Earlier this week, I had the sad occasion to attend a funeral. I listened as family members reminisced, shared stories and painted a picture of a loving and beloved matriarch, whose memory and legacy will be cherished forever.
The Rabbi who spoke so eloquently described the kindness, humor, and presence in the lives and momentous events of her family as an enduring gift. I was reminded of the corollary of this thought - The idea of ‘chesed shel emet’ - the truest kindness that those who take care of our loved ones in the hours after they have passed away express. Why is it called the truest kindness? Because it is done with no expectation of recompense or reciprocity. Those who have passed cannot ‘return the favor’, so to speak.
And yet, we do it - we come to a funeral or a burial to honor our friends and loved ones. We go to shiva to console the bereaved. Some do even more. I believe I wrote about my friend Judy who wouldn’t leave her tiny shrinking community because she was the only one left who could prepare those who passed away for burial according to tradition. I grew up in a family that was devoted to this kindness. My mother, my aunt, my uncle and my brother all served my community in the ‘chevra kadisha’ - the holy society that does the preparation I described above.
I learned the value of the truest kindness. Though I didn’t join the chevra kadisha, I helped coordinate and recruit people to ensure a minyan, a quorum, at many burials where there was no family.
I share this thought because it occurred to me as I sat at the funeral and looked around the chapel that each person there- beyond the family- made a conscious choice to do this pure act of kindness. I realized that this is the best of us. In all of our endeavors, the simple and the complex acts of kindness shape our personalities, our families, and our communities.
We can all step up and do our part.