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Rabbi, I Want to Cremate my Wife!

Screenshot 2016-10-27 at 1.45.33 PM.pngShortly before Sukkot I received a call from Jack*. His wife was on her deathbed and when she passed, he planned to cremate her. 

Having received many similar calls over the years, I know how difficult it is to convince a family not to go through with cremation once they've set their minds to it.

Since it was literally minutes before the holiday, I told Jack briefly why Judaism prohibits cremation, but he was adamant, so I suggested we continue our conversation in person after the holiday.

Unfortunately, his wife passed away the next morning.

The family found me in my sukkah and we sat for a few hours discussing death, burial and cremation. I brought out every argument I could think of. I explained that the body is G-d's gift to us, a temporary loan which we are required to take care of and return undamaged. The same way we don't tattoo, commit suicide or otherwise mutilate the body, we also cannot burn it.

But Jack and his family weren't buying it.

I explained that when Moshiach comes and the dead are resurrected, it's important to have a body.

Still nothing.

So I tried to describe how much pain the soul feels when the body burned.

But Jack and his family told me they don't believe in the soul, the after-life or G-d.

I excused myself for a minute, left the sukkah and offered up a heartfelt prayer. "Almighty G-d," I said, "I need Your help here! I am struggling to convince this family of the importance of a proper Jewish burial. Please help me..."

I said a few chapters of tehillim (Psalms) and I returned to the sukkah.

We continued the conversation and at the end, Jack says to me, "Rabbi, I don't believe in anything you've said, but I've decided to bury my wife. Why? Because my mother in law (who is still alive) begged me to bury her daughter. She said 'I was the one who brought him into this world, I should be the one deciding how she should pass on.' So I'm going to do it, Rabbi."

Here I was, trying every rabbinic argument in the book, and although ultimately I succeeded, my success had absolutely nothing to do with me! None of my reasoning worked. It was entirely G-d who helped me facilitate this mitzvah. But I was left with an important message: never give up! Try your hardest, and when you do, G-d will surely help you. 

As I drove home from the funeral a couple of days later, I thought about one of the sermons I gave on Yom Kippur, where I discussed the concept of a soul coming down to this earth for 70-80 years perhaps to perform one single mitzvah. Maybe, just maybe, this was my mine.

*Name and details have been changed to protect privacy.

My Checks Were Forged

Check-signed.jpgWhen I checked my bank balance this week, I noticed a large withdrawal—a check for $2300. I opened it to view the check, and I saw my signature. The memo said it was for preschool, the date looked accurate and it seemed authentic overall. But I had no recollection of writing the check and I didn’t recognize the name it was made out to. Could it be fraud?

I checked with my wife but she didn’t recognize it either. I double checked the signature, and without doubt it was identical to mine. Something wasn’t adding up. So I called the bank manager and shared my concerns, and he placed a hold on the check.

The following day two more checks show up on my account, with my signature, but definitely not issued by me. I now knew it was definitely fraud.

It turned out that somebody had copied Chabad Israel Center checks and made them look identical, right down to my signature. It looked real, but it wasn’t. The only give away was that the thief had used check numbers that were out of sequence. This was not the real deal.

Thank G-d we were able to stop the theft and recover all the checks in time.

On Yom Kippur we sit in shul, dressed in white like angels, fasting and praying to G-d. We tell G-d, “This is the real me! The me that has been sinning all year is forged. That’s somebody else. It’s not the real me. It may look like my signature, it may look identical, it may be extremely difficult to tell the difference, but it’s not my signature. The real me is the one who is in shul now. The real me is the one who wants to do the right thing. The real me is the one who prays to G-d.”

During the year we may deviate from spirituality. We may have sinned. We may have done things that we are not proud of. But come Yom Kippur, we reveal our true selves—our good and holy selves.

May we all be inscribed in the book of life with health and happiness, and may we have the strength to keep our true selves revealed and in action year round.

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