for Temple Adath Or, May 6, 2001
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Hevra Kadishah (the Jewish buriel society) was at one time not only doing the work of preparing the body, but it was also doing hospice work. People would say, “I’m about to die, call the Hevre Kadishah.” And they would be present, and they would want to be there with a minyan. The reason they wanted to have a minyan is that where there is a minyan, the Divine Presence, the Shechinah is there. So they would be able to release into death, not in loneliness, but in a way to know they were surrounded by loving people, whose intent was to guide you to the portal. That work, the fancy name is called psychopomp, the people who accompany the person up to the gate.
Hevre Kadisha required from people a certain inner preparation to the point that they always wanted the Hevre Kadishah to be people of a high moral standing and people who had done their inner work. The important part on both sides of the moment of death is that the person from the Hevre Kadishah was to help but not interfere.
There is this joke about Sam, who is dying, and he’s saying the business should be left to Bernie, and the house should be left to Ettie. And he comes out with other parts of his last will and each time his wife is saying, no, not this, not that. Finally he says to her, “Who is dying?” One of the things that we are most worried about in hospice work with certain kinds of people with a certain kind of religious attitude, is that they will want to do neshamah chappen the last minute. They’ll want to say, “Accept Jesus Christ” or whatever, and they won’t let you do your dying. So the point is not to interfere.
There was this group in Italy in Modina who hired a Kabbalist to teach them about the work of the Hevre Kadishah. That person, Reb Aron Berachia of Modina, gathered around him people who could understand the depth of the work. Whatever he could find in the Zohar and the kabbalistic books, he brought to their attention. The book that was published since is called Ma’avar Yabok, the fording of the river Yabok. If you remember, Jacob has a dream where he sees a ladder that goes up to heaven and that’s on the other side of the Yabok River , and he also has a wrestling with the angel happening on the other side of the Yabok. So you get to feel that this is a cross over the bridge – there’s something happening on the other side. That book has not been translated yet. It barely got printed in decent square type a few years ago. It was always in Rashi letters, and as was done with such books, it was a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, and was hard to read. One of my students, Simcha Raphael did his doctoral work on Jewish teachings on the afterlife. I would highly recommend that you read that book. If you don’ have the background of what is being taught, you always get into that feeling of – when you’re dead you’re dead, and the best thing you can do is decently handle the corpse.
What we have learned from near death and out of body experiences is that there is a consciousness that remains. This is what I’d like to talk to you about because during the time until the interment there is still that hanging around. The issue is therefore for the Hevre Kadishah people how to be able to deal with souls.
If I had talked about this to a Hevre Kadishah twenty or thirty years ago they would have said, “Where is he coming from, he’s off the wall, he’s crazy, this is superstitious stuff.” Today we don’t think about this in the same way any more. There has been a break. If you had talked to someone in a Hevre Kadishah before the turn of last century in Poland and Russia , and you had said you have to be really careful, you don’t do gossip at this point; this neshamah is around –they would have really talked about it this way. But since that time there broke through a kind of scientism. In the twenties and thirties one wouldn’t think there is such a thing as an afterlife. How often did you hear sermons in those days-Yes, you live on in the memory of your beloved. But nothing that would speak about remaining in the consciousness of the being who lived in the flesh before. Issues like reincarnation – still there are some Jews who say, do we believe that kind of stuff? I like to open the siddur and show them in the good night prayer where it says I forgive everyone who has hurt me whether it was in this incarnation or in any other. It’s right there. But there was this break and because there was this break there is a funny thing that happened.
