My Inner Grief

I have nFeatured imageot let anyone see how deeply I am grieving the loss of my father.  I miss him so much. I knew several weeks before he passed that he had little chance of surviving.  There were too many things against him recovering.  I knew, but I couldn’t tell anyone.  I was grieving even then, but I couldn’t let my mom or my sisters know.  I needed to maintain my composure to give them hope.

In a way, my dad knew he wasn’t going to make it too.  He told me that before my grandfather died, he was on pills and had many physical problems.  He told my dad, “this is no way to live.”  My dad didn’t like it, but he understood it.  A few weeks later he died.  As my dad was being wheeled up to the ICU from the emergency room, he held my hand and said, “Michael, this is no way to live.”  He was letting me know he was tired and wanted to go.  I understood, but I didn’t like it.  They brought in a social worker to talk with me.

I feel like a lost child.  I had my dad, my role model and hero for my entire life.  Every day of my life, my father backed me.  He stood by me even when he didn’t approve or agree with me, because I was his son.  I was so proud of him.  I moved to Florida to be closer to him, and was so happy when I moved my parents into my home so I could take better care of them.  He only lived in my house for nine months, but I believe he was happier and had a better life with us.

I am grieving even now, but I can’t show it too much because my mom is so sad and depressed and she needs me to be strong for her.  I listen to her every day, expressing her grief.  She asks God why He took my dad, and she thanks God for giving him to her for so many years.  She has been a model of faith and trust in God in the face of so great loss.  She feels like she has lost her reason for living.  She needs to lean on me, so I need to be strong.

The day I sat down with the social worker in the hospital, I knew he was dying.  They put him in the ICU.  I went into the hospital chapel and cried.  Thankfully, no one else was there.  After that brief moment of grief, I needed to be strong for my mom and sisters.  I shed a few tears at the funeral, but even there, I needed to be strong for my mom.  Her grief is deep, so bearing it is very hard.  Eleven days later, I went out on my patio, lit a cigar, and cried.  After a good cry, I went inside and continued to be strong for mom.

I know its not emotionally healthy to hold it in, but there aren’t many outlets.  Prayer is an outlet.  I will be checking out grief support groups.  I can’t afford to come apart at the seams.  God has given me comfort and support, and I am grateful.  I truly believe God is merciful and kind.  I believe my dad is with Him.  I believe I will see him again, and we will be reunited.  While I have no desire to die at this time, I no longer fear it.  In some way, I look forward to the day I will be with my father again.

I write this post through tears and sadness.  I miss my dad.  I know I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Saying Kaddish: Continuing Through The Grief

In my last post, I talked about sitting Shiva.  Shiva is a wonderful custom that is designed to comfort mourners.  Technically, the people who are considered mourners are not everyone who grieves.  It is laid out in the Torah, based on the people for whom a Kohain was allowed to make himself unclean by connection with a dead body.  According to the Torah in Leviticus 21:Featured image2-3, a Kohain may not be near a dead body because it would render him ritually unclean.  It makes exceptions for the death of a spouse, son, daughter (also grandchildren), brother, sister, mother or father (also grandparents).

After the week of shiva, there are other traditions of mourning that comfort.  Going to the synagogue to pray with a minyan, a group of men and reciting mourner’s kaddish.  The reason for going to the synagogue, or praying with a minyan (ten men), is because they represent being in the community of Israel.  Because of this requirement of having at least ten Jewish men, the tradition says that whoever joins a minyan to enable someone to say kaddish, participates in the soul of another Jew.  Saying kaddish is about the soul.

Mourner’s kaddish is wrongly called, “The prayer for the dead.”  Kaddish is actually a prayer that praises God for His greatness.  It is a prayer that benefits the living.  There are several versions of kaddish, which have different functions in Jewish prayer, and they serve as dividers between the different portions of the Jewish prayer service.  Most of those versions have different melodies that are beautiful.  Mourner’s kaddish has no melody.  It is recited more as a declaration.  The other types of kaddish may be said by anyone, but mourners kaddish is the exclusive domain of the mourners (see above).  While Jewish tradition teaches that by leaving someone behind who goes every day to bless God’s Name for eleven months, merits the soul of the dead, the practical truth is that saying kaddish daily with a minyan is actually very comforting for the mourner.  It adds a rhythm to life, and over time, begins to comfort the heart.  I can’t explain it, but I experience it.

