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Ekev 5767

Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! I was once asked to speak with a woman in regard to allowing her recently deceased brother to be buried rather than cremated. He had no will. The woman had not seen her brother for 15 years. She was not inclined to spend the money for a burial; she figured that she would have him cremated and not only save some money, but have the ashes put in a niche in the cemetery that was near her so that she could visit her brother from time to time. The brother's last request was for a Jewish burial and the Jewish Family Services in the city where he died was willing to cover every last expense in burying him.

___Galileo once said that, "You cannot teach a person anything, you can only help him find it within himself." I failed to find the words and ideas to penetrate her heart to change her mind. It was with great sadness to see her own desires to visit a vase full of ashes put ahead of her brother's dying wish. Hopefully, the following Q & A will help someone find the reasons to bury their loved ones with the proper respect and dignity demanded by our heritage.


___From the perspective of the Torah, life is a gift from the Almighty. We are created with a soul and a body. However, our essence is the soul. The body is a vessel on loan from the Almighty to house the soul. Like all objects which are on loan, we are obligated to care for the body to the best of our ability and eventually to return it to its Owner according to His instructions. The Almighty told Adam, the first man, "From dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). In the Book of Deuteronomy 21:23, the Almighty says, "You shall surely bury him."

___A Jewish burial honors the body and treats a person with respect. A shomer, a watch person, stays with the body in the funeral home until the funeral. He or she spends the time saying Tehillim, Psalms, for the merit of the soul. The Burial Society lovingly cleans the body while reciting prayers. The deceased is then dressed in simple white shrouds. (People were competing with each other on how nicely they could dress the deceased. Close to 2,000 years ago the rabbis made the decree that everyone should be buried in simple linen shrouds.) The coffin is of wood held together with wooden pegs. The all-wooden coffin is a recognition that death is part of life and that decomposition is to be neither hurried nor slowed. In Jerusalem, people are buried without a coffin.

___After the Holocaust it is hard to believe that a Jew could request to be cremated or agree to cremate another Jew. I can only imagine Adolph Hitler, may his name and memory be blotted out, laughing with glee and saying, "What I failed to do to all of the Jews, now they are doing it to themselves!"

___People think that cremation is antiseptic and wholesome. One moment a body, the next moment a sealed urn of fine ashes. The reality: Think of the smell when you leave a roast too long in the oven. Even after incineration, cremation does not reduce everything to ashes. The remains are then put in a grinder - to make sure that the remaining large pieces of bone will fit into the urn. Is this the final honor we wish to give our loved ones?

___What difference does a proper Jewish burial make to the soul? Kabbalists, mystics, speak of the confusion that a soul experiences in separating from the body in which it had spent its years on earth. The soul hovers over the body. After the burial it then hovers in the place of residence (which is why we try to sit Shiva - mourn - in the place where the person lived) before moving on. What does the soul of the deceased experience when the body is placed into the furnace while watching the flames burning it, the flames consuming it?

___If one believes in God and believes in an afterlife, having himself cremated or a loved one cremated is not something that one wants on his "heavenly ledger" to have to give accounting for and receive judgment on. Jewish law is so adamant against cremation that if one has himself cremated, Shiva is not observed, Kaddish is not said and no mourning takes place. According to Rabbi Maurice Lamm's explanation in The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, "Those who are cremated are considered by tradition to have abandoned, unalterably, all of Jewish law and, therefore, to have surrendered their rights to posthumous honor."

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Torah Portion of the Week

___Moshe continues his discourse guaranteeing the Jewish people prosperity and good health if they follow the mitzvot, the commandments. He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God. However, we should be careful so that we are not distracted by our material success lest that we forget and ignore God.

___Moshe warns us against idolatry (the definition of idolatry is the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness ("Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to occupy this land ... but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.") He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets (Moshe broke the first Tablets containing the Ten Commandments during the sin of the Golden Calf.)

___This week's portion dispels a common misconception. People think that "Man does not live by bread alone" means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive. The quotation in its entirety is, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes out of God's mouth" (Deut. 8:3).

___The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself: What does God want of you? "Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. You must keep God's commandments and decrees ... so that all good will be yours" (Deut. 10:12).

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

___Moshe tells the Jewish people:

"And you should know that not because of your righteousness does the Lord your God give you this good land to possess it, for you are a stiff-necked people." (Deut. 9:6)

___What does it mean to be a stiff-necked people and what is so bad about it?

___Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, a great Italian 16th century commentator, elucidates:

___It is impossible to be righteous if one is stiff-necked, always following his emotions instead of listening to reason. A person must be willing to act according to his intellectual understanding. It takes a strong act of will to make positive changes in one's behavior - to be flexible and open to reason.

___We all tend to get caught up in the "Golden Plan Syndrome." What is the "Golden Plan Syndrome"? Here's an illustration: A fellow saves all year to pay a surprise visit to his brother Joe who is serving with the US. Army in Okinowa. He is upstairs packing when the doorbell rings. It's his brother Joe who got furlough and caught a plane to the US. Says the fellow to his brother, "Joe, it's great seeing you, but excuse me. I have to finish packing. I am late to catch the plane to visit you in Japan!" The goal of life is to lead with the head, not the emotions. That's how to grow and make this a better world.

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The time is always right
to do what is right
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

In Honor of
Shalom and Leah Mark

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