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We Will Sing Again - Pesah Yizkor Sermon

04/04/2021 12:23:18 PM

Apr4

Rabbi Weinberg

I grew-up in a small town, of 2000 people in northern Michigan.  We belonged to the Jewish community in Bay City- 60 miles away- where there were about 200 Jewish families.  My hometown, West Branch was amongst the last communities in the country to receive dial telephone- that seems so very ancient to acknowledge today! 

I remember my mother calling the operator in town and asking if she knew where my father was!  The operator knew everything- she knew where people were, what they were doing, and her information was very beneficial to some. 

With this background I share with you the following story that really captured my attention, told by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins. 

I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother used to talk to it.  Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person- her name was “information please,” and there was nothing she did not know. 

My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I wacked my finger with a hammer.  The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because no one was home to give me sympathy.  I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.  The telephone!  Quickly, I ran for the foot stool.  Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear.  “Information Please” I said into the mouthpiece.  A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear.

“Information.”

“I hurt my finger…”. I wailed into the phone.  The tears came readily- now that I had an audience. 

“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.

“Nobody’s home but me,” I blubbered.

“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.

“No,” I replied.  “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”

“Can you open your ice box?” she asked.  I said I could.  “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.

After that, I called “Information Please” for everything.  I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was located.  She helped me with my math.  She told me that the pet chipmunk I had caught in the park would eat fruit and nuts. 

Then there was the time our pet canary died.  I called “Information Please” and told her the sad story.  She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child.  But I was not consoled.  I asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”

She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.”

Years passed and Paul grew-up, cherishing the precious memories of “Information Please.”  Having returned to his hometown for a short visit, he called “Information Please” and repeated a question he had posed decades earlier.  “Information Please” responded, “I guess your finger must have healed by now!”

I laughed, “So, it’s really still you,” I said.  “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?”

“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me.  I never had any children and I used to look forward to your calls.”

Years passed and Paul called “Information Please” one more time.  This time a different voice answered.  He was told that Sally had recently died.  Before he could hang up, the woman responded, “Did you say your name was Paul?”

“Yes.”

“Well, Sally left a message for you.  She wrote it on a note.  “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”

Sometimes we have no idea what impression we have made on others.  We may not have a hint of the impact we leave on those with whom we have shared a special moment, a journey through life.  Paul and Sally were mutually touched by the genuine relationship they had with each other- so natural, so pure, so very wonderful.

A week ago, we began reading a new book, a new massechet in the Talmud.  Those who have continued with the Daf Yomi program, a seven-and-a-half year project of reading a page of Talmud every day have just been introduced to Massechet Sh’kalim.  It is a very short massechet, and in fact, there is no commentary on the Mishna in the Babylonian Talmud.  So, interestingly the Gemara is from the Jerusalem Talmud which is rarely studied by non-academicians. 

The first ten days of this book are filled with pearls of wisdom.  This past Sunday we read, the following, “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, “One does not construct monuments of the graves of righteous people.  The purpose of a monument is to remember the dead person, and Torah scholars do not need a monument, as their words of Torah that continue to be taught are their memorial.” 

What a beautiful text!  Rabbis and teachers are remembered through their words and wisdom- that is their monument- a living testament to the impression they make on the world. 

Is there a better text to remind parents and grandparents of their role in educating children and grandchildren?  We are always teaching.  We are always instructing those who see us, watch us, and observe us.  Little eyes and sophisticated ears are constantly aware of our actions or lack of response.  Whether aware or not we are revealing our character every moment of every day. 

There are buildings named for generous people.  There are projects named for extraordinary individuals.  There are remarkable funds that generate precious dollars to support amazing initiatives in the name of well-known people.  But, there is nothing that compares with the teacher who imparts values and knowledge.  There is nothing that takes the place of those who care, those who cherish a relationship with a teacher, with those who have dedicated their lives to imparting values in others.  A teacher at school, a parent at home, a rabbi in shul or at school- these are amongst the most treasured avocations in life.  No monuments are needed- only passion and appreciation for the gift afforded to the role of teacher.

Robert Gardner sent me a video a few weeks ago.   I want to share the message with you.  Warren Buffett is speaking so everyone is listening!  He is addressing the subject of the meaning of life.  He suggests that most of us have access to many of the same kinds of acquisitions- beds, clothes, food, automobiles, etc.  We all sleep on a bed.  We all purchase clothes- some more expensive than others.  We can spend a lot of money on cars or drive cars, like Warren Buffett for ten years.  All those things don’t really distinguish us.  What really counts?  You will measure your success in life, he suggests by how many people really love you at the end of life.  You can’t buy love.  You can buy lots of other things in life but not love. 

He describes a relationship he has with a Holocaust survivor at the time- a 70-year old woman from Poland.  When she looks at people she asks herself, “Would he or she hide me?  Do I trust this individual to be my friend?  If you get be 70 and a lot of people will hide you, you have a successful life!”

Life is all about relationships.  These different stories- “Information Please”, the Talmud, Warren Buffett- all remind us that nothing in life is as precious as a loving, meaningful relationship.

Today, as we gather for Yizkor we recall those with whom we were blessed to have a loving, meaningful relationship.  A week ago, we sat at our Seder tables and some of those precious people were missing for the first time in our lives.  We had to find our way through Yom Tov without parents, spouses, children, siblings for the first time in our lives.  For others, the loss may have occurred years ago but the pain is still so real.  For some, healing has occurred but the memories of exceptional relationships will remain for a lifetime.  That is the way it is supposed to be.  We move forward but we don’t forget.  We acknowledge loss while we gather the strength and ability to persevere.  We want to believe we are stronger for enduring the path we have been compelled to walk.

When Sally died she made sure that Paul recalled the message she had shared with him years before- “there are other worlds to sing it!”  Yes, we as a people have always maintained that life as we know it does not end in the grave.  We maintain a belief in life after death.  The life of the soul is eternal.  There will be another existence afforded us where we will sing again. 

May each of us be so fortunate to experience that moment, when as the prophet Malachi suggests, “the parents will be reconciled with their children and the children will be reconciled with their parents.”  May I suggest we read Malachi’s words as, “the teachers will be reconciled with their students, and the students will be reconciled with their teachers.”  Together, each and every one of us will sing, again, as a family, as a people, and as a society.

Hag Sameah

Wed, August 17 2022 20 Av 5782