I’ll tell you a funny story about this. I used to serve a congregation in Cambridge . This was when I lived in Winnipeg and Rabbi Schultz who now is in this neighborhood, was the rabbi of the shul. I served there as a chazan because I loved to get to Cambridge because the Chavura that had started in ’68 was there. So in the years afterwards whenever I could, I wanted to be there with them, and that gave me the opportunity. In that shul there were some old timers and then there were the young people from the chavura and those who were the hangers on to the chavura. And there was the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors were people who were usually around in their fifties, they had the small businesses in the neighborhood. They had gotten to learn how to play junior congregation very well. Which meant when you tell Mr. Goldberg to open up the ark and who should get an aliya, and what is the proper way to davven. And you send an old timer over to do quickly the halleluyas, which is supposed to be the most celebrated part, but they would mumble it. Then the chazan would go (singing) shochen ad. They knew the whole thing, and how to handle it. It happened that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when I was davvenen, and from time to time I would switch from Hebrew into English but I would be chanting it with the regular High Holiday melody. The old timers loved, they didn’t mind that I did it in English; the young people loved it. They were happy to davven along and not to recite like Episcopalians, and at the same time the people in the middle section couldn’t stand it.
On Yom Kippur one our chavura people had walked in barefoot from Somerville to the shul. On Yom Kippur you have to go barefoot. When we permit certain kind of canvas shoes, it’s OK. Nu, the vice president came over to me and said, one of your boys came in here barefoot–as if he had gone into Macdonald’s without a shirt and without shoes and wanted to be served! He couldn’t get it. He had beautifully shined black leather shoes on. So I pointed out to him that he had no reason to complain. That the shoe was on the other foot, as it were! Why am I telling you this story? Because if you were to ask some people what is the proper way to do that, the people from the Hevre Kadishah in the middle generation would say, you have to do it exactly like they told us. Because they could not read it in the book themselves and because they didn’t have a sense of anything beyond their mental ceiling: that there is a possibility of the survival of the soul etc. So they wanted it to be done exactly how it was done before. The problem is that there is a diminution of awareness that happens. If it isn’t fueled by new feeling, new experiential things, it turns out that it gets thinner and thinner. So how should one be present in this kind of situation? The answer is that this is an R& D Hevre Kadishah. Unless we do R&D we will not be able to bring something up to date. It’ll be stuck in that place of junior congregation where those people were in Cambridge who wanted to do it exactly like you ought to and they didn’t have a sense of why you ought to.
Another side point here: the next generation Star Trek, they’re finding another Enterprise some place. There is one person on that Enterprise, old Scotty. He gets beamed up into the new Enterprise and he looks around and s’ gefellt ihm, and he looks around and this is new. And er dreht sich and he’s bugging everyone for information and wants to show that he still is a mensch zwischen menschen – that he still has something to say. And Jordie is going crazy. Finally there is an emergency and Jordie is trying to fix it, and Scotty is standing behind him, looking over his shoulder. He so wants to get rid of Scotty so he can get on with his work. At one point Scotty says, amp this up and it will go. And he says, what do you mean? The manual says it would overload. And Scotty says, who wrote the manual?
The reason I’m telling you this is because I’m a bridge to you from what happened before that flattening out of scientism to our age where one could see stuff like you’ve seen in the movie Resurrection, for instance. You get to see the tunnel and the people who are waiting on the other side – everything that has been described in the literature. You can go in the library, in the Dewey Decimal System 133 there is a lot of stuff on psychic research and this is described. Most of the stuff is anecdotal–it’s very hard to set up an experiment around that. Even so you will find that there were some experiments that were more than just anecdotal. At any rate, from that point of view I want to say what I have to say.
Coming out of the body isn’t easy for people because we have such an identification without our organs and senses and with the body. How do I know that I exist? Because my tush on the chair is telling me I’m sitting here. All my orientation by and large has been with physical feedback. But I have more than one organism. I have the physical organism and I have the energy body. And I have an affect body beyond the energy body, and I have a mental organism beyond that; and I have a divine soul. If you see each one as larger and as embracing what is below it, you know that when I shed the physical it doesn’t mean the rest of them are gone. The likelihood is that the energy body and the others are still there.
I’ll tell you a story, so you shouldn’t think that this is too far fetched. I talk with my acupuncturist and he tells me they were doing some work in an anatomy lab on cadavers. As he was working at one point they had already taken the kidneys out and somebody else was working on another table with kidneys. He put a needle on the place where the kidney circuit would be and the other guy says, hey, what’s going on here? There still was an energy connection there. We say it’s weird because we don’t have that feel.
