“His heart went numb…”

The WORD – 12/29/11.  Joseph had been gone for over twenty years and now Benjamin had been imprisoned by the second most powerful man in the world.  It was too much for their father Jacob to bear.  He was beside himself.

But then, his sons appeared with Benjamin in tow and they told him, “Joseph is still alive; yes, he is ruler over the whole landof Egypt.”  Jacob instantly went from being the grieving father of two presumably dead sons to having them both back.  The Torah (Gen. 45:26) tells us “Vayapog libo – his heart went numb.”  Rashi – the great medieval commentator on the Bible and Talmud – translated this phrase as “his heart failed.”  Today, we’d probably say that his heart skipped a beat.  He was in shock, he was taken aback.

It’s hard to imagine going from the depths of a double loss to the heights of regaining two beloved sons.  And yet, that’s exactly what Jacob experienced.

Unfortunately, for most of us, that is not the way the world works.  When someone passes away, they are gone.  If our hearts skip a beat, perhaps it is from the shock of hearing about that loss.

That is precisely the way I feel today.  Just yesterday morning, I was joking with Rich van Cleft – the project manager who was overseeing our expansion project here at the SJCC – about his being TOO nice to our congregants.  I told him that if people were disrupting his work, he should send them to my office to talk.  I then left the building to run some errands and get some lunch.

While I was away, he collapsed while working on the roof of our building.  He never regained consciousness.  He was 47 years old – a son, a husband, a father and a brother.  In less than an hour, he was gone.

We all pray that our loved ones who have left this world will experience some sort of second existence.  As Psalm 103 implies, our time here on Earth is just a blink of the eye in the scheme of the Universe.  Yet, we have no proof of what lays beyond.  No one has returned to tell us what is out there.

Imagine our response if someone did return to share his/her experiences with us.  In all probability our hearts would go numb, our hearts would stop. We cannot control what happens to the souls of our loved ones in the World to Come.  However, we can keep their memories alive in THIS world in a number of ways.

First of all, we can incorporate some of the positive characteristics of our departed loved ones into our own lives.  Perhaps he was philanthropic.  Perhaps she went to synagogue regularly.  Let’s keep those traditions alive.

Secondly, we can do mitzvot in their honor.  We can dedicate our learning in her honor, make a contribution in his honor or do volunteer work in their honor.

Thirdly, we can come to services at the appropriate time and say kaddish in their honor.  We have been having difficulty bringing together a minyan (ten adults) which is required to say kaddish.  Perhaps there is someone for whom you would like to recite kaddish or perhaps you just want to do the mitzvah of allowing others to recite kaddish for their loved ones.  Either way, we would love to see you one morning or evening.

Hopefully, in the coming days and weeks, we will have some information about the ways in which we can honor Rich Van Cleft appropriately.  Although he had only worked here for a few months, he made an impression on those who got to know him.

We cannot expect people to walk back into our lives as Joseph did to Jacob.  However, we CAN keep them a part of our world if we make the effort.





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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