I’ve been at services where the entire congregation stood up to recite kaddish with the mourner.  I felt it took away from the unique position of the mourner, and they missed an opportunity to provide comfort to those who grieved most deeply.  I’ve seen other services where the person said kaddish, and the last stanza, “Oseh Shalom,” which has been put to music beautifully in Jewish traditon, was sung by the congregation.  It saddened me, because it took away from the somber nature of mourning, and failed to comfort by making a prayer of grief into a song fest.

Saying Kaddish is a structured prayer that has congregational responses at various places.  There is something bolstering about standing to recite kaddish out loud, and the rest of the people giving the structured responses.  Its encourages you, like you are not alone in your grief.  It also gives you a sense that you are  doing something constructive to work through your grief.  It gives you the feeling that you are carrying out your responsibility.

The period for saying kaddish as a mourner lasts eleven months.  It structures the mourning period, and places a definite end to it.  Emotionally, that is helpful.  You don’t feel that it goes on forever, and helps you move beyond your grief.  When the eleven months are completed, the mourning period is over.  You still miss the person you lost, and you still think of them so many times, but you have the feeling that its okay to move on with your life.

Some people either don’t have the confidence to recite kaddish in Shul because of their lack of hebrew proficiency, or because they don’t have the time to go to shul, or in some cases, are not interested in doing it.  They sometimes will make a contribution to a shul and they will say it on the person’s behalf.  Others don’t see the relevance of the tradition. While there may be valid reasons why a person would contract it out or ignore the tradition entirely, in a real sense, they are missing out on a very comforting tradition.

The Importance of Shiva

My father passed away on EFeatured imagerev Pesach.  Needless to say, my favorite holiday was an exceptionally sad one.  We had no seders, but we observed the holiday.  Because of Pesach, shiva, the tradition of mourning, was delayed until the end of Passover.  This would have created an emotional hardship on my mom and myself, so we informally sat shiva all week.  Instead of paying a “shiva call,” people “paid their respects.”  We would begin formal shiva after the holiday ends for a few days since we sat all week.

We found that when people came to visit, it genuinely helped us.  We felt loved and comforted by their presence.  We didn’t dwell on my dad’s death.  We talked about good memories as well as some light hearted discussion.  People brought food, lots of food.  Food also helped comfort us.  In an electronic age, we received condolence cards, not emails.  It showed people cared.  We also received hundreds of Facebook expressions of care.  People also made charitable donations.  Their generosity was comforting and blessed others as well.  We appreciated it all, and it comforted us during a sad and horrible time.

What didn’t help was phone calls.  They seemed like an intrusion.  I know people care, but calling on the phone did us no good.  Relatives who called were effusive with emotion, but personally, I found phone calls to be draining.  Emotion was fine, but when they asked details about my father’s death, I really didn’t want to tell them.  I didn’t want to relive or revisit a painful sadness.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that people really don’t know what to say to grieving people.  Words of wisdom or philosophical concepts don’t help.  Half the time, people are looking to make themselves feel better.  Thats fine as long as they don’t try to do it at our expense.  The people who came didn’t ask, because they had to look us in the eye, and they had the presence of mind not to ask.  The people on the phone were the main perpetrators.  Even simple questions like,”how are you doing?” don’t help.  I was polite, but I didn’t want to talk about it.  They meant no harm, but they were no help and their questions only angered me.

The things that really helped us through this very painful time were personal visits and food.  There is no substitute for being there.  My friend and his wife flew from Colorado and spent a few days with us, just to be with us.  It meant so very much.  Another friend from California came to the funeral.  One evening, a dozen guys from my cigar club came out and had cigars with me.  Others came during the week and spent time with my mom or with me.  The fact that they showed up meant more than anything.  Others who lived far away sent food.  It helped make us remember that we are loved.  It comforted.

Our society brushes off shiva as “not necessary,” but on an emotional level, its a wonderful thing.  You don’t have to know what to say.  Just give a hug and be there.  Let people know you care about them.  It makes all the difference.  Oh.. and if you want to call, think twice about what you are going to say.

Anyone wishing to make a donation in my father’s memory, please do so at

Thank you

The Importance of a Chavurah

I was at a congregation where a leader was explaining what a “Chavurah” was to a visitor.  He said its technically part of the congregation, but he doesn’t push it, and it is basically a get together of people, but not very important. I have to say that the leader doesn’t have much understanding about the value of a chavurah, or the needs of his people.  For him, everything is the “service,” on Shabbat morning.