If I could, I would want very much that with each Hevre Kadishah work there should be a medium there, to be able to pass on and go the other way also. To say it’s time that you leave this vehicle, andthat you cut this identification that you have with the body.
When my sister, aleha hashalom, was dying of cancer, she was in a body that was very pained, she was crumpled up in pain. For her the dread was that forever and ever – l’olam va-ed – she would be a prisoner in that body. I would hold her hand and I would tell her, soon you’ll get out, soon you’ll get out — “all my troubles, Lord, soon be over” -the sense that you aren’t forever going to be in this vehicle. By helping the soul separate from that vehicle, but in a way that says we thank you. Just as I tried to say in this – what a wonderful vehicle this was. We could see, we could hear, we could taste, we could touch. (I am a cohen, and haven’t been present at a tahara) From the literature and from what I’ve learned about the sentences that are recited–it’s just so beautiful.
In Philadelphia there is a Rodin museum. There is a picture of the old hatmaker woman. It’s a sculpture of a woman in her old age in a frail body, but through it was shining the beauty she had when she was young. When you can see this in the body that is before you that you are about to handle, and say the words that come–shokav amudei shesh– the thighs, the arms. If you had a little bit of initiation in the sfirot you realize that as you are washing each part of the body, you are also saying, this is left behind, come on out, come on out. Don’t stay identifying with this. This is going to be buried, will have its own rest, and will be recycled. I often have the sense that it’s not so much reincarnation as it is re-souling of matter. Just as I think of the most holy shmura matzah that you can get for Pessach and I ask myself if every molecule of the matzah would have to give me its history, I would find that some of them were in pigs before, some were worms etc. Because it’s all been recycled, and will be recycled again! We live on spaceship Earth. Imagine a spaceship. You don’t throw anything away; everything is recycled. That’s what’s happening on the planet too. When new life comes it picks up some of the software of what was left from before. Helping the soul also to say, even the memories you have of the past. So one of the people during a tahara should not do anything but should have a checklist, as it were, which you go through in your mind, and you keep on speaking to the soul of the deceased to let go of resentment, you don’t need to shlep it with you. Each one of the things on the checklist could be thought about at that time to guide that person. Listen, you don’t have to believe me. There are other beings just waiting a little bit past the door. They are going to receive you and they will guide you and show and take you the next step of the way.
There was a man in Sweden , Emanuel Swedenborg, who was a scientist. When he was 56 years old, all of a sudden the shell was taken off from his eyes and he was able to see. He describes where he had gone on his journeys to heaven, to see what’s doing with souls and with angels and what they have to go through. When I first read it I was so delighted because it felt to menot like a sectarian ‘yene welt’. It felt a lot more like there are all kinds of souls and they are all being welcomed. There are souls who have gone there before and they now serve as social workers on the other side. How to resuscitate people to bring them back to consciousness, let the images of the past life go that keep them prisoners; to learn how to intercede for the people they left behind. We used to have this custom that at the end of the shivahh you tell people to get up and walk out the door and go around the block, and the farthest end of the block you say, go in peace, go in peace. Your name is such and such, don’t forget it. When you wake up on the other side you see that the name you had this time around, was only a role assigned to this play. You have an identity that transcends the individual incarnation. Then you say, don’t forget us. In Yiddish we used to say: “sollst sein a guter beter far uns.” Be a good intercessor for us. So if we need anything we should be able to go to the grave and ask you to intercede for us.
There was a custom that if you need to contact someone who isn’t buried here you go to the cemetery here and hold up a dollar bill and say, this dollar will go to tz’dakah and it belongs to the neshamah who will notify my father, mother, grandfather, to intercede for us. That’s a custom. I’m telling you this from the bridge way on the other side, where the middle generation would have laughed at the whole thing, but if you go back far enough, this was the custom.
