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Life After Death

Friday, 3 May, 2019 - 8:04 am

Life for Jews in America has changed drastically. The tragedies in Pittsburgh and Poway have demonstrated that America today is not as different as we had imagined from the rest of Jewish history. Suddenly, we find ourselves asking about security in our synagogues, the rise of hate speech and what Jewish life will look like for our children.

We mourn the loss of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at Chabad of Poway last week. We pray for the injured and their families. We enhance our security at our shuls and Jewish centers.

Eventually, we assume, life will go somewhat back to normal. But, what should normal look like after Pittsburgh and Poway?

***

Though a clearly imperfect parallel, our generation has an easy reference point. The Holocaust occurred at a time when Jews finally felt somewhat comfortable after generations in Europe. Indescribable tragedy suddenly befell the Jewish people. How does one recover from such loss? What steps of recalibration should we take?

Many responded to the Holocaust by focusing on anti-Semitism as the call of our generation. They deserve credit for standing up for who we are. But, as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, the question remains, “Is it enough?” Will our great-grandchildren care about the Holocaust more than we care about the Inquisition?

I believe another perspective warrants our consideration.

Let’s look at our parsha for some insight. Parshat Acharei teaches that, “You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the L-rd.” Most of us are familiar with the Talmud’s statement on this verse – that, with the exception of three commandments, human life supersedes fulfillment of the Mitzvot. The Mitzvot are given for life, not death.

There is, however, a deeper message as well. This verse – appearing in a parsha that begins with death – is also teaching us the Jewish approach to preserving Jewish tradition. Throughout our history Jews have faced death many times. We rightfully call those murdered solely because they are Jews as “Kedoshim” (Holy Ones). But, we should be careful not to glorify death. We Jews must remember that the main focus of Judaism is the passionate and lively fulfillment of Mitzvot.

Judaism is a faith of life, not death. Yizkor is important. But, it’s not nearly as important as ensuring that my child lights Shabbat candles. What good is the memory of our ancestors, if their traditions die at our feet?

***

From the ashes of the Holocaust many great leaders built shrines and memorials. Indeed, we must never forget.

But, the Lubavitcher Rebbe built something else. He built a vibrant, passionate future for Judaism. His response was reviving the Jewish people – breathing life into a new generation.

It is this passion and vitality that will give our people a sense of purpose and hope. It is the eternal formula that will always impact the world positively. It is the greatest gift we can give to the myriads of Jews whose lives were given so that we may live as Jews.

***

I could not help but see this ideal on proud display as I watched Rabbi Goldstein’s response to the greatest challenge of his life and community. He uplifted thousands upon thousands of Jews with his passionate message of resolve and hope. Yes, he wept. Yes, he mourned. But, above all, he recognized that the truest response is ensuring that AM YISRAEL CHAI!

We grieve and mourn. But, above all, we rededicate ourselves to live as Jews with even more enthusiasm than before.

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