "The Abraham and Sarah Mausoleum." That's not the Jewish way. Just let me return to the earth. That's where my body will find peace.

And please… please don't be misled by any mortuaries that offer so-called "Jewish cremations." Cremations are inherently not Jewish. Never were and never will be.

I know I may have told you differently before my mortal passing. Maybe I had expressed that I wanted to be cremated because I perceived it as expedient and economical, and the last thing I wanted at that time in my life was to be an additional burden on anyone. Maybe I didn't want to "take up space," but preferred to simply disappear without fanfare.

Dear son, know that I was sadly misguided. In fact, now I see it as the exact opposite. Burning fossil fuels to create a blazing and fiery 1,800-degrees inferno to incinerate my flesh, organs, sinews and bones... there is no greater furor and disruptive brouhaha than that. I don't want such a furious and destructive fuss over my remains. Money is immaterial to me now, so please spend the extra dollars and have me interred in a quiet and meaningful way, without all that fiery excess.

*          *          *

Yes, yes... I hear your disbelief and skepticism loud and clear. You might even be offended or enraged at the poor rabbi who sent this letter to you, who is only doing his job that our Infinite Creator entrusted him.

Please understand that this rabbi speaks the truth! He has nothing monetary to gain, no stakes in the game, so to say. He just wants to save my body from the horrific fate that awaits it in that accursed crematorium. He wishes to honor me and my memory. Don't be angry at him. Embrace him and befriend him. Thank him profusely for caring so much about me, a fellow Jew from afar whom he never met, and who’s no longer alive to reciprocate his kindness!

If money is an issue, I know that this rabbi will not rest until a traditional burial is paid for in full. It is an honor for Jewish community to pay for this. Judaism calls it a "Meit Mitzva," spiritual opportunity of the highest order. The community will gladly rise to the occasion and help you with any costs. Please allow them that opportunity. Don't be ashamed. Instead, feel grateful that you're a Jew and that Jews care for each other. In fact, you are doing them a favor by presenting them with such an awesome opportunity.

In the world of truth, there is no anger, stubbornness or resentment. I cannot blame you for doing what you unfortunately think, but I will be so eternally appreciative if you do the truly-right thing and bury my remains.

Don't be concerned about not honoring any stated requests made in the past. Realize that you will be honoring me in the highest way by burying my body.

The world of truth has no polemics either, but let me try one more angle that might appeal to your mortal intellect, a posthumous Pascal Wager of sorts:

Do you believe that I have any awareness of what is going on at present? Do you think I will have any gratification if you honor some request I had made before I died? Of course you don’t. You surely assume that it's irrelevant to me now what happens to this corpse. So then why do insist on honoring an obsolete instruction that has no relevance to me now anyway?

The rabbi is begging you not to cremate my remains. He claims that it will hurt me and cause me eternal trauma. You are skeptical, but what do you have to lose by letting this rabbi arrange a burial for my remains? No harm done. It’s better for planet earth and for wildlife. It is good for Jewish continuity and community. It is good for your descendants, who will some day visit my grave site and meaningfully remember that their great-grandmother was a Jew. It’s a win-win situation.

Let go of those foolish cremation plans and do the right thing. Let me repose in peace as a Jew humbly returned to the earth.

*          *          *

Wait. I know what you might be thinking. You want to keep “me” near you in an urn. Yikes.

These remains are no longer me. They do not depict or embody me in any way. Please do not objectify them.
Please let them return to nature organically and naturally.

Burning is wasteful and destructive. It’s the exact opposite of what my life represents. It’s a reprehensible scorched-earth policy of sorts.

The ashes that remain after a cremation are no longer my remains. They are something else, something foreign, a waste-product of wanton and violent destruction wrought by the furious flames of an 1,800-degree inferno.

Cremation will only cause me to be detached, ever distant from you and the world in which you live.

I do not want those charred remains of my desecrated body to furnish your home, nor do I want it displayed atop the mantle of your fireplace.

Don’t you understand? My mortal passing signifies a natural end to the body and the transition of my immortal soul to a purely spiritual realm.

Instead, please adorn your home with good deeds inspired by thinking about me. Furnish your living room with hospitality, charity, and kind words that are dedicated to perpetuating my legacy. That’s all that matters to me now, and that’s how I wish to be remembered.

Please. Don’t reduce my memory to some lifeless urn stuffed with ash that represents death and traumatic destruction. It is NOT how I wish to be thought of. That’s not how I want to feel close with you now.

Instead, your blessings, your mitzvot, your Torah study, your joy and enthusiasm. That makes me feel close to you. Say l’chaim to my memory and sing a happy tune. That’s how we will feel close.

Don’t worry if a Jewish burial means that my remains will be geographically far away from you. To the contrary, by being buried the natural way, my mortal cocoon will forever be part of the earth upon which you walk. Wherever you go, I will be with you.

But more importantly, remember that my mortal remains are not me. I am now in a place where distance can no longer separate us. As my soul soars aloft, I’ll always feel closeness to you. You are my hands and feet in this world.

Please live your life to the fullest and make it meaningful. Find me in your acts of kindness, in your study of Torah. Feel me in warm rays of sun on your walk with your neighbor, in the funny stories you heard from me when you tell them to your own children. See me in a young child’s smile, in the eyes of an elderly person you visit and cheer up. Hear me in the voices of children when they study mishna to honor my neshama. Hear me in the resounding amen that people respond to the kaddish you recite in my memory, ascribing sanctity to the awesome Name of our Creator in the world that He is constantly creating.

Hear me in the sound of your coin dropping in the charity box.

That’s where I wish to be heard, to be felt and seen. That’s where I wish to be found.