There are a few more things that need to be considered here and once more it goes with a story. There was a rebbe named Reb Leibele Egerwho had become a chosid. His father, who was not a chosid did not like the idea that his son became a chosid. Before he died he said–since chassidim add a couple of words, v’yatzmach purkaney korv m’shichei in the Kaddish, he said, I don’t want you to say that, you hear. Promise me. He promised. And after the funeral and the shivah he’s saying Kaddish and includes the words. They ask him, but you promised. And he answers, yes, but now Papa knows better! Think about that for a moment. This is really important.
For many, many years, and this is where the R&D component comes in, we were in a situation where we needed a high degree of surface tension between us and people who belong to another religion. Because if we hadn’t kept to ourselves, we would have been assimilated and lost. Look at the issue of intermarriage, and look at our congregations here. If you had talked to the middle generation, the people from Abie’s Irish Rose, and the people from the twenties and teens of the past century, you’d hear, oy, m’darfe zitsen shivah, it’s terrible, terrible, terrible. Then I look at our newsletter of the chavura and I see who is doing things, I see yes, there was diminution, but there is also addition to us. The same way we bleed off, as it were, because the membrane is permeable, so there are people coming in. There are people who will not officially convert but they will raise their children this way, and create a Jewish Home.
Jean Houston talks about a large number of people who are psycho-semitic, which means on the physical level, they don’t want to belong to us. But if you were to ask in their feeling place, in their mental place, and in the spiritual place, they are with us. That’s nothing new because in the time of the Tanach and the Temple in Jerusalem there were some people who were the house of Aharon and they sang, let of the house of Aharon praise the Lord, ki l’olam chasdo, let the house of Levi praise the Lord, ki l’olam chasdo, let the house of Israel praise the Lord, ki l’olam chasdo, let hose who fear God praise the Lord ki l’olam chasdo. So the God fearers would come to the Temple and they would want to participate. They were not people who had converted but they were in that place.
I am mentioning this to you because I understand there is a concern around who should be doing the work of the Hevre Kadishah, and I want to say more than anything else the awareness of the person who wants to help the soul to separate from the body and to work so that the body is prepared for burial in a way that gives the last koved. We call it Hevre Kadishahbut the work is called chesed shel emet – the true kindness. Why? Because if I do you a kindness I can expect I have loaded an obligation on you and you are going to do a kindness back to me. But the last kindness – that’s a freebie – you can’t expect that you will get anything back from that person. So it’s really important that we understand this kind of work. The work of the Hevre Kadishah, if it were done right, isn’t over with the burial alone.
When I was in Manitoba at Hillel on Sunday mornings the students would come and davven, we would have bagels and lox etc, and then I would take them to various churches. I wanted them to see what they’re doing, and it was always so wonderful to point out, you see the priest washing his hands? What is he saying? Lavabo manis meum inter innocentes, which in Hebrew is erchatz v’n’ka-yon kapai, v’asova mizb’chacha Hashem. I would show them how much was derived from us. At one point one of the students picked up the menu that you get in churches, that tells there will be such a hymn, such a reading, and on the bottom (like we have in our newsletter) it said, a meeting of the purgatorial society will be at such and such a time. So he indicated – look how silly those people are. I don’t say a word. We are finished with the mass, and get back into the car, and I say, we are not going back to Hillel house; follow me.
We went to the Lubavitscher shul (I had a key) and we went downstairs into the Beis Medrash, and there on the wall was a list of the people who belonged to the Hevre T’hilim. On the side it said, these are the rules that govern the Hevre T’hilim. If you are a member of the Hevre T’hilim and you recite psalms for other people you will be honored by having us recite the psalms for you for the twelve months after your death in order to bring you closer into Gan Eden. So I showed them that we have our own purgatorial society.