The reality is, the service is about worship.  People don’t really get to know one another at a service, and the service may meet some needs, but it doesn’t create or build community. A chavurah provides the opportunity for people get together and enjoy one another’s company.  It also provides an opportunity to worship, as we have a torah service in our chavurah.  A chavurah also provides good teaching.  It provides an informal setting for people to get to know one another, and for new people to relax and enjoy themselves.

In short, a Chavurah builds a sense of community and belonging.  There is good food, and everyone has a great time. It is just as important as the congregational meeting, which is more formal, and has a potential of being boring.  While we may have an Oneg Shabbat at a congregational service, it just doesn’t compare.  No one who is part of a chavurah considers it boring.  It is a wonderful experience that I hope everyone gets to share.

Bumper Sticker Religion

It may be that I’m becoming more of a curmudgeon in my old age, but I am becoming increasingly impatient with people who quote popular religious saFeatured imageyings.  In the 70’s Campus Crusade for Christ came up with the “I Found It,” campaign, engaging in mass marketing approach to sharing the Gospel.  Before that, it was “Honk If You Love Jesus,” and “Jesus Loves You.”  In the 80’s I heard people saying. “Let Go and Let God.”  In the 90’s. they had the “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign.  All these popular slogans sort of turned my stomach.  I guess the real question is, why does it bother me?

The reason these slogans bother me is not what they are trying to say, but the idea of reducing the Message of Holy Scripture to a slogan cheapens it.  When I think of the Awe and Majesty of God, there is no way it can be expressed by a slogan or bumpersticker.

People don’t respect bumper sticker messages anymore.  Usually, if something is humorous, we don’t mind, but people don’t put bumperstickers on their cars anymore, or wear “message buttons.”  People who use them are perceived by our society as crackpots.  What was at one time a great way to share a message, now lacks credibility. Times have changed, and public perception has as well.  There was a time when people went door to door to share their religious messages, and it was somewhat successful.  Today it conveys a lack of credibility.

Another reason the slogan approach to faith bothers me, is that people stop thinking about the truths themselves, and just quote catchphrases mindlessly.  They cease to mean anything to anyone.  I’m not against these slogans themselves, but in the realm of faith expression, they are inadequate, and they cease to convey meaningful faith.

The underlying question is “How should we be expressing our faith?”  The bible is not a book of theology.  Its a book of the life stories of God’s people as they walk with God in the world.  We learn from their lives and their faith through their circumstances, and it encourages us to walk with God in our lives.  I guess for me, I want to express my faith, not by quoting popular watchwords, but by living my faith in the presence of others.  I want people to see my struggles, not just my blessings.  I want them to understand that even through trials, we need to draw near to God who strengthens us.  I want to give people the opportunity to see God in my life and be drawn to seeing Him in me.  That only happens by living my life, struggles and all, in a way that people can see and hear.  In a sense it’s living my faith out loud.

The practical question is, How do I express what I believe in a meaningful way? (The key word being Meaningful).  First, in our use of the rituals and customs.  If you do them in a meaningless, rote manner, there  is no life in them.  Doing them with a full heart, seeking to draw near to God through them, connects us to their meanings.

Secondly, the way I treat other people.  You can’t treat people like crap and claim to love God.  As one of the Hashivenu core values states, “Because man is created in the image of God, the way we treat others is a real reflection of how we feel about God.  Therefore, true piety can not exist apart from human decency.”  People think they will see God if they have visions and supernatural experiences, but one of the main places we encounter God is in the lives of people who walk with Him.  The question is, when people encounter us, are they encountering God in us, or are they encountering just us.  For sure, when people spend time with me, they do encounter the cranky person that I can be, but hopefully they see the God who is in my life.

The Importance Of Deference

Deference is defined as “respect and esteem due a superior or an elder.” Deference is important, because it conveys respect.  As an older, senior leader, I have been shown a great deal of deference by my friends and colleagues. I appreciate the kindness people show me, anFeatured imaged I in return have shown deference to them.  Its not that difficult to show deference to people you understand to know more than you do, or who have been through the experiences that they have weathered.

The picture of deference should be as the Japanese greeting where two people  bow towards one another, not like a slave with his face in the dirt bowing toward an oriental potentate.

