The Short Vort
The Short Vort- -The Funeral Director (7/14/10)
The Short Vort
Today is Wednesday the 3rd of Av 5770 and July 14, 2010
The Funeral Director
Last Thursday, I was informed of the death of a woman who I did not know.
She was relatively young, only 64 years old.
She left behind three sons and grandchildren.
It was a steamy, stifling, hot and humid day; the temperature was hovering over ninety degrees.
The funeral was held in Far Rockaway.
I drove out from New Jersey to officiate at the funeral of a woman I never knew.
At the conclusion of the funeral, I asked the funeral director- who was Jewish and was also driving the hearse containing the nifterres (the deceased)-if he (as they usually do) has a knife for the kriah (ripping of the garments).
He handed me the knife, I helped the mourners with the kriah and returned the knife to the funeral director
We continued to the cemetery in Elmont, New York for the burial.
As we arrived at the cemetery we proceeded to carry the coffin to the grave and we commenced the burial.
Everyone took turns with the shovels and we all assisted each other in the burial of the nifterres.
The day was stifling hot and most of the men removed their jackets as their brows were filled with sweat and their pants became dirtied as the hot dust swirled all around.
The sons and the sisters of the nifterres were overcome with grief.
All of us were exhausted and spent. We were drained both emotionally and physically.
We all felt the heat of the sun and the pain and grief of the mourners.
It was an emotionally laden experience.
As the levaya came to a conclusion, we all proceeded back to our cars.
As I sat down in my car I was drained and weary from the events of the day.
Every funeral is painful; every levaya is filled with grief and pain.
However, perhaps because of the heat and because of the relative young age of the nifterres- I was very tired and wasted.
All of the sudden, I look up and I see the funeral director standing over me by my car window.
As I look at him he says, “Did you give me back my knife? It is the only one I have and I cannot find it.”
I felt terrible at the thought of not returning his knife and began to search my pockets.
I said to the fellow, “I cannot find the knife, I am so sorry. I will replace it for you”.
About ten minutes later after everyone had retuned to their cars and we were about to exit the cemetery, I realized that I better get the address of the funeral director to send him a new knife.
As I approached his car, I said, “I am really sorry for losing your knife.” He looked at me and said in what appeared to me to be in complete seriousness, “Don’t worry, I have a whole list of things with which I have a problem with you about!”
I was stunned and taken about.
I had just met this man about two hours ago. Our interactions seemed to me to be limited to my borrowing his knife. Was there something I had said or done during the funeral which had offended him? My mind was racing in its attempt to figure out what possibly had I done to offend this man that he now has a ‘list’ of things which he has a ‘problem’ with.
I looked at him and said with total supplication, “I am so sorry, please tell what I have done to offend you?”
His face broke into a broad smile as he said,
“Oh, I am just kidding around with you. You have done nothing to offend me and don’t worry; I found my knife, you did give it back to me.
I like to joke around with people.
By the way here is my card and I am licensed in New Jersey as well”.
I smiled meekly as I took his card and returned to my car.
As I sat down, I realized I was shaking.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked myself.
We have just completed burying a 64 year old mother of three.
It is about 100 degrees outside.
We are all exhausted and our clothes and shoes are filled with the dust of the earth after burying a Jewish mother and this man informs me that, “I like to joke around with people”!
I also like to ‘joke around’.
However, as Shlomo HaMelech teaches us in Koheles 3:4:
(There is…) “A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing.”
This was not a time ‘to laugh’!
However, after thinking about this on the drive home, I realized that because this man is always involved in death and burial he has become hardened and no longer is touched by the tragedy of death which to him is a regular part of his life.
Death has become the norm in his life.
As I drove on, I thought of the fact that we are now in the midst of the Three Weeks (and now the Nine Days) - the time of national mourning for the Beis HaMikdash.
How do I find it possible to ‘joke around’ today?
How can I crack a smile and a laugh when I am supposed to be in the midst of mourning for the destruction of both Batei Mikdash?
Am I not exhibiting the exact same callous and caviler behavior which I found so distasteful in the funeral director?
How can I smile and ‘kid around’ when at this time of the year, thousands and thousands of Jews were being killed and ultimately the Beis HaMikdash would be destroyed?
Have I become as casual and cavalier in my reactions to death as the funeral director?
As I drove on I stopped feeling so smug about myself and so scornful of the funeral director and I started feeling more and more ashamed of myself for my lack of feeling for this time of the year.
Have I become unmoved because of the fact that I have lived every day of my life without a Beis HaMikdash?
Is my skin no longer responsive to the pain of the nation?
As I drove, I felt sadder and sadder; not so much for the nation but, rather, for me.
I was saddened by the realization that the Churban (destruction) has become routine in my life; something standard and unexceptional and most troubling, almost natural.
As the realization hit home, I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and I cried.
I cried not for the Beis HaMikdash; and not for the destruction of Yerushalayim.
I cried for me, and for the realization that I too had become a funeral director.