Sunday, March 9, 2008
Officiating My Grandmother’s Funeral
This past Tuesday was my grandmother’s funeral. I recently wrote about me and my daughter’s one day visit with her just 19 days before her passing. The funeral was an interesting experience for several reasons. One reason is that since the local reform rabbi was in Israel the day of the funeral, I was asked to officiate the funeral, which I did. Also, although I was the only orthodox person there, there was an interesting mix there. Most of the Jews there were reform or unaffiliated and there were many non-Jews there as well. So the question was, “How would an orthodox Jew conducting a funeral for a woman who identified herself as somewhere between unaffiliated and reform, with an entirely non-orthodox crowd go over? Would it be a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d’s name, or an awkward experience?”
I think it was the former because it was a positive Jewish experience for people.
I have never done a funeral before. Therefore, I spoke to my rebbe who met with me and advised me on the step-by-step process of how a Levaya, a funeral, is done. He also lent me the RCA Lifecycle Madrikh, which was very useful. He told me that, given the fact that my grandmother did not lead an observant life, I should relax and do my best, but not to worry since there are very few parts of the funeral that were obligatory on a D’Oraisa (Torah) or D’Rabanan (Rabbinic) level, but that most of the practices at a funeral are based on minhag, custom.
Although I was not personally sure that the halachic (orthodox) funeral service and burial were a positive experience for people, I was told either directly or indirectly by almost everyone who was there that it was a good experience. I think that this is a function of the fact that it was done in a heartfelt and sincere way. I was not some orthodox rabbi that no one knew. I am her grandson and so I think that even if I didn’t do “the best” job that I should have, the fact that I was speaking from the heart caused the service to enter people’s hearts as well.
When I spoke after the eulogies, I talked about some memories of my grandmother. She was my “Fancy Grandmother,” who used to work as a model, who showed me this new invention called a “microwave” as a kid, and who was a great chef. Then I transitioned into what the real subject of the hesped, eulogy was, which was her mitzvos, her acts of kindness, and her good deeds. After that, I wanted to leave people with something good that they could do for her. So I explained that the soul’s place in the world to come is determined by its deeds in this world. But one’s neshama, soul, will continue to grow and elevate in the world to come as the people who survive it do more mitzvos in this world, due to the person’s influence. Therefore, I encouraged people to do mitzvos, good things, having her in mind, so that they can help her gain an elevation and a benefit for her soul, through their mitzvos.
Hopefully, it was a Kiddush Hashem. May it be Hashem’s will that the experience of this difficulty bring myself and the other people who were there closer to Hashem.
(Picture courtesy of CallerTimes)
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