This is the drash (sermon) I gave at my rabbinic ordination in January, 2006. It is still relevant today. As I celebrate my 16th year as a rabbi, I share this with you. The Torah portions mentioned were read in synagogues during the prior two weeks during 2021/5782.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, Jacob blesses his son Joseph, by giving Joseph’s sons Maneshe and Ephraim a blessing. He says “y’varech et hana’arim v’yikare b’hem shmi v’shem avotai avraham v’yitzchak .” (Genesis 48:16) “Bless the young ones, may MY name be called through them and in the name of my forefathers Abraham and Isaac”
Simply stated, “May the memories of the ancestors be upon them as a blessing.”
We also see in Shmot, next week’s parashah, God says to Moses, “Ze shmi l’olam, v’zeh zichri l’dor dor.”(Exodus 3:15) “This shall be My name forever. This is my memorial from generation to generation.”
Once again, the name is used for a blessing.
In our tradition, we say of loved ones who have died, “Zichronam livracha” “May their memory be a blessing.”
Sometimes we say, “alav or aleha shalom”…May peace be upon him or her.
This is one of our most precious meditation practices. When we mention the dead and stop to say zichrono livracha, or aleha shalom, we have the opportunity to continue our conversations with them, to receive blessing, and to offer them blessing, through the process of remembering them.
One day, I received an unexpected call from someone I didn’t know from New York who was trying to reach someone else at Kehilla Community Synagogue and stumbled upon my name and number in the process. She told me that she knew my family from when I was a child. My whole family. And then she said, “I knew your sister Julie, zichrona livracha.” She said that they were the same age. It made me stop. The fact that she said her name and then followed it by zichrona livracha took my breath away. I don’t believe I had ever heard anyone say Julie’s name with that blessing before. I asked myself, what was the blessing that I was suppose to receive by remembering her in this moment? I thought about it for many days. What is the blessing? My sister died a tragic death and for most of my life remembering her did not always feel like a blessing. It was a difficult memory. It brought great pain and suffering to our family.
I suspect that there may be people in your families who have died for whom remembering them wouldn’t always feel like a blessing. And yet, our tradition asks us to remember them as a blessing EVERY TIME we mention their name. Is this a mean trick–a way to ignore reality? I believe it offers us an opportunity. An opportunity for healing.
Reb Marcia invites us to see a bracha (a blessing) as the process of humbling ourselves by bending the knees (birkayim), reaching into the pool (breycha) and experiencing the fountain of blessings as ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES.
Zichrona livracha –“may her memory be for endless possibilities”. Whether you are the survivor of someone who experienced a tragic death, whether you have only difficult feelings about the person who died, or whether all you can remember are sweet moments, by saying zichrono livracha, we open the door to endless possibilities. To anger, radical amazement, deep grief, a softening of the belly, the warmth of our heart, deep humility. The key is that there are endless possibilities…The door is open to those who have died, and to our own healing process.
“Zecher tzaddik livrecha l’chayei haolam haba” “Remember this good person for a blessing for life in the world to come.” By saying this expression when we remember someone who has departed, we send blessings to them-endless possibilities-in the world they inhabit.
We come together today in sacred community, a day filled with many brachot, many blessings. A day that offers us endless possibilities from the deep pool of blessing.
Please join me in dipping into that pool by bringing into your heart and mind someone in your life who has died, to remember them for a blessing of endless possibilities.
The door is open to continue your conversation with them. We may think we know what this conversation should be, but just for today, just for today, allow the conversation to arise on its own-in the quiet and sacredness of this community.
Zecher tzaddik livracha — May their memories bless our lives….