WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE (AND DIE) WITH DIGNITY?
And he lived…
In this week’s parasha, called Vayechi (“and he lived), we read of the death of the patriarch Jacob. This is the second Torah portion in the book of Genesis that has “life” in its title but its subject is death. In parashat Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah), we learn how Abraham buries Sarah. Now, at the end of Genesis, we read of Jacob’s death and his (at the time) un-Jewish burial. He is embalmed and then Joseph and his brothers take his body back to Canaan and bury him there.
As a rabbi, I think about funerals a lot. Our funerals reflect much about the way people have lived (thus the names of the two parshiyot mentioned above), as well as the values of those who are left behind.
For most of us, funerals for our loved ones are just part of the obligation/privilege we have when those close to us pass away. However, there are those in our community for whom even a modest Jewish funeral is impossible. They simply do not have the resources.
That is where our Jewish community places its values front and center. Whenever there is an indigent member of the community, we come together to offer them the kavod (dignity) they deserve, even in death. And it is important for all of us to know the chesed (lovingkindness) and tzedakah (financial giving) that is a part of what is done.
- Did you know that Louis Funeral Chapel, which has served our Jewish community for 99 years donates the vast majority of its services to anyone who is determined to be indigent in our area? It represents tens of thousands of dollars of resources they gladly give away annually in order to guarantee dignified burials for all Jews. They have done this quietly – and in cooperation with the synagogues, rabbis, and community organizations – for almost a century.
- Did you know that Jewish Family Services works with many of our families who have little to no financial resources, both in sustaining them in life and in guiding their families in death? For the last number of years, JFS has quietly found funds to reimburse Louis’ for a very small portion of the actual costs incurred to provide indigent funerals. They have and continue to work with Louis’ to help determine who may need the kavod, chesed, and tzedakah of a free Jewish burial.
- Did you know that the synagogues that own cemeteries in town donate (on a rotating basis) free grave sites, free opening and closing, and (when necessary) even free grave markers?
- Did you know that the rabbis of the community have all agreed to officiate at funerals of needy members of the community with no expectation or desire for financial remuneration?
Do you know why Louis Memorial Chapel, Jewish Family Services, the synagogues, and the rabbis do what they do? Because that is what Abraham did for Sarah. Because that is what Joseph and his brothers did for Jacob. Because that is what it means to care about family. And every Jewish person IS our family.
As we begin to think about the new (secular) year, let us pause and think of those whom we have lost this past year. Some had no ability to have a dignified Jewish farewell. Our community saw to it. In that manner, we assured that when each of these men and women were buried, it could be said of them, “vayechi,” they lived with dignity and were buried with honor.