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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Achrei Mot

How Many Stories Tall Is the Jewish People?

A well known Rabbinic adage emerges from the succession of the next 3 Torah portions: Acharei Mot, Kedoshim, Emor – “after their death, they say Holy!” That is, as soon as you are gone, they talk about how holy you were! But there is yet another spin we can give to this phrase by slightly moving the comma: After the death of the righteous, speak!
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A well known Rabbinic adage emerges from the succession of the next 3 Torah portions: Acharei Mot, Kedoshim, Emor – "after their death, they say Holy!" That is, as soon as you are gone, they talk about how holy you were! Understood another way, we never truly appreciate someone or something until he, she or it is gone.

But there is yet another spin we can give to this phrase by slightly moving the comma: Acharei Mot Kedoshim, Emor: After the death of the righteous, speak!

There is a natural tendency on the part of any mourner to embrace silence; he experiences an almost involuntary inability to express the enormity of his loss, for that loss is too big for words. For how can we find just the right vocabulary to encapsulate a life; how can we hope to convey the kaleidoscope of emotions that we are experiencing? And if speaking cannot do justice to our emotions, then we are much better served by silence.

Now, if this is true on a personal level, it is equally valid on a national level. What words can grasp the enormity of the Shoa? What poem, song or lecture can take in the heroism, grief & sacrifice of Israel’s too-many wars?

And yet, these combined Sedrot tell us we must make an attempt, we must try to speak out at some point. We have to get that emotion out. That’s why our Rabbis require us to gather at a Minyan after experiencing a loss, in order to recite the Kaddish. Though the mourner may wish to withdraw, both physically & verbally, he knows that at least 3 times a day he must appear in public & speak.

For many years, Holocaust survivors were reluctant to share their experiences. Even if they found the words, they worried, would the public be receptive? Indeed, my late mother in law, who survived Auschwitz, told me she tried, shortly after coming to America, to explain to a group of ladies what had befallen her. "You think you had it rough?" they told her, "we had to endure the Great Depression & the bread lines!" At that point, she decided it would be better just to be quiet.

But later, she began to speak out, as did many others; Spielberg’s video project opened up thousands of survivors. And the Israeli media does all it can to tell the story of the soldiers who gave their lives to defend our country, suspending all regular TV coverage on Yom HaZikaron in order to paint portraits of their lives..

As challenging as it may be, we owe it to our martyred heroes to speak. Memory - as transmitted through the stories we tell - is the key to Redemption.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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