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Parshas Chayei Sarah 5779 - In Memorium

2018-11-03 08:04:33 PM


Daniel Korobkin

(in memory of Joyce Fienberg, Yehudis Balche bas Abba Menachem,
sister of Dr. Robert Libman, murdered in the Pittsburgh Massacre, and in memory of the other 10 Kedoshim, all of whom died al Kiddush Hashem)


  1. First, we recognize all of our dignitaries, political, religious, and community leaders who are here today. We know that you are here to honor the Jewish community and show your solidarity with us. We deeply appreciate your friendship and support. We have seen this support from strangers over the entire week, people walking up to us and extending to us condolences just because we are Jewish. It is heartwarming. It’s also sad that we sometimes don’t feel that friendship and unity until a tragedy like this strikes. So let’s all remind ourselves that it shouldn’t take a tragedy to spur us to reach out to someone who is not from our community, to extend to them a piece of our humanity and offer a smile, a kind word, a small gesture. Society today has lost so much of its civility, its kindness, and yes, its very humanity. It is up to people like us, who are part of a faith community, to help restore civility and humanity to our communities.


  1. It’s times like this that I recall the famous words of the German Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemöller, who wrote:


First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


  1. I’m personally reflecting on my own guilt contained in the sentiments of this poem. I remember the mass shooting of the black church in Charleston, SC, in June, 2015, and I did not speak out loudly enough, because I was not a black Christian. I remember the mass shooting of the mosque in Quebec City, in January, 2017, and I did not speak out loudly enough, because I was not a Muslim. Then they came for me, they came for 11 of my brothers and sisters, they came for my fellow Canadian Jew, Joyce Fienberg, sister of our member, and only now do I realize that I should have spoken out more loudly, with more concern, sensitivity, and greater outrage.


  1. It is very difficult to find the right words after such a massacre. Let us learn a halacha from our parsha. After describing Avraham’s great emotional response from the death of his beloved Sarah: “וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ:”, the Torah then states (23:3):


(ג) וַיָּ֙קָם֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י מֵת֑וֹ וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵי־חֵ֖ת לֵאמֹֽר:

Avraham arose from the presence of his dead, and spoke to the Children of Ches, saying…


  1. Our sages in the Midrash, point out an interesting use of language. As Midrash Sechel Tov states, the word “מתו”, that Avraham arose from being in the presence of “his dead,” sounds so impersonal. Why not say that he arose from being in the presence of his beloved “Sarah”? The Midrash answers that the word “מתו” can be read as “מותו,” death itself, a reference to the Angel of Death:

ג) ויקם אברהם מעל פני מתו. היה לו לומר מעל פני שרה, ומה ת"ל מתו, כלומר מותו, מלמד שהיה רואה מלאך המות עומד ומתריס כנגדו:

That is, the Angel of Death was taunting Avraham. You see, Avraham, look at what came of all the good you and Sarah did in your lives. Look at what came as a result of all the tests and trials you passed, of all the righteousness you practiced throughout your life, of all the people whom you and Sarah positively affected: Sarah still died! What good is all your piety if it can’t save you from death? Avraham had to rise above the taunts of Death, move on, and bury his wife.


  1. Midrash Rabbah, picking up on this, then says we learn the following halacha about the state of Aninus, when one must first deal with the burial needs of the loved ones (58:6):


ו [כג, ג] ויקם אברהם מעל פני מתו, מלמד שהיא רואה מלאך המות מתריס כנגדו, א"ר יוחנן מן הן תנינן מי שמתו מוטל לפניו פטור מק"ש ומן התפלה ומן התפילין וכל מצות שבתורה מן הכא ויקם וידבר,


When someone is engaged in the needs of the burial, they are exempt from all other mitzvos. They don’t recite the Shema, they don’t daven, they don’t don tefillin, and are exempt from all other positive commandments. The simple understanding of this law is that we don’t want the Onen to be distracted from his task at hand of burying his dead, so we exempt him from all other mitzvos. But perhaps, in connection to the prior line of the Midrash, part of the reason why we exempt the Onen is because of the scoffs of the Angel of Death, who is proverbially standing in front of each Onen, taunting us and saying, “Where did all of Joyce’s goodness go? How did it help her? If G-d could allow this terrible tragedy to claim her, what good was all her piety if it couldn’t save her from death at the hands of a synagogue shooter?!” Perhaps we give the Onen some time off out of sensitivity that he may be having a bad day, harboring some momentary doubts and questions because of the Angel of Death’s arguments.


