Marcia Falk's Kaddish begins:
Praise the world
praise its fullness
and its longing,
its beauty and its grief.
This week marks a collective anniversary, a yahrzeit of sorts. It has been one year since COVID shut down the world and the global pandemic took hold of our daily lives. It has also been one year since Breonna Taylor's death, may her memory be a blessing.
This week also marks the end of another chapter, a book in fact. The book of Exodus. A story of miracles and liberation woven into the world's imagination, shaping our sense of what is possible, pushing up against the limits of the very premise of impossible.
Traditionally a yahrzeit is marked by lighting a candle that will burn for 24 hours and reciting the Mourner's Kaddish, which we will do tonight. As is the way of death and grief, the past year has brought into stark relief existential questions about what matters most in our lives. In the words of the High Holiday machzor:
מה אנו ומה חיינו
מה חסדינו מה צדקינו מה כוחינו מה גבורותינו.
Who are we and what is our life?
What is our kindness? Our righteousness? Our resilience? Our powers?
In this week's parshiyot, Vayakel-Pekudei, we witness the creative genius and generous offerings of the ancient Israelite community as they construct the mishkan, and invite holiness into their midst. Blue, purple, and crimson handspun wools, precious stones, special spices, and aromatic incense. It was truly a celebration of the senses.
And once they had collected all of the raw materials, the Holy One singles out one artisan and calls him by name.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רְא֛וּ קָרָ֥א יְהוָ֖ה בְּשֵׁ֑ם בְּצַלְאֵ֛ל בֶּן־אוּרִ֥י בֶן־ח֖וּר לְמַטֵּ֥ה יְהוּדָֽה׃
And Moses said to the Israelites: See, the Holy One has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah (Exodus 35:30).
There is abundant commentary on the specificity of the Holy One's words here. What is it to be seen and called upon by our name?
One midrash explains that every time a person performs a good deed, a mitzvah, it adds to our shem tov, our good name. And according to Ecclesiastes, "A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death better than the day of one's birth" (7:1). Why? Because even the best oil spoils, while a good name is everlasting. (Tanhuma, Vayakel 1:1).
And why is the day of death better than the day of one's birth?
When a person is born, no one knows who they will become,
but when a person leaves this world with a good name, good deeds become abundant because of them.
When we rise tonight, in body or in spirit, to praise the world, its fullness, its longing, its beauty, and its grief, may we be inspired by the gifts of the mishkan, the skills of Bezalel, and our experience of the past year, to do as many good deeds as possible that we may be called upon and remembered by that which endures -- our good name.
May the names of the 2.63 million people that have died from COVID worldwide be lifted up and honored.
And may we remember Breonna Taylor's good name as an inspiration to pursue justice and to love kindness.
Hazak hazak v'nithazek.
Strength, strength, grant us inner strength.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.