Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple Larry Brandt

What should be said in a eulogy?

A "hesped" (eulogy) should bring benefit to both the dead and the living. It should delineate the deceased truthfully and tactfully. It should give comfort to the living at their time of loss as well as an exemplar as to how to commemorate the deceased in their own lives from now on.

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says in one of his essays that no-one ever delivered a "hesped" saying, “Mr. X. What a man he was. He drove a Lamborghini, dressed in Armani, wore a Patek-Philippe, had a villa in Cap Ferrat and a pied-a-terre in Mayfair. This was a giant. We shall not see his like again.”

Some people might think that it is material things like these which identify a person, but what a eulogy should address is the good deeds the person did for others, and the contribution they made to the life of the family, the community and the world.

The eulogy should not tell any lies or give the impression that the deceased was a saint. But it should emphasise the good points about the deceased. There is no human being who is perfect.

Who should give the eulogy? I recall an occasion when the one who spoke was the deceased person herself, who had tape-recorded a farewell message for her friends. Sometimes the appropriate person to speak is a relative or friend.

Generally it is the rabbi. But not every rabbi is competent to give a eulogy. I have sometimes been embarrassed at the way a colleague has spoken on an occasion of bereavement. A few examples: "He told me he had a lot in the bank"… "I know he had a hard time with his wife"… "I tink I met him vunce!" It is better not to speak if you don’t know how and haven’t done the appropriate homework first.

To whom is a eulogy directed? According to some views, it is God and not only the earthly family and friends to whom the eulogy should offer comfort. God has lost one of His creatures and He as the Creator needs support in His loss.

How can we believe in God when there is so much suffering?

The British philosopher, CEM Joad, was an agnostic for many years because of this problem. Then he realised he was not asking the right question.

Instead of asking why there was no such suffering he should have been asking where and how human beings derived the power to survive suffering.

He was now prepared to believe in God because he saw that there had to be a Power that sustained people in time of adversity.


For Parashat Naso (Diaspora)


FIFTEEN WORDS OF BLESSING

The Torah is full of thought-jewels. This week’s reading is especially significant because it contains the precious jewel of the priestly blessing.

The Hebrew text of the blessing has 15 words, reminiscent of the 15 steps that led up to the main court of the sanctuary in Temple times and of the 15 Songs of Ascents (the "Shirei HaMa’alot") which constitute one of the great sections of the Book of Psalms.

Since 15 is the numerical value of one of the Divine Names, God is heard behind and through each of the words of the "Birkat Kohanim".

Beginning with security and prosperity, the blessing moves to spiritual quality in the light of God’s countenance and concludes with shalom, peace, symbolising completeness.

When the blessing is pronounced, this last word tells us that the greatest boon is when everything is right and complete and in place.


THE OFFERING OF THE PRINCES

When the Tabernacle altar was dedicated, every tribal prince brought a distinctive offering.

Though the offerings were separate and independent, they metaphorically came together to form one overall manifestation of sanctity. Though every component needed the others, each one had its own quality.

In his introduction to Zera’im, the Rambam spoke of a man who built a large mansion which provided overall shade on a hot day but at the same time everyone had his own favourite wall or nook whose shade gave him protection from the sun.

In its own way, this idea tells us something crucial about human beings: it assures us that everyone has his or her own blessing to bring to the community, but the community is strong because it has an overall identity and ethos.


HARD ON THE "BA’AL K’RI’AH"

The sidra this week is exceedingly long and it is hard on the "Ba’al K’ri’ah" (Torah reader), though the words are not nearly as difficult to read as Tazri’a/M’tzora in the middle of the Book of Vayikra.

The sidrot vary in length. Some are much shorter and are completed more quickly. Others take longer and if there happen to be two or three readings on a Shabbat morning it makes the reader’s task very onerous. The advantage of being a "ba’al k’ri’ah" is however that one gets to know the text well.

I had a teacher who wanted to illustrate a Hebrew grammatical phenomenon and chanted a whole sidra to the class until he got to the word he wanted. That teacher told us that each year he studied the weekly sidra through the eyes of a different commentator.

Sometimes he had a Rashi year, sometimes an Ibn Ezra year, sometimes a Sforno year. When he prepared the leining (the weekly reading) he looked not only at the words but the ideas.