Tonight is the seventh night of Pesah, and for Israelis and Reform Jews, the final night. I have just lit a memorial candle in memory of our deceased first degree family members: Sylvia and Bob Levin, Barbara Levin Thompson, and Joel Winston. Why?
In happy times we remember those who once upon a time both created and shared our joy. It’s inevitable. And so, as the chag leaves, we formally acknowledge what has been true all week: we miss them and our sharing more in times of intense celebration than at other times during the year.
And on Shabbat, we remembered another tradition that has faded to oblivion in the Reform world: Isru Chag. Isru Chag, the Joining of the Festival, is the day after Sukkot, Pesah and Shavuot. Why? Because we are reluctant to see the holiday simply pass from our lives. We have so rejoiced to keep the commandments, to celebrate our freedom, to refrain from chametz and examine the chametz (the evil inclination) within us that we hesitate to let go. Therefore, the Sages said, the day after, gather around the table with family and friends, eat a little better than normal, drink a little better than normal, enjoy as a way of displaying and demonstrating that we are reluctant to let go, and so we hold on for another day.
We witness through the subtleties of Jewish practice how the inner states that we feel, the emotions that guide our lives, can not only be acknowledged by tradition but made holy and dedicated to a higher purpose. Yes, we miss those we love, and we continue on in our celebration of life. Yes, we have celebrated our freedom and are reluctant to return to life as it was, so we hang on for one more day, as God says, “Go on, enjoy yourself, make your table into an altar and eat and drink because God has given you life to enjoy.”
Chag sameach, shabbat shalom, and a good Isru Chag to all.
A NOTE TO ORPHANS: I remember the day, probably 20 years ago now, when I realized that eventually the three people who sat with me at the dinner table every night would one day be dead and I’d be alone. It’s a particular, isolating feeling, a kind of solitariness, that the people who were once your world would perish and you’d have to live, make do, without them by your side.
Immediately something within denied those emotions, with the simultaneous knowledge, not even a realization, but a constant, abiding knowledge, that I was not alone. I had children, and was sharing my life with many people I loved beyond measure, and they would remain and continue to support me in my world. And yet, and yet, something irreplaceable, and in a way, inconceivable, would be lost. My memories would not longer be acknowledged as real, and shared, and precious. My childhood and past would die with those I loved.
And so, to all you orphans, to all those whose family of origin have departed this life, you are not alone in those feelings, and those feelings do not betray the love for those who stand by your side and support you now. You and I share this special bond, and something more. We know just how sacred it is to share unconditional love, and that loving is ineffable. It makes what remains so much more precious, and yet, inexplicably beautiful, like the moment when a butterfly emerges from its cocoon to fly. In the loss I discovered a well of satisfaction of the spirit, that could evaporate so very easily, and therefore each moment I know deep within for the gift it truly is.