It has been 123 days since my dad died. In that time, I have been reciting kaddish at our daily minyanim and on Shabbat. I have become part of our community of aveilim – mourners, a circle that gathers around each other and supports each of the personal journeys of loss and grieving. I have prayed in many communities in which the minhag-the practice, is to all rise for Kaddish Yatom – for the Mourner’s Prayer, not just those reciting kaddish for a loved one, but each person in the community, rising and reciting together. There is some very loving thinking around why this practice is important, however, I have always felt clear that I wouldn’t rise until one of my parents died and I found myself reciting the kaddish in their honour. And so, when that time came, I couldn’t quite believe it. The words were stuck in my mouth for the first few weeks, maybe even through the shloshim-the first thirty days. Then, around day 50, I experienced some curiosity about the sounds of the words. I noticed that it was comforting to hear my recitation as a whisper, intimate and close by, maybe private. However, it was not until recently that I began to hear any of the words in particular. Very slowly a few of them have begun to pop out and show themselves as content and meaning.
This week’s parashah, Nitzavim, is one of my favourites. So much happens in it including God’s directive to the people to ‘Choose life.”
הַעִדֹ֨תִי בָכֶ֣ם הַיּוֹם֮ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֒רֶץ֒ הַחַיִּ֤ים וְהַמָּ֙וֶת֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הַבְּרָכָ֖ה וְהַקְּלָלָ֑ה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live…
This directive has become even more meaningful this year as I recite kaddish. Nowhere in the prayer does it mention my dad’s death, my grief, or my own mortality. It is exuberant, unabashed praise of the Divine, a celebration and commitment to life. I definitely am not feeling the exuberance, but I do feel appreciative of the reminder to recommit every day to choosing life. I don’t read this as life over death; I hear the call as one to choose that which is enlivening, that which is nourishing as opposed to deadening, for ourselves and to those around us. I read it as a call to teshuva – to return to our truest selves, the ones whose hearts are open, softened, and available to be in relationship in a way that makes the world a better place. This time of the year is about taking a look at our habits and making new choices so that we can in-habit more fully.
May we each ‘choose life’ in a way that makes our community and our world thrive in 5784 and beyond.
Shana Tova U’metukah.