My dear child. This is your only chance to make the right choice. Once my remains are cremated, it is irreversible and irrevocable.

Please don't let my earnest please fall on deaf ears. Open your heart and feel my soul vibrations calling out to you.

My soul cries out to you in desperation. The ball is in your court. This is the moment of truth.

Please bury my remains.

Love,

Your mother who loves you always, who bore and raised you, was there for you when you were unable to care for yourself, who cries out to you now in her own hour of need,
Mom

Monday, December 2, 2019

Urgent History Lesson for Rabbis




Have you heard of Yehoshua ben Gamla?

The Talmud states that he is to be remembered for good ("זכור לטוב").

Why is he deserving of such a favorable designation?

The reason is: he had the merit of instituting Torah schools to accommodate all Jewish children in all places, thereby preserving Torah study for all generations.

Originally, fathers were responsible to teach their own children (as Deuteronomy 11:19 states: "And you shall teach them to your children"). Our sages were concerned that not every father was capable of teaching his child, so they instituted that a school for children be established in Jerusalem. This was also insufficient, since fathers would bring their children up to Jerusalem to study, but a child with no father would not ascend and wouldn't learn. So they went a step further and instituted that Torah schools be set up in one city of each province, and that teenagers were brought to learn. This too fell short, since some of these youth had never had formal education and were insubordinate, refusing to learn. So Yehoshua ben Gamla came and instituted that ever single village and town be required to hire teachers for all the local children starting from six and seven years of age.

Interestingly, this same Yehoshua ben Gamla wasn't so highly-regarded during his tenure as kohen gadol, and seen as mediocre at best, deemed unworthy for the high office. He actually secured the position through bribery and subterfuge, since he had married the wealthiest woman in Jerusalem, Marta bas Baitus. He was no rabbi, and hadn't even necessarily been worthy for any sort of leadership position.

Yet nevertheless, his shortcomings are irrelevant in light of his awesome deed that benefited Jewish children for all time.
He is to be remembered for good, זכור לטוב!

In light of the well-known rabbinic dictum, מכלל הן אתה שומע לאו -- we may infer the negative from the positive, the reverse is also true.

You might be a brilliant and accomplished Torah scholar, a saintly and virtuous tzadik, a worthy leader in your community... but if you act to deprive Jewish children of a Jewish education, if you sanction a policy that bans children from school... woe is to you. And woe is to all of us.

Sadly, you will NOT be remembered for the good.

Instead, you are to be remembered for the opposite of good, Heaven forfend.

Irrespective of your scholarship or anything positive you may have hitherto accomplished, you will simply be remembered as the rabbi who expelled ten-thousand healthy Jewish children from school, cruelly depriving them of an education, adversely affecting them and all future generations. You are the foolhardy and inept leader who caused Torah to be forgotten from Israel, ה' ישמרנו. That is your ignominious legacy.

You are worse than a bribe-taker, more compromised than an unscrupulous opportunist, more illegitimate than an unfit cohen gadol who bribed his way to high office. You are irredeemable. 

Don't say: "If parents choose not to vaccinate, then they are responsible for their own child's education." That's precisely the insufficient situation that Yehoshua ben Gamla came to remedy, seeing that parents are often incapable of teaching their children adequately.

You are not the CDC's enforcer and have no right to deprive that child of an education, in gross violation of halacha.
It's high time to mend your wicked ways and learn the lesson of Yehoshua ben Gamla, זכור לטוב.

Do your job and see to it that every single Jewish child in your community receives the Torah education s/he deserves.

Get all those children back into school.

And then you will indeed be remembered for good [1].




Notes:

[1] "There is no good like Torah -- ואין טוב אלא תורה."
And ואין תורה כתורתן של תינוקות של בית רבן, הבל שאין בה חטא -- there is no Torah study that compares to the Torah learning of tinokos shel beis rabban, Jewish schoolchildren, innocent breath that is free of sin, upon whose merit the world exists.
Ironically, your attempt to justify your unspeakable abuses against these unvaccinated children by villifying them as noncompliant with so-called "public health policy," which you know as well as I is NOT a Jewish virtue nor halachically-sound idea. You cynically tar-and-feather these children as "sinners" and "rodfim" (!!), but our sages declared that tinokos shel beis rabban are innocent, holy and pure. Shame on you. רחמנא ליצלן היו לא תהיה. Return to the side of good and stand up for tinokos shel beis rabban!


[2] Yehoshua ben Gamla lived some 1,940 years ago, shortly before the destruction of the second Holy Temple, a difficult period for klal yisrael. Surely our sages weren't fond of the rampant corruption that prevailed during those trying time, shifty behavior that Yehoshua ben Gamla embodied. Nevertheless, his awesom deed on behalf of Jewish children was so laudatory that it eclipsed all else. This, in spite of the fact that bribery and factionalism are what ominiously presaged the destruction of the Temple and the onset of our millennia-long exile! Perhaps the sages saw in Yehoshua ben Gamla's takan an antidote to exile (as in "הקדים הקב"ה רפואה למכה -- Hashem preempted the cure before the disease") and a vehicle by means of which we will verily rebuild the Temple and gather all the exiles: teaching Torah to ALL Jewish children. Indeed, the Talmud relates that Jerusalem was destroyed because children were being prevented from attending school and studying Torah with their peers (Shabbos 119b). By following Yehoshua ben Gamla's lead and ensuring every child receive a Torah education, we will surely eliminate the cause for exile and usher in the true and complete geulah. And just as his original takana began immediately before the churban, our keeping steadfast to uphold his takana in present times will bring about immediate redemption. אמן כן יהי רצון.