Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

The tragic recent death of a community member dear to us all has been a source of pain for our community. We mourn with Marty’s family and due to a number of people asking for the notes of the Rabbi’s eulogy, we have included it after the weekly dvar Torah.

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

Drop the Weight

For a seven-day period you will celebrate before Hashem, your G-d… and you will have nothing but joy. (Deut. 6:15)

Is “you will have nothing but joy” a commandment? Rashi says no, it is a promise for those who have observed the festival of Sukkot. It is important to note that this promise was not said by any other festival. Sukkot is when we are humbled by leaving the comfort of our homes to sleep and eat in the Sukkah. No matter how magnificent a mansion you have, you must leave it and live in a simple booth created for the festival. 

The Jerusalem Talmud (Brachos  9:7) observes that whenever the Hebrew word “nothing” (ach) is used, it has the effect of limiting or diminishing the message being communicated. How do we apply this rule to the verse “and you will have nothing but joy?” Will we experience a limitation of joy? 

R. Chaim Meir Hagar (1887-1972), 4th Rebbi of the Vizhnitz Chasidic dynasty, was a Holocaust survivor who spent his life after the war providing material and spiritual support to thousands of broken survivors as well as many others. He gave a homiletical answer to the question by explaining that if you want to be happy, you need to learn to live with diminishing yourself. That doesn’t mean having low self-esteem, it means that you don’t have to be the center of life. When I diminish myself, I listen to others because I don’t feel I’m too great to learn from them. When I amplify myself, my ego swells up, causing me to think only of myself, which leads to lacking compassion for others because I won’t care about where they are coming from or what their unique life circumstances are. My ego will cause me to get angry, have stress, and mistreat people—even the people I love. When looking back at life, the common denominator of the foolish or impulsive decisions many people later regret is usually allowing their ego to be their motivation making decisions. If I must have something the way I want it, when I want it, without listening to the person or people who will be affected by my want, then I know ego is the stimulus for my behavior. 

Imagine a man carrying a hundred-pound barbell weight wherever he goes. Whether it’s shopping, having coffee with friends, or going to work, he is schlepping the weight everywhere. At the end of each day, he is exhausted but continues this depleting behavior. One day while boating, he falls overboard with the weight and starts to go under; someone from the boat yells.

“Drop the weight!” 

“But it’s my weight.”

“Drop the weight!”

“I can’t; it’s my weight. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember; I can’t live without it.”

“Drop the weight or you will drown.”

“I don’t want to drop the weight. It’s mine; I need it.”

Finally, some wise person dives into the water, distracts the man and pushes the weight into the water.

“What will I do now; how will I live without my weight?” Then, something incredible happens. 

“Wow, I can’t believe this. I feel so light. I can swim and actually enjoy the water. I can’t imagine how great I will feel when I get back to dry land. I can go to the store or out for coffee and don’t have to lug around that heavy weight. I would never have believed that life could be so “light” and manageable. 

The weight is our ego. It takes a lot of emotional energy to always have things our way. It’s exhausting to have to be worried about what others will think of me or go to great lengths to make them like me. It’s exhausting to get angry with someone for not treating me properly and it’s even more draining to harbor resentment. The more things have to revolve around me, the more stressed and unhappy I am. 

The reason the weight is so difficult to drop is because it’s my weight. When I speak with people about challenges they are having, in so many instances they are carrying around their weight and can’t think of dropping it. Although they can intellectually understand how much ‘lighter’ their lives would be, almost like walking on air, they can’t think outside of their domain, which means carrying a heavy weight—ego, fear, and resentment—everywhere. By refusing to drop it, they are denying others the possibility of helping them.

The way to happiness is to diminish our ego. The more we come out of our selfish comfort zone, the lighter we feel. The natural outcome will be meaningful friendships, love, and connecting to others. If you want to do something great for yourself, drop the weight and begin living. May we all have the inner strength to do so. 

Good Shabbos.

Eulogy Notes

[When the eulogy was delivered, Biblical verses were read in Hebrew and then translated.]

1- May HaShem answer you on the day of distress. (Psalms 20:2) This is surely a day of distress. We’re shocked, sad, and perhaps more than anything overwhelmed and there are no magic words to bring us out of how we feel, so I will not attempt to do so.

2- We thought we knew Marty and wished we would have known what Marty was going through so that we could have been there to help him deal with the unrelenting demons trapped in his mind, but we now see that unfortunately we didn’t. On the other hand, we need to speak about what we did know of him. He was an extremely kind person who spent his life helping others and chose a profession allowing him to do so. If a someone needed treatment, he made sure it happened. If the person didn’t have money, he bartered or just gave his services away. Marty was quick with compliments and honored all people. This is how Marty lived, and that’s how we need to remember him. 

3-Maimonides lists the characteristics of how a sage should live. Although many of us might not get there, it is appropriate to learn from their ways. 

He is stringent with himself, speaks pleasantly with others, his social conduct is attractive to others, he receives them pleasantly, if he is insulted by them, he does not insult them in return, he honors them – even though they disrespect him – he does business faithfully… and people find his deeds attractive – such a person sanctifies God’s name. (Yesodei HaTorah 5:13)

Many Jews over the centuries have given their life rather than give up their Judaism and they sanctified G-d’s name when doing so, but what Maimonides is teaching us is that living an exemplary life is really the main thing. Kiddush HaShem is not only about giving a life; it’s about living a life. Let’s take this insight from Maimonides and think of how Marty lived, not how he died.

I noticed that Marty left notes for himself, notes to help him to be mindful and think positively. One on the wall near his bed read, “Intention to sleep well and feel grounded in my body.” There were notes in the kitchen, bathroom, and other places Marty would be every day. He really tried to work with what he had and ground himself and taught us to be intentional; not just to go through life with just motions.

3) One lesson we should take out of this tragedy is that we need to inquire about one another. Check in on each other from time to time. We never know what darkness someone we know and care about might be going through. You don’t need training, you just need concern.

4) Marty, you were a gentle and soft-spoken person who lived a life of kindness and genuinely cared about people. That’s how we will remember you. 

5) Let’s close with the comforting words of the prophet Isaiah/ He will eliminate death forever, and my Lord, G-d, will erase tears from all faces… (Isaiah 25:8)