No one likes being disrespected.  I honestly don’t think I’m that big a deal, but it bothers me when people treat me with disrespect.  As a result, I have sought to never treat other people that way, whether or not they are older than me or have more experience than me.  It goes along with the idea of treating people the way you wish to be treated.

I’ve met people in all circumstances, and regardless of their station in life, I have tried to show them respect, because they are people created in the Image of God.  Honoring others is how I honor the image of God in them.   Its a matter of kindness.

I have found that when I don’t show people respect, by being rude or unkind, it reflects badly on me.  People notice how you treat others, especially if you are a leader.  When you don’t treat people well, other people think, “When will he treat me that way?” and it makes them hesitant to be open and friendly with you.

Its not always easy to show people deference.  When we are aware of people’s flaws, we are aware of how human they are, and it makes it more difficult to show them any sort of deference.  The problem is, we are all human, and we all have flaws.  Some people’s flaws are more obvious than others, but we all have them.  It astounds me when people tell me about someone’s flaws and what they find unacceptable in others is the same flaws I see in them.  They are oblivious to their own issues, but they lash out at others with the same problems.  Psychologists would say that you see the things you don’t like about yourself in others, and condemn it in them to feel better about yourself.  Whatever the reason, its wrong.

There are people with whom I find it difficult or impossible to show deference.  When people treat other people badly, its hard for me to respect them.  I have broken off professional relationships over it.  I don’t want to be associated with people who are willing to crush other people’s spirits, or humiliate them publicly or privately.  The rabbis taught that embarrassing others is like killing them.  I tend to not be that confrontational.  Even when I do address an issue with someone, I tend to hold back, because I don’t want to hurt them.  If I actually told people exactly what I think, without holding back, it might be too much for them to handle, or they might not be able to receive it.  In either case, it would do no good.

Real deference needs to be mutual; not limited to people in high position or with many accomplishments.  We should treat people well because they are created in God’s image, because they have feelings, and because we ourselves wish to be treated with kindness and respect.

For me being a leader means I need not only to teach, but to encourage others and be kind to them.  I frequently wonder what kind of effect I have on other people.  I hope it is good, because I am answerable for this.  If we all treated one another with more kindness and understanding, and less critical intolerance, we would be more effective and less hurtful to those around us.

And The LORD Heard It

These should be the most terrifying words we have ever heard, “And the LORD heard it.”  It comes from the book of Numbers, chapter 12 where the sister of Moses grumbled against him.  “So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.”   Featured image

It makes you ask the question, how much of what we say does the Lord hear?  How much of what we do does the Lord see?  The answer of course, is EVERYTHING.  If you really fear God, with a Godly fear, that idea should be unsettling at best.  There are things we do that are not always good.  There are things we say that are not always good.  it makes me shudder that the Lord hears the things I say when I drive.  I’m a native New Yorker, and muttering expletives went hand in hand with getting a drivers license.  I don’t mean anything by them, its just a way to let out frustration.

The thing that would trouble me the most is the way I treat other people.  I’m far from being a perfect person.  I am well aware of my shortcomings; but one thing I do strive to do is treat other people with respect and honor even when I feel they don’t deserve it.  I try to be kind to people, because the world needs kind people.  I am well aware that God notices how I treat other people.  It would terrify me to know I treated someone badly, and even more, that God noticed it.

I am often amazed at how badly people treat one another.  They feel they are right, as if that is a valid excuse for treating other people badly.  I wonder how people would treat others if they were aware that God was watching them.  Either they are unaware, or the think God doesn’t notice, or that He doesn’t care.  It’s basically a lack of faith.  Treating someone in a condescending and demeaning manner is not a godly thing to do.  Lording our position over others is not a godly thing to do.   It betrays a lack of Yireh, Shamayim, a fear of heaven.  If we really believe that God watches us and notices, how differently would we treat others?

In Dicken’s story, “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge lives a life of selfishness partly because he felt no sense that God or anyone else watched him or cared.  His visitation by three ghosts brings home the realization that every act of his life had been noticed and he was on the verge of judgment for those actions.  The great reality of life, is that the way we treat people is a genuine reflection of how we feel about God.  if we live our lives in a way that says He doesn’t see or hear, we are denying Him.  We are to do our mitzvot in such a way that brings Honor to God, and reflects the reality of God in our lives.  Yeshua said, “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your mitzvot, and give glory to your Father in Heaven.”  This applies, not only to ritual commandments, but to the way we treat people as well,  Whatever we do or say, we need to realize that “The Lord Heard It.”