Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lifting a Burden

The goal of this blog is to share what I learn from my couples, and usually postings contain my personal remarks at weddings, which share that goal. This posting will be a little different.

Recently at a wedding reception I had a fascinating discussion, during which I was able to help someone with an issue that was weighing heavily on her heart. This woman could be described by the rabbis of old as a “ba’alat yissurim”, a woman who had more suffering in her life, than would seem fair. She had lost two daughters, one at the age of nine in a horrible traffic accident, and one in her thirties to cancer. Having lost a child myself, I immediately felt a sense of kinship.

A close family member had criticized this woman for not being as devout as he was in terms of belief and church attendance. He told her that since she was not properly devout, she would not get to see her daughter in the afterlife. This greatly troubled the woman, and she sought me out at the wedding, as a rabbi, to ask me what I thought.

Now, personally, I have little use for the afterlife. I think it is extremely difficult to prove that this is an original Jewish concept. Even after this concept made its way into Judaism, our writings have always focused on this world, not the next. However, what one, especially a rabbi, must judge in such a situation, is not what do I think, rather what will bring comfort to this individual. This does not mean that I would utter anything I think not to be true. It just means that one helps the other person state what he or she believes in, what brings him or her comfort, and then validates that as a legitimate position.

I asked her if she had read Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike, My Journey Back to Life”. She said she had. I reminded her of this excerpt:

The night before brain surgery, I thought about death… I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn’t pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whether I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn’t say, “But you were never a Christian, so you’re going the other way from heaven.” If so, I was going to reply, “You know what? You’re right. Fine.”

She said she remembered that, and agreed wholeheartedly with Lance. Still, it seemed that she needed someone, who had pastor or rabbi in front of his or her name to tell her that Lance was right. She needed that someone to tell her that not spending every Sunday in church would not prevent her from seeing her daughter again. I reassured her that Lance had it right. I reassured her that the person who had clearly hurt her with his remarks was wrong. I could see from her face that a tremendous burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

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