The Warmth from My Mom

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Yom Kippur Yizkor 2017

“Still Warm from an Old Jacket”

It seems that many years ago a little seven-year-old boy and his family were about to leave their native Poland. The day before their departure the father took the little boy to the town where the Rebbe lived so he could receive the Rebbe’s blessing. They remained overnight in the home of the Rebbe, and the little boy slept in the Rebbe’s study. 
Staring at all the holy books, the little boy could not sleep. In the middle of the night he saw the Rebbe enter the room, and he pretended that he was asleep. The Rebbe whispered, “such a sweet child!” Thinking the child might be cold, the Rebbe took off his coat and placed it lovingly on the sleeping child. 

Many years later, when the little boy became an old man of eighty years, when asked what the source of his kindness and comfort was, he said that seventy-three years ago the Rebbe showed him love and comfort, and placed his coat on him to keep him warm. “I am still warm from that coat,” said the eighty-year-old man.”[1]

The Yizkor prayers that we recite remind us that at many occasions in our lives, many people put their warm coats on us, touched us, loved us, comforted us. Their coats still provided warmth for us today – whether they are living or not – and will continue to do so.
From these coats we are still warm, and we thank them for their love and warmth. May their memory be a blessing.

This year has been a tough year.  It is my first high holiday without my mom.  I still remember her walking into the sanctuary, smiling warmly.  I remember her being here on Hanukkah and loving me and the children.  She always answered the phone, text or message and she always was supportive.  There have been countless times when my mom gave me her coat.

Our lives are a gift to us, given by those who came before us, who nurtured us and helped us become who we are today.   When I think back to all that my mom did for me – the list is very long.

She changed my diapers, wiped my nose, put a Band-Aid on my skinned knee, read me stories and dragged me all over Pittsburgh to every special event for kids available.

She gave me hugs and sat with me helping me with my homework

She taught me how to be responsible and how to be kind through her very actions.

She taught me that to receive good and fair treatment from others only comes by showing self-respect.

She never sat still and was always active in doing something.

The biggest question I have for myself and I’m sure you have it for yourselves is: is my life living up to the gifts that she gave me?  Am I worthy of receiving all of the sacrifices she made for me?

After she died, I found notes lying around the house in two places.  The cancer diagnosis was made just two weeks prior.  In one place was questions about her cancer and the other what she wanted to happen in the event she died.  She was, as usual, making lists.   They were just a beginning.

A week before she died, she fell and her mentation was off.  It was just before the congregation celebrated Purim and I chose not to drop what I was doing that moment.  I thought she would be ok.  3 days later, I took a flight out to be with her.

She showed off her nails, which were done a few days before I arrived.  But when I was in the hospital room with her, she was both present and not at the same time.  Every day for the next four days, I watched her decline, until she breathed her last breath.

It was the hardest thing I have done – holding her hand as she died.  I have been there for other people.  I have sat with them as they passed.  But somehow, when it is your mom, it is different. When you are the mourner it is different.

It is for that reason, I believe, that mourners had their own gate when they went into the Temple.  They were different than everyone else.  They had been changed by what they experienced.

I am not the same person I was before I climbed aboard the plane to fly out to Phoenix.  I am less tolerant of drama now than I have ever been. (That is saying something coming from someone who can be a little bit of a drama queen). But the truth is, I want only goodness and simplicity in my life.  I see what Rabbi Ballon meant, when he said that everything he preached was really real only after he was diagnosed with cancer. For me God called me on the day my mom died, just like he called to Abraham.  I responded “hineni – Here I am” I am ready to engage more with my faith, with my family and what matters most in life. I am open to really engaging in repentance.

We learn in the book of Proverbs: “He who has regard for his soul has regard for the commandments.” (Prov. 19:16).  Our faith is one of discipline, journey, growth and discovery.  We are taught that God not only created us, gave us tools and wisdom to rise to our highest self.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote: “Meaning comes not from system of thought but from stories, and the Jewish story is among the most unusual of all.  It tells us that God sought to make us His partners in the work of creation, but we repeatedly disappointed Him.  Yet He never gives up.  He forgives us time and again.  The real religious mystery for Judaism is not our faith in God, but God’s faith in us.”

My mom’s death therefore forces me to ask: What have I done with my life that I should be written into the Book of Life this year?  Have I brought hope and healing where despair is?  Have I always strived to be my highest self?

The challenge for me is to bring her memory with me into the rest of my life.  It is to provide coats of warmth and love to those around me supporting them with love and compassion just as she supported me.

This Yom Kippur I challenge you to live up to the person who gave you’re your warm coats.

[1] Yom Kippur Readings, Inspiration, Information, Contemplation. Ed. By Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins Jewish Lights 2005. P. 191

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