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SERMON WEDNESDAY MORNING

SECOND DAY OF SHAVUOT 5757

YIZKOR


HAG SAMEACH

Toward the end of Pesach, I received over the Internet, a portion of a D'var Torah send by my colleague and friend in Ontario, Canada, Rabbi Phil Scheim. I thought the idea was so important, that I would have used it for Yizkor on Pesach, but my sermon for that day was already finished. I decided to save it for today. I will quote extensively from Rabbi Scheim's words because I think they speak for themselves. I can add only very little to the point he makes so eloquently.

Rabbi Scheim writes, "The story of Pesach begins as a painful interaction between two ancient peoples, the Egyptians and the Israelites. That entanglement leads to its dramatic conclusion, a contest of will between the Egyptian Pharaoh and Moses, the emissary of God.

As evidenced by the Pyramids, the Egyptian Pharaohs did not skimp when it came to their burial grounds. Their lasting contribution to the world was architectural, physical, material. But what about Moses? As much as tour operators in Jordan, now benefiting from peace with Israel, would love to feature the tomb of Moses on their itineraries, we know they cannot. The Torah, in its concluding verses, tells us why: "So Moses the servant of the Lord died there, in the land of Moab, at the command of the Lord. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, near Bet-Peor, and no one knows his burial place to this day."

Who buried Moses in this unknown grave? The text is vague, but it seems to suggest, as Rashi notes that it was God Himself who buried Moses. Yet, to show his uncertainty, Rashi also cites the opinion of Rabbi Ishmael who understands it differently, who interprets that "Moses buried himself." Not quite the Great Pyramid! Not only is the tomb of Moses no rival site to the Seventh Wonder of the World, it is non-existent. There is not a single, solitary physical remnant of the greatest of our ancestors. And not only does Moses not get a monument, he is buried in isolation. No human being is present. Either God buries him, or he buries himself. He doesn't even merit a grave digger. A far cry from the one hundred thousand workers who prepared the ancient Pharaohs' burial sites.

Come to think of it, it is not only in death that Moses is slighted. Think of how many times we mention his name at the Seder. Would there be any name more appropriate to mention than the one human being who led us from slavery to freedom? Considering the role that Moses played in the Exodus story, we should have mentioned him on every page, and then some. But, with the exception of one indirect and insignificant reference, in the citing of a verse in one of the Midrashim about the number of plagues - Moses is unmentioned in the Haggadah.

It does not seem to make sense. True, we are told in the Torah that Moshe Rabbeynu was exceptionally humble (Num.12:3):"Moses is none other than the most humble man on earth!" But virtually no mention in the Haggadah and no memorial - how can that be right? Maybe our tradition, in minimizing the role of Moses in the Haggadah, and God Himself, in orchestrating a private, unostentatious, unmarked exit for Moses, are telling us something very important about how we should be living our lives. Are we to live life like the ancient Egyptian kings, whose purpose in life was the building of a tomb that would last forever? Or are we to live life like Moses, with a desire for that for which we stand, that in which we believe, to survive us and guide our descendants into the future?

We do spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to build up reputations, portfolios, possessions and achievements. But people rarely remember grandparents or great-grandparents because they were rich, or because they were accomplished. Those facts fade fast. People remember them for the time that they gave them, the love, the hugs, the gifts of candy, the words of encouragement, the attention. Those simple acts of love matter far more to those that follow than the most exquisite monument of polished marble, which, if these loving deeds were absent, would never be visited anyhow."

Rabbi Scheim Continues, "When I visited the National Cemetery at Har Herzl, and the grave of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin z'l, I was struck by the monument's simplicity. Beautiful, and simple. The inscription: two words. Yitzhak Rabin. Not Prime Minister. Not Minister of Defense. Not Chief of Staff. Not hero of the War of Independence. Not liberator of Jerusalem. He was all these things, and much more. But his legacy will come not in monuments, not in platitudes, not in elaborate statues and structures. His legacy was evidenced to me when groups of schoolchildren stood by the grave, read poems, lit candles, left, and were replaced by the next group of schoolchildren and the next and the next.

These kids were not going to go home inspired by the marvels of architecture that they saw at the cemetery. Far from it. They were going to go home reminded of the fact that countries can be built, and peoples rescued by those human beings who labor heart and soul for the generations of the future, by those, whose every move in life has in mind those groups of schoolchildren, whose every battle is fought for them and their right for future.

