Yizkor Sermon – Yom Kippur – 10 Tishrei, 5775 – October 4, 2014

This is the time of day when we are feeling weak and most vulnerable. Hungry, tired, and overwhelmed by emotion, the tears come easily as we remember all those who have walked the path of life with us and now live only in our memories. While the last ten days have been given over to self-reflection and prayer, this is when we feel closest to God and one another as we mull our ultimate fate. What will our loved ones remember about us when we are gone? What of us will they miss the most? What will the rabbi say about us in our eulogy?

The last question is quite salient. What will the rabbi or the cantor say about us in our eulogies? Will he or she say, “His crowning achievement in life was making senior vice president. What everybody most loved about her was that she ate lunch at her desk every day.”

Eulogies are about the stuff that make us the kind of people we are. Eulogies speak about love, relationships, caring, friendship, and passion. They speak about our connections to others and all the good we did while we were alive. Eulogies speak about what makes us laugh and the kind of wisdom we shared. As David Brooks wrote a few months ago, “Eulogies are not resumes. They describe the person’s care, wisdom, truthfulness and courage. They describe the million little moral judgments that emanate from that inner region.” Yet we spend very little time preparing for our eulogies and most of our precious time adding to our resumes, trying our best to meet our current broken definition of success.
Steve Jobs, one of the most successful and well known men of our generation, the man responsible for making Apple what it is today, was eulogized by his sister, Mona Simpson. She spoke about his work ethic and all the amazing things he did, but she spent most of her time talking about how much he loved his family. She sprinkled her eulogy with lines like, “Steve cultivated whimsy. He treasured happiness. He was humble, he liked to keep learning, and he had lots of fun. Steve was an intensely emotional man.” His sister made sure that we knew him as a man who had a family, friends, and passions, not just as the man who invented the I Phone. Steve Jobs lived his eulogy, not his resume.

Very few of us have the kind of security and independence of a Steve Jobs, but each one of us can define our own success in life. We can be fully present in the lives of those whom we love. We can re-prioritize what is important to us. We can redefine what we mean by being successful. We can re-devote ourselves to what we really care about. We can be more grateful for all the positive things in our lives. We can take this time to begin working on a new and better version of our eulogies. Let us each take this message to heart and do so while we have the opportunity.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah– May we be sealed for good.

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