Yom Kippur Yizkor - 5774
The past few days we have watched as torrential rains took their toll on our state of Colorado.
We have seen
· roads closed
· Houses washed away
· Rivers overflowing their banks
· While, for most of us, the rains have provided minor inconveniences, we know that members of our congregation have been affected and that lives have been lost.
In thinking about what I might want to say this afternoon for Yizkor, I thought about the image of the rains and the rivers that have overflowed their banks.
In many ways, we are like rivers - our lives also flow between the banks of our own, personal boundaries. We move through the events, expectations, compromises and covenants by and through which we gauge the passage of time and the fulfillment of our expectations. There are moments in our lives when our banks overflow - when we cannot contain the feelings, the emotions, the passions which course through our veins like a raging torrent.
Along the banks of our own, personal rivers, there are high points which teach us of the meaning and purpose of our very existence. When we stand under the chuppah; when a child is born; when we hold the torah for the first time as a Jew by choice; when we overcome illness or misfortune; when we stand with our children or grandchildren as they become Bar or Bat Mitzvah - these are defining moments of our lives [PAUSE] .... when our banks overflow with joy and happiness.
But there are low points as well - when, instead of flooding, we experience drought. When a cherished loved one dies, a marriage fails, illness strikes cruelly and unexpectedly - all too often we find ourselves in the midst of a barren, dry river bed - parched and utterly alone. We gaze up at the heights along the banks - we cannot seem to find a way to climb up out of the abyss.
For many of us, these times when the banks of our lives are changing - whether overflowing or drying up - are unnatural. We often don't know how to deal with them. I cannot tell you how many times when, as a rabbi, I deal with people at times of great joy or great crisis and they do not know what to do. "Rabbi," they say, "I promised myself that I wouldn't cry at my son's Bar Mitzvah." Or, "Rabbi, I can't allow myself to break down at my mother's funeral - I don't want to lose control - I'm afraid that I might never get it back....
I want to tell these people: “Good! Go ahead and cry!!! Lose control - that’s what you’re
supposed to do.”
All too often we build walls around ourselves to keep from overflowing or to serve as reservoirs during times of drought. We create artificial levies and dams to prevent the floods from disrupting our daily routines. We build bridges in vain to avoid confronting the realities of daily life. We try to keep an even keel - always on top of things, always in control. We strive for control during these high and low points in our lives. And yet walls and bridges cannot really help us. They cannot give us strength during times of emotional drought - nor can they prevent the floods of feeling from overcoming us. Like the floods of the past few days, like the droughts we know all too well, eventually, these defenses will be broached - and we can find ourselves at the mercy of events and feelings - and we don't know what to do because we have not allowed ourselves to experience the power of letting our emotions, our feelings, our joy, our fear, our pain....overflowing .
Today – our sanctuary is filled with the awareness of loss. We remember our loved ones whose lives/ whose love flowed through like mayim chayim – living waters . Their absence is palpable. Our defenses and our protective banks are overflowing with grief and love that grows stronger every day with memory. Now is the time to allow ourselves to feel their loss – to let our banks overflow as we are flooded with memory.
Memory is both a gift and responsibility. When our tears and our emotions flow freely we realize that we are not in control – we are subject to our mortality and the gift of love that we have been given.
To grieve is to acknowledge that we have loved. To love is to understand the power of relationship – the ability to share life’s moments – the highs and the lows – the droughts and floods – with another beautiful soul who made everything just a little more perfect than it would have been without them.
So this afternoon, if the banks of our tears overflow with the reality of loss – this is how it should be. Know that no one here grieves alone – that, my friends, is the gift of community.
Floods can be devastating – but they also can bring new life to parched soil. May our grief give way to hope for a better tomorrow – and may God’s presence bring comfort to all who grieve.