Rabbi Felsen, Michael and Itai suggested two weeks ago that I should speak in front of you today. And I wondered what on Earth a guy who believes, if in anything, in a distant and indifferent god, and who’s lost his young sister to cancer, might say at a hachnasa in celebration of her.
Well there is a thing I will for sure say and that is « thank you ». Because if my belief in god is cursory, my belief in us is anything but. Thank you my friends for the organisation of this.
We want complex and contradictory things when one person close to our heart passes away.
On the one hand we seek to remember her as much as we can and we call healing such nostalgia. But then again at the same time, we wish to forget the difficult times and, above all, we seek to forget the anguish and the pain. We want progress.
Some picture progress as a spiral rather than a straight line, because they claim men wander in concentric loops. And with each revolution these men move a notch further away from the origin in a manner disproportionate to the length of the trip.
Let me say this then. I doubt it is a coincidence that we read our text in a scroll instead of a book.
We spiral through readings and with each reading we move further out from the origin. Reading through Torah, even if we read each year exactly the same words, is in a sense, « progress », and Simrah Torah is the joyful celebration of having moved even barely an inch from who we were.
Healing is different in nature. It is much closer to the idea of putting things back together, the way they were.
Except that we cannot do that, let alone do it by ourselves. Things never get back to perfect in our lifetime. We use clumsy tools. We put broken bones in casts. We wait for them to heal and they do so imperfectly because no god, however powerful, can decide the past did not happen.
My religious and secular friends alike, I have to ask. Where do we put the broken souls to heal, that of my mother, that of Sarah’s father, that of her husband, that of her sons and that of her daughter, that of my brother and mine ?
There is perhaps an honest answer to that unfair question, but it would take most of us their life to write it.
In the meantime, however, I well see how we might wrap our souls in layers, and surround them with chants of deep music, and bandage them with thousands of precise square letters.
You see, I don’t believe that the discrete rods of wood, these Atzei Chaim, are here for the sole practical purpose of keeping the scrolls upright.
I say it is the opposite. Our broken souls are these wooden poles. I say they are waiting to be mended as if fractured limbs. I say they stand at the center of a spiral which we wind ceaselessly until we make sense of it.
We, all here, in our houses and circles of friends, are the ones making sense, however challenged and bruised we are. And that, my friends, is precisely our hope. Because our true hope as Mensch never is for things to end well. We are not stupid. It is for them to have meaning, however they would end.
I promised Sarah that we would keep making sense if she ever departed. Let us do just that together today.
Last point is a variation on Vaclav Havel famous words. Progress as a spiral is taken from Goethe.