Thursday, April 5, 2007

Quick update...

Hey, I've been a little busy as of late. My parents are in town yet again, but this time, it's not just for vacation purposes; this past sunday was the fourth yahrtzeit for my grandmother, A"H. This was actually my first time at the seudah, due to the fact it's always been held here in the Holy Land. In the past years, I've made something myself, usually holding a siyum, or something along those lines.
However, this year, I was present at the real seudah, and I was reminded of a past event, going back to my high school years. A gentile teacher of mine once asked why we have this massive feasts on the annivrsary of the death of a loved one. From his perspective, such a day would be a time of somber remembrance, of sobriety and sadness. Therefore, to him, our actions seemed antithetical to everything such a date symbolized. I remember most of my class, including myself, being stumped, or at least not having an articulate way to answer him. Truthfully, I in fact struggled with this question for quite some time, bothered by it.
Eventually, as I got older and matured.....or at least, got older, I experienced many funerals, burials, and yahrtzeit seudot. As I grew in learning and understanding, I also came to realize that the reason our custom seemed antithetical to my gentile teacher's was because it was, in fact, antithetical. Not surprisingly, right? But what I realized was that our entire perspective on death differs from the rest of the world.
In most cultures, societal, religious, and regional alike, death is regarded as a bad thing. Perhaps now, in this materialistic world we live in, this is even more so. In today's world, the attitude is to live for the moment, etc. Not so in Judaism. In Judaism, we know that everything we do is geared toward the one goal: after life on this plane of existense. Death is not an ending; it's the beginning of the most important stage of our spiritual lives. Like the previous Lubavitcher rebbe said to an interrigator: "You, who believe in one world and many gods, you can fear something physically threatening. But I, who believes in one God, and two worlds....?"
And so, coming back to our view of mourning and subsequent rituals and customs through the years regarding the passing of an individual. When we mourn, the idealistic reason we are mourning is not because we no longer have the presence of said person. Naturally, everyone feels that way, and it is okay to. However, it is in a sense selfish. There are two focal points we mourn about: 1) that the person who has passed on no longer has the oportunity to do the 613 mitzvot, with the freedom of choice which is at once a gift and a burden, and 2) that we no longer have the person's physical presence in order to benefit spiritually, be it through learning from the person, learning with the person, or merely being with the person.
And yet, we still recognize the fact that the person we no longer have physically still lives on, in the most important of ways: the spirit. The spirit is almost eternal, and we know that the person is constantly rising in levels in the spiritual realms. Every year, by the time of the passing of the individual, that individual's soul is judged by the merits of it's progeny. Us. Therefore, we make a seudah, a seudas mitzvah, in the celebration of the spirit's ascent to the next level. The purpose is twofold: by making the seudah, we add merit to the soul by making brachas, saying divrei torah, and even making siyumim, all with the intent to help the spirit along. Also, in the ever optimistic way of our nation, we thank God for taking and raising the soul, even though we don't really know what has occured up there. Yet we assume and hope for the best.
May the neshamot of all our loved ones experience an ascension to the higher levels, and may they continue to help us along in good merit, Amen.
Originally posted Tuesday, 28 February 2006

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