115. "Not for us, God, not for us but to Your name do we give honor, for Your mercy, for Your truth." Arthur Hertzberg used to say that we American Jews descend from the Jews who wanted to escape their Jewishness in coming to America; that the majority of the pious remained behind, consumed in the flames of the Shoah. It was a humbling and grim observation to think that the American Judaism that would emerge in this land after the great wave of immigration at the turn of the twentieth century would be a Judaism developed far from the crucible of yeshivas and observance in Europe.
I think of sitting in the movie theater with my dad (I think I was in about 4th grade and *not* in Hebrew school--we were American, afterall) and he pointed up to the screen as the credits rolled and identified all the Jews who worked on the film. This is a somewhat common experience for Jews of a certain generation--that Jewish pride in Jewish accomplishment and the conveyance of that pride to another generation.
But all is vanity, no? "Not for us, God, not for us but to Your name do we give honor, for Your mercy, for Your truth." Not for us. It's not about us. Thinking of the radical idolatry of it all--pointing at a lit screen, flashing images before your eyes, and naming yourself. Who is it that walks before you as the credits roll? "Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands."
And: "They have mouths that can't speak, eyes that can't see, ears that can't hear, noses that can't smell, hands that can't handle, feet that can't walk, and throats that can't speak." The relentless unraveling of the image, the false god.
The realm of the Divine truly does belong to God and Earth God has given to we mere mortals. Key word here--mortals. "The dead praise not the Eternal, neither any that go down in silence."
Despite what we think, it's never about us.
116. That we will die is axiomatic. How we will live on, beyond that truth, is the basis for faith. There is no reason for it otherwise. "Return O my soul unto thy rest; for the Eternal hath dealt bountifully with thee. For Thou hath delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the Eternal in the lands of the living."
Sunday I led two unveilings in the cemetery. There was an hour wait between the first and the second. The sun was shining, the air was cool, somewhere else in the city thousands were running the marathon. I walked among the gravestones, reading names aloud, studying inscriptions, imagining lives. I imagined names and faces brought back to life by the mere utterance of their carved, linguistic essence. For many moments in that hour it would appear that I was alone but I was not. "I shall walk before the Eternal in the land of the living." Even those living six feet under, in the dark cold earth.
"I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Eternal."
117. Praise. Laud. Mercy. Truth. Forever.
Put that on a Bat Mitzvah Sweatshirt.