Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eulogize the Living - Friday Kavvanah, 11/18/2011

When I was a senior rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I had a class in homiletics in which I learned, among other things, how to write a hesped / eulogy.  Our teacher, Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, whose father had also been a rabbi, told us about how when he was young they practiced giving eulogies for each other.  One of them would lie on the floor, and the other would stand over him and improvise a hesped.

In the opening lines of Parashat Hayyei Sarah, Abraham mourns for his departed wife Sarah, and depending on how you read the text, probably delivers the first eulogy noted in the Torah.  He channels his grief into words, and to this day we do the same thing at funerals and memorial services, where we recall our loved ones with fondness and remember their better qualities and the happy times that we spent with them.  A good hesped moves us like no other speech, yielding tears and respectful laughter, inspiring reflection, longing, and comfort in the face of loss.

What is perhaps most ironic about the eulogy, however, is that the deceased does not hear the moving, wonderful things that are recited in his/her honor.  Most of us will not hear the most stirring words ever said about us.  A pity, no?

Here is a suggestion: eulogize the ones you love now!  Tell your spouse, your children, your parents, your cousins, your friends how much you love and appreciate them, how much you miss them when they are not around, how fondly you recall all of the good times you have had together.  (Nobody needs to bother to lie on the floor.)

Why wait?  Eulogize the living!

Rabbi Seth Adelson

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