The concern that we had was not only that burial would take place, but there was a recognition that the process after that is a process that is fraught with all kinds of difficulty if not helped. So let me spell some of the teaching out and you can read about them in that book I mentioned to you, Jewish Views of the Afterlife and other places where it was reprinted, like the Jewish Catalogue by Strassfeld and Siegel. The first part is called Chibud Hakever. After the angel Dumah comes and says who are you, there is a great deal of confusion in the person. About this confusion, the following story is told. Chassidic master sits with his son and a person comes in and says, Rebbe, I need some money to get married. The Rebbe says to him, Don’t you know that you’ve died? The guy can’t believe it. The Rebbe lifts up his coat, and underneath he sees he has the tachrichim, the white shrouds. Poof, the guy disappears. The son says to his father, Tatte, what was that all about? The father answers, there are neshamas that haven’t been able to reconcile themselves to their own death and they fantasize a whole thing, and with this fantasy they even can become palpable at times. I had to show him that he no longer is in this world. When he realized that, then he could let go, and he went. And the son asks, Tatte, how do we know that we are not in the world of confusion ourselves? And the father answers, my child, the world in which you ask the question is the real world. The other guy didn’t ask any questions, he was so sure.
I’m saying this because it pays to give yourself that thought of checking out what would it be like. The first thing is that the body still feels cozy – I want to get back into the body, that’s all I know. So that when you say the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out as in the song, it’s like saying, what do you need to do that for; you’re finished with that. If you can disidentify with the pangs of the body, you experience the pangs of the grave, it’s called chibud hakever. Given that a person is able to let go of that, then comes the next thing. You can experience that already here. Try to sit and meditate and you see how much mind burping you will do. I call it mind burping, like yesterday’s onions come up. All kinds of ideas, and the question is you could imagine that now that you have no distractions how much mind burping you’d be involved in.
So what happens is that you get help. The help is to shake out all the insignificant ideas, the dvarim b’telim, things that have no intrinsic value for you. That’s called kaf hakela, the catapult. It’s like being tossed from one thing to another. One moment you feel you’re holy, the next you feel you are vile. Back and forth, you shake that out.
In between such a thing is what they describe as a dip in the river of light, tvilah in the nahar dinur. People talk about the white light, and you get the sense that that is it. It is that wonderful powerful light. It serves as something that is able to delete whatever you want to let go of. If I’m willing to let go of such memories, of such attachments, then each dip in the river of light makes it possible. It’s only then that you can get in. Up to that point you’ve been with a lot of static; and now you’re tuned in clearly. Imagine what it’s like to feel high fidelity regret without distractions. That’s how they describe what gehenom is like. We don’t like to think of it as hell. We call it purgatory. Another way of saying it, it’s a laundry. You go into the laundry – I’m gonna wash that world right out of my hair! Something has to happen to let go of these attachments. Given that you manage that, and you’re still, after the next dip in the river of light, you get to what’s called the Lower Gan Eden, the lower paradise. The lower paradise is every delight that you had that is an emotional delight that you had can be relived in al fullness.
Can you imagine if some people were stuck in the religious services they have been to, and that would be their Gan Eden? I can imagine many a suburban shul, in which you’d say, Oh God, do I have to be an eternity in this place? So I’m delighted with what we have. If I had to spend a quarter of an eternity in chanting with our Hevre in shul, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The spiritual delights that we have acquired here, that we have gotten a taste for here, there we can rejoice in that as along as we want.
For us the problem is, as long as we have a body, how long can I sit and chant if I have to go and pee? But there I don’t have to. I’m sure you’ve dreamt a flying dream. Could you imagine what this would be like when you now hear this wonderful celestial music – I got wings, you got wings – that freedom that comes. What we want to keep in mind with people who have died is to project that to them. It’s waiting for you. It pays to go through this stuff. It pays to shed these things. Some of it is not going to be easy. You have made too strong an identification with it, but trust the process. You’ll get through it and you’ll be free.
