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The Jewish final resting place


Many of the time honoured rules respected by generations of Jews, have fallen by the wayside in our community. Not too long ago, even the most secular Jew would not dream of intermarriage; today it is commonplace. It was unthinkable for a Jew to be buried side-by-side with a gentile. Even the non-observant Jew would say, “No matter what I’ve done during my lifetime, I want to be buried among Jews. I was born a Jew and I will die as a Jew!” But now our community is embroiled in controversy over that, too.

The most vexing problem is the attempt to pretend that these issues can be compromised and still be presented as a form of Judaism. We live in a free world. Everyone has the freedom to choose whether to live a Jewish lifestyle or not. No one can be forced to eat kosher but it is very problematic when a vendor misrepresents his product and pretends that pork is kosher.

The younger generation may not be very traditional, but it is intelligent and respects honesty. They will be completely turned off by a blurred misrepresentation of Judaism. The way to involve younger Jews in Jewish life is by offering them honest and clear guidelines as to what it takes to live like a Jew. They may not do it all but whatever they choose to do will be done with sincerity and a whole heart.

A story is told about a dispute that raged in an east-European town over a grave. A wealthy loan-shark had passed away and the cemetery committee refused to bury him unless the family paid an exorbitant sum to the community coffers.  The family refused, saying that they should not have to pay any more than the price charged to all others. But the community argued that since the deceased had been a miserly man and had never contributed a penny to the community for any of its charitable funds, now was the time to collect on his fair share. The case was brought to the famous Rabbi Akiba of Eger to adjudicate.

The rabbi ruled in favour of the community and explained his reason as follows: According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to charge interest on a loan to a fellow Jew. The Talmud declares that the sin of a loan-shark is so terrible that he will not rise from the dead as all other Jews will, in the time of the Moshiach. That, said the rabbi, is the justification for the difference in price. All other Jews pay for the temporary use of their graves; they will be resurrected and arise when the Moshiach arrives. But this man will remain permanently in his grave. Obviously, his cost should be greater!

In a broader sense, the notion of Jews occupying a resting place for only a limited time is a real expression of Jewish belief. This Shabbat’s Torah Reading is called Maasei, meaning “Journeys.”  It lists the 42 locations where the Jews camped after they left Egypt, on their way towards the Land of Israel. The text of the Torah reads: “These are the journeys of the Jews with which they went out of Egypt.” Technically, after the very first journey, the Jews had already left Egypt. So why would all of the 42 journeys be described as “leaving Egypt?” The answer is that until they reached their destination, the Jews had not yet fulfilled the purpose of leaving Egypt. So leaving Egypt was a process that continued over a very long journey and a long period of time.

That journey continues today until the Moshiach comes and all Jews will be reunited in Israel, living a full Jewish life in peace and harmony. The various countries that we Jews live in during this long journey are not our real resting place. They are only stepping stones on the road to our true destination.

This coming Tuesday, August ninth, we will observe the fast called Tisha B’Av. It marks the day the Temple was destroyed and the beginning of the long Exile. We mourn on this day all the persecutions and horrors that Jews endured through the centuries of Exile. But we also find solace in the belief that we are in a journey that leads us to Redemption.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.