  1. Fortunately, that has not been the response of the Libman family. That has not been the response of anyone in the Pittsburgh Jewish community with whom I’ve spoken. Yes, there’s a lot of anger and finger-pointing, but it’s being done by people whom I believe have succumbed to the cynicism of that Angel of Death. These people who are politicizing a tragedy instead of growing from it. Fortunately for most of us, not only are we united over this as a community, but we resolve to redouble our efforts in Torah and mitzvos, of goodness, of piety, and of emulating Joyce’s goodness. I’m sorry if you didn’t have an opportunity to know Joyce. But I can tell you that if you know Dr. Bob Libman, then you know a little bit of Joyce, because as Bob stated in his hesped, Joyce, his older sister by 5 years, was his role model, and a person from whom he learned so much kindness and goodness.


  1. We are planning an azkara service at the end of November for Joyce, to mark the Shloshim of Dr. Libman’s mourning period, and I’m sure you’ll hear more remarks about Joyce then.


  1. But I’d like to share with you two small vignettes, which will give you just a taste of Joyce. First of all, she was always busy doing for others. Although she was a Reform Jew, who practiced her Judaism differently from the way we do in our community, she was still devout in her own way. There’s a 99-year old man in her kehilla, whom she drove to morning minyan every single day. And she was modest about it; the Libmans only knew about it because the man told them so.


  1. Second, we should learn from the Libman family what it means to maintain a loving relationship despite our religious differences. Much of this was due to Joyce and her extreme sensitivity. Joyce’s niece, Bob and Esther Libman’s daughter, had a baby last year, and Joyce ordered a gift for them. Before mailing it off, she included an envelope with an additional cheque. Why? She explained in her note that after receiving the gift in the mail, she realized that it was electronic, and that perhaps the parents wouldn’t feel comfortable with their baby playing with it on Shabbos. So she was adding some money to the gift so that they could buy her an extra gift that didn’t have electronics which could be for Shabbos. Joyce was not a “Shomer Shabbos” in the way that you or I use the term, and yet she was deeply sensitive and attentive to the needs of those who were. She kashered her house for her niece and nephew and always put herself out for others’ religious needs. How many of us are prepared to make the same kinds of accommodations for others who have different religious sensitivities, both to the right and the left? We should never allow our religious differences to divide us, but sadly, I see this too much within our own community. “They’re too frum,” or “they’re not frum enough,” divides our families and our communities. Enough! Learn from these two loving siblings what it means to respect the other regardless of their personal choices in serving G-d.


  1. There’s so much more to say, but we’ll save it for later. Let’s come together as a community, let’s reaffirm that “never again!” will not be just an empty slogan. We will not stand idly by while our brothers’ and sisters’ blood is spilled. We will learn to mobilize as a community, redouble our efforts in becoming closer to Hashem, protecting our community’s security, and reaching out to other faith communities who are also experiencing racism and intolerance. We must stand together, both internally and externally. This is the only way we will succeed in suppressing the hate.


  1. Allow me to conclude with a story said over by Reb Shlomo Carlebach (I have yet to find the rabbinic source):[1]


Give me permission to say a few words It's half a story, half a prayer....


Everybody knows the first tragedy in the world:


Cain and his brother, Abel.


Now the truth is, Cain never wanted to kill Abel; He just got angry at him. But he didn't know There was such a thing as killing somebody. He didn't even know there was such a thing as dying.


Abel fell to the ground And Cain regretted already that he hit him. He fell to the ground next to his brother, And he began to cry from one corner of the world to the other.


And he said, my dear brother, my most precious brother, I'm begging you, please open your eyes. Please forgive me, I'm begging you a million times -- Please come back, and open your eyes.


Then for three days, Cain was lying next to Abel, begging him. All of nature, the whole world, was crying with him.


On that great day we are waiting for The most unbelievable thing will happen All the Cains of the world will lie next to the Abels they killed And they will begin to cry....


And they will say, my precious brother, forgive me Forgive me..I am begging you, forgive me for being angry at you. I am begging you, come back.


I am begging you, come back.


So on that great day, the miracle will happen: Abel will open his eyes. And he and Cain -- what a moment... The world has not been privileged to feel the love Between brother and brother Between one human being and the other that will be on that day.


Then Cain and Abel will begin to dance And the whole world will join them. And all the creatures of the world will begin to dance. Let it be soon...let it be soon...let it be soon... bb”a.


Sun, July 5 2020 13 Tammuz 5780