Then there is still the deeper one. After a while it says that the souls get tired of the Lower Gan Eden and they want to go to the Higher Gan Eden. What happens in the Gan Eden Ha-Elyon is that the light that they had in contemplation is amplified a thousand times or more. Think for a moment each time you’ve had an insight, like an aha, which is sort of like a spiritual mental orgasm. Everything came together. You suddenly saw it. You saw how rich and wonderful it was. So the souls get a chance to understand then and there, why was there creation, why did it all happen this way; and to be able to take great delight in it. That’s the Upper Gan Eden.
How do you stay there? Well, you even have a chance that’s a greater chance – to be absorbed in the very body of God. You say I had enough to be a separate entity, I want to go back like a drop into the ocean, and become that. You could see that level.
Nevertheless on any level in between, you get a chance, like Chutes and Ladders, you get a chance to go down and be reincarnated. I’ve had the occasion to speak to some people who had print throughs of memories from before, and who had passed out and died in concentration camps and gas cambers. I shared this with one of my students, Yonassan Gershon. He then researched it more and his book is called, Beyond the Ashes. There are some still coming up, and may of the those people who are psychosemitic people, not born in Jewish families, happen to be such people, who have been reincarnated that way Imagine in the last moment somebody saying, If I ever get anything to do about this, I won’t let this happen again. Going out with that attitude, what are you going to do?
You will work for tikun olam, you’ll work for spirituality, for politics, to change things. You don’t want this to happen again. The number of people who have been through this is remarkable. They don’t always come with dark hair. They sometimes come blue eyed, blond haired. Look around at the many Israelis who look as if they were not of Jewish stock. Picking a body after a Holocaust exit, you want to pick a body that will give you a chance to survive better. You want to pick parents that will give you a chance to survive better. Nevertheless when that attitude comes out in them, then they come back to do the job they’ve undertaken to do.
I’ve taken you on a tour that was very quick, through a difficult place. I will make sure you’ll have the tape, and the books I’ve mentioned and I’ll give you an offprint of the article about what happens in the afterlife. Those of you who can read it in the original will find that Ma’avar Yabok will be a fantastic guide.
Now I want to give you a particular challenge and charge. The whole point that I wanted to make is to show you the scope of this work, that it isn’t (end of tape) to have help during shivah. Sitting shivah for my mother and my sister, aleihen hashalom, I found that people get so anxious when they come and visit that they don’t know how to be with the people who are grieving. They want to distract them. There’s so much haken a tchainik, that is, really they don’t let them do the work. Grief work that isn’t done leaves a lot of tzores behind. It shows itself even in arthritis, and other physical symptoms if the grieving doesn’t get to be done emotionally. Affect work is important; helping people to have some quiet. Even if people come to the house of shivah, if you can get them to sit quiet, that is helpful.
I’ll give you an example. The book of Job says that three of his friends came to console him when he was suffering. They sat there for seven days and seven nights and didn’t say a word, only after Job began to speak himself. When you create a safe space, a sacred space, a receptive space, to let the grieving people talk, that’s so much better than distracting them.
The silly thing I’ve seen – signs on delicatessens that say, “we cater shivahs.” Why is that? Now, the people who are sitting shivah have to call the caterer so they will have some goodies to give the people who come to visit. I think it’s so absurd. We should be able to lift this off their shoulders. We should make sure that the people who are sitting shivah have the first meal always given to them – the eggs, the bagels etc. to eat when they come from the cemetery. We lift the burden from the people so that they can handle that. If there are chores that need doing, kids that have to be taken to school etc. it’s very important to do that. I’m showing you that not every member of the Hevre Kadishah has to work with the remains. There is other work that can be done.
There are times when a body is being sent elsewhere because a cemetery plot has been bought by family or by the people themselves. One of my students had to bury his father in New Jersey but he lives on the West Coast. So I suggested to him that he should take an object that belonged to his father. Sometimes there is such a thing as a watch, dentures, glasses, hearing aids – whatever of this sort, clothes. I suggested that he take these and make a little mound in his backyard, and make a sign there that this is zaide’s place. Why? Because if you have ever been in Jerusalem and been to what is called King David’s grave, which is on the top floor of a building that surely did not stand at the time King David was buried. But the rule is that you make a tziun, a sign, a marker. When you come to Machpelah, the grave of Rachel, it’s not where she is buried. If she is buried there, she is buried way down below that but people make this marker. They use this marker as a way of connecting with the soul. So you might be able to help people to just do that in their bac yard in a place that they would choose.
