I once heard a story told of a great Rebbe (I believe it was the Rebbe of Skverrer) who sobbed at a levaya in the afternoon and was completely b’Simcha at a chasana in the evening. A talmid asked him, how he could experience such extremes of emotions. He replied “A Jew must live in the moment.” Today, I lived in that “moment,” inverted in order with the simcha preceding the sadness, attending both a brit and a levaya.
I could not accomplish this monumental feat of living fully in the moment, like the Rebbe but he did have several advantages over me, most notably being a great Rebbe and tsaddik (I am neither) and hours to transition from one emotional extreme to the other. Again, I had no such luxury. For me, it was whiplash.
Today one of my closest friends was privileged to bring his 3rd son into the covenant of Judaism begun over 3 ½ millennia ago when our father Avraham became the first to have a brit milah. Avraham established the tradition which Jewish fathers and sons maintain to this very day when he gave this gift of relationship with HaKodesh Boruch Hu to his true son, Yitzchok. Today I was proud to witness the boy now known as Moshe Eliyahu, entered into the Jewish Nation.
Growing up, I was so naïve, I believed that every Jewish male was blessed with a brit perpetuating the tradition begun with Avraham, that every Jewish home had a mezuzah on its front door to recall how our ancestors warded off the “Angel of death,” and that every Jew at the end of their life was buried in a simple wood casket, not an urn. It was inconceivable that any Jew should fall outside these defining parameters and symbols of our heritage. Only later as a young adult did reality shatter my innocence.
Today, however, was a day dedicated to Torah and tradition; a day of great joy and of great sadness; a brit, and a burial. The day the Skverrer Rebbe described.
It is impossible to foresee how Moshe Eliyahu’s Book of Life will read. Knowing his parents, I am confident he will be a credit to them and to all of the Jewish family. But the “unknown” of his unwritten book is why Judaism celebrates the anniversary of a person’s death rather than the anniversary of the birth. The full merit of the individual might only be known when the last words are written in the Book of Life; or in a particular case, the “Cook Book.”
After the simcha of the brit came the sadness of burying Gil Marks, (Z”L)- famous author, food historian, rabbi, teacher, and my dear friend and neighbor here in Alon Shvut.
Of late, life in Alon Shvut has not followed the natural cycle of things: This past June, Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali were stolen and murdered from just outside our gate; just last month, Dalia Lemkos was murdered directly in front of the memorial for the 3 boys; Gil’s passing the peculiar punchline of a cruel joke- a non-smoker dying of lung cancer.
Look amongst your cookbooks at home, there’s a very good chance you have one of the 5 books Gil authored on Jewish cooking or editions of the magazine, “Kosher Gourmet”, which he founded. Gil was awarded the James Beard Award, the Pulitzer Prize for cooking-themed books, in 2005 but is immortalized by another book, his magnum opus, the monumental “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” considered the definitive work on the history of Jewish cuisine. This critically acclaimed compendium earned Gil a spot on the Forward 50, a list of the 50 most influential American Jews of 2010.