Moses lived and died, and left the world with no known gravesite, no marker, no monument. And when all is said and done, we and anyone in the world with a sense of morality and conscience, owes who and what we are, to him and to the enormity of the spiritual gift that he left us." And it was here, that Rabbi Scheim ended his D'var Torah.

I cannot tell you how confused people get over this simple message found by Rabbi Scheim in our tradition. In the monuments of Egypt, we discover the vain and empty achievements of the Pharaohs. All that speaks for their rule is the size of the mound and the number of slaves needed to construct it. In fact, so important were these pyramids, that the first thing a Pharaoh did upon ascending the throne, was to commission the project and assign the money and manpower needed to see it through. Often the Pharaoh did not live long enough to see the monument finished.

Still, a visit to the cemetery today reveals to all how obsessed we are with death, and how little we spend on remembering the real monuments of life. When Judaism wants us to remember the dead, it does not have us go to the cemetery at all, we gather for a Yizkor service, in the synagogue, and we remember not how our parents, our siblings, our spouse nor our child may have died, but we remember the lessons we learned, the legacy of how their life has become a part of who we are, that is important to this hour.

Moses is not mention in relation to Pesach but the entire festival depends upon his answer to the call of G-d at the burning bush. Shavuot is the legacy to Moshe Rabbeynu's greatest contribution to civilization, the Torah, and the three religions that it spawned over the centuries. What need is there for a monument on a grave if every learned person in the Western World remembers the contributions one has made to the course of Human History?

Only a recent visitor to Egypt or a student of Archeology knows the names of the Pharaoh's who built the pyramids. To the rest of us, they are the Pyramids of Egypt, not the Pyramid of Cheops, or Thutmose or any of the other names of the Pharaohs. But this scroll goes by the name of "The Five Books of Moses" and will be attached to the name of this great prophet as long as people will read and follow the Mitzvot contained on its pages.

Our tradition has little time for the monuments we try to leave behind us. Instead, it has moments like this, when we are given the time to remember moments spent together with those we love. When we can pause to think back on the lessons we learned by their side. It is the moment, declared sacred by Judaism, that we can recall all the deeds they performed here in the land of the living that helped shape our lives and are the foundation of all that we have become.

I recently took my daughter, Ashira, for the first time, to the graves of those after whom she was named. Frankly there was not much to see there. We stood together and I used the opportunity to talk about how my grandfather influenced my life through all the things we did together. How he had started my Jewish Education. How he was so proud of his own Judaic skills. How much his influence still permeates my family. We moved on to other graves. In that cemetery in Pompano, are buried many of the people I once davened with in Shul, there is the Cantor that taught me my Bar Mitzvah lessons, but was too sick to be there on my special day. It was not the graves that were important, I think Ashira was rather bored with looking at brass plaques set in the tall grass. But the stories she asked questions about for days. It was not the monuments that sparked her interest, but the memories and the legacies of living that sent her imagination soaring.

Finally, the lesson of Rabbi Scheim reminds us to think long and hard about the legacy we are leaving to those who will follow us in this world. It is interesting that some of us have chosen to prearrange our funerals so that it will not be a burden to our families after we are gone, but it is far more important to pre-arrange our life, so that what will be remembered will influence those we love for generations to come. For a moment or two, our families will appreciate the kindness of not having to arrange the details of a burial, but for a lifetime, they will recall with affections the memories we choose to leave behind.

Call the children; say I love you multiple times every day to your spouse; take a few minutes each week to contact your brothers and sisters to find out what is happening to them and to share what is important to you. Call a family reunion this year and make sure everyone can attend. Gather the family and do something fun, different and or interesting together. Do it now, don't wait. It is not just an event we are planning, it is the legacy that we will leave behind. Pause from time to time to do something kind for a neighbor; lend some support for the homeless and the helpless in our community; look for ways to make a difference, just once in the life of someone else, a difference that will last a lifetime. It is these actions that will go in living long after we are gone.

We are approaching the hour of Yizkor. I ask that all of us use this time to remember the legacy of those whose names we remember this day, and to think about the legacy that we will be remembered by in days to come. To pass on that which we have received and to create something new for future generations is far more important that gravestones and monuments. Pharaoh left an empty grave for us to gawk at. Moshe left a legacy that will be studied for eternity. Let us reflect on this lesson today as we reflect on the lives of those whose name and lives we remember for good at this hour of Yizkor.

It is my privilege to call upon ____________________________________________ who also has a few words to share with you as we prepare for the Prayers of Remembrance.



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