If they do cremation–now I don’t want to give you a big green light for cremation, because a lot of stuff in Judaism says it’s a no no, but before you get cramped about it. Some years ago I published something where I said I wanted to have my remains to be cremated and the ashes to be taken to Auschwitz . My father was born in Osczwizcim. My zaide was a shochet there. When I was about half year old they took me to show off to zaide so he should bless me. I was thinking about how this has become such a terrible place for us. If you’ve ever driven from Brooklyn to Queens through the cemetery that’s there, that looks so ugly. It is so concrete and stone, and not a tree there. If I ask myself how much should be used for the dead instead of for the living, I’m not so sure about that. What was before a sign of bad stuff, can now become for us a sign of good stuff, if we were to decide to bring the ashes there.
Why am I saying this? Because one of the reasons why they say no to cremation is because of something that it says in the Talmud. Titus, who had desecrated the second temple, wanted to have his remains burned and the ashes strewn all over so that God shouldn’t be able to call him to judgment. In other words, people who have gone through cremation will not be resurrected. My feeling is that if God isn’t going to resurrect the people from Auschwitz and Birkenau and Maidanek etc. moichel, I don’t want to be resurrected either.
We have today a chance to mold the next level of how we want to deal with those who have passed on. If we understand the depth of it and not merely the external things that came to us from the middle generation, then the likelihood is we will be able to do what is necessary. Then ask yourself the question how you want yourself to be dealt with, your remains, and how would you like to be helped in your transition. So for this it would be wonderful if you could have a weekend retreat together with presentations laid out a little bit more in detail of some of the things I’ve said. Even experience what it would be like, how would you like to spend your last two hours; what music would you like to hear; how would you like to say good by to this world? When you think of the people who are about to be executed, the last meal they get, what is it you would like to do again? How would you like to say goodbye?
One think I like to do is to teach people to say Shma on four levels. One is to say Shma Yisrael, like Moses is talking to us. The second one is to say, Shma Zalman, Adonai Eloheinu: I’m talking to myself, I’m not talking to God when I say it. The third is to say, Shma Barya, let’s say I want to send greetings to my son and keep him in mind at that time. The fourth one is at the moment of my death I would like all my Shma Yisraels of a lifetime to be there with me. So I’m making a deposit in that account, that all my Shma Yisraels should come back at that time.
What I’m sharing with you, if you have moments that are your highlights, make as it were like a rosary of the special moments of your lifetime. So the next time you have to wait in a doctor’s office, instead of going over your grievances and your kvetch, you could go, all this was so wonderful, and what a delight that was–and you could go over that list. Imagine what that would be like. When my sister was dying, she was having a hard time because her body was hurting so much. So I asked her, where do you keep your albums? She worked at Temple Emanuel in L.A. and taught bar mitzvahs. So I took out that album and she told me who these people were. The Who is Who of today’s Torah people in Los Angeles at the University of Judaism and HUC – all these people. Stan Levy is in there. It’s so amazing to see all the people whom she had taught. When I looked at her face when she was telling me about this one and that one, then the tzores were gone, at least momentarily, because these good memories are important.
V’zochreinu b’zikaron tov l’fanecha, Remember us with good remembrances before You. So to be able to help people when they hear the verdict, and they know it’s already time to go; to be able to sit and hold their hand at the time and to say, now tell me what were some of the highlights of your life? So you can make a birkat hamazon, as it were on your lifetime. These kinds of compassionate things that people in Hevre Kadishah can do are the important ones. If you can train yourself to do that, and practice some more at a retreat and discuss them, you’ll see, that will be wonderful. In the meantime I want to say, l’chayim.