Here is one of “those” questions. How do you find meaning in the aftermath of sorrow? How do you find reason when there is none? 5770 is ending. I, for one, will not be sorry to see it go: too much sadness, too much illness, too much death.
August 2010 found me flying back to Dallas to participate in the funeral of my friend, who was my brother, Rabbi “Jake” Jackofsky. He died on the 23rd of a horrible debilitating brain disease. He was 69. We knew “how” Jake died, but, still the question kept coming back: “why”?
Many of you have asked the same question in similar circumstances. Here is a bad answer: there is no reason why! The challenge is, of course, to try and see in Jake’s life something to remember as a lesson, a lesson or message that can be carried over into my life and the lives he touched (which number in the thousands).
Judaism, as we will be reminded during High Holiday services, teaches that life is sacred. It also teaches that it is finite and in prayers like the unetanah tokef, we are reminded that the randomness factor of life is always present and it is something over which we have little, if any, control. What we can control is how we choose to live our life, even in the face of the unexplainable. It is not easy. It is, as a prayer notes, “hard to sing of oneness when our world is not complete”.
But, the Jewish message for us is quite simple. You do not know the day of your death, so celebrate life. This is especially important for us as we age and we begin to see friends contract illnesses, our parents become infirmed and die, and even close friends pass away. We can curl up and retreat into our self, choosing a death of the soul. Or, we can respond according to the teachings of our tradition and try to live our life so we bring honor to those whom we remember. In doing that, we bring honor and meaning to our life. In the end, the charge of Deuteronomy that we read on Yom Kippur rings true: “Choose life”.
Jake served the Jewish people as congregational rabbi, camp director and as regional director of the URJ’s Southwest Council. He was a Heschel scholar, active in local Jewish and communal work in Dallas and was a mentor for generations of rabbis. Most of all, he was my friend and a “mensch”. He is deeply missed. I pray that I may be able, in this new year, to celebrate his life and remember the good times and the fun and in doing so, bring honor to his memory.
From my family to yours, please accept my best wishes for a sweet and HEALTHY 5771.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min.