In the continuing saga of cyberspace and death, this article from the NY Times speaks about the increase in funerals being broadcast online for people who can’t make it to the actual funeral. This struck a personal chord with me because about 4 years ago, when my grandmother’s sister died, I was asked to go to the funeral and broadcast the funeral over speakerphone. At the time, I felt both a sense of strength in being to provide this for my grandmother, but also a sense of strangeness, for how would the other funeral attendees see this. I can’t imagine a funeral over cyberspace. Yet, I think this is a valuable use of our interconnectedness because no longer is someone who is physically unable to attend a funeral preventing from getting some form of closure.
Here is my first response to this post:
I just needed to post this piece. It is quite moving. There are no other words to describe the value of this article.
This was a very fascinating magazine article from a few weeks ago. I find the whole question of the use of the internet in relation to death and bereavement to be unique. For starters, as was pointed out in this article, does the internet provide us with a virtual immortality? I would venture to suggest that the answer is no, even though our message can possibly be heard from beyond. Part of the challenge, as was discussed in the piece, is related to the question of what kind of content do most of us put on the internet. How much of it is relevant to the future vs. how much of our writing is merely a momentary quirk?
The other aspect of death and the internet relates to how we grieve the loss of someone we “know” via our virtual contact with that person. I discussed a similar idea in a post back in May, Grieving in the 21st Century. Are we mourning the person or the loss that we feel by not having that particular virtual connection? Either way, as grief is related to loss, the sense of a hole in our universe will exist regardless of what that hole is about.
In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, Jethro comes to the encampment of Bnai Yisrael. Upon seeing the goings on between Moses and the people, in which Moses receives all disputes, Jethro advises Moses to set up a system of courts so as to alleviate the stress of listening to all the people’s problems. In thinking about this advise, I am reminded of a midrash discussed in Masechet Sotah. The midrash says that when Pharaoh was deciding how to respond to the growth of the Jewish people and the fear about being overthrown, he consulted three advisors, Bilaam, Iyov and Jethro. Bilaam advised Pharaoh to drown the baby boys. Iyov stood silently by and Jethro protested and ran away. As such, Jethro merited to have his daughters marry Moses and Aaron. Jethro realized that it is very easy for a ruler to ignore his advisors for the sake of his own decision making process. When Jethro sees Moses judge alone, he begins to fear that Moses will fall into the trap of Pharaoh, that Moses won’t listen to other’s advise and trust other’s judgment. Therefore, he advises Moses that he can’t do it all on his own and that he will need judges under him for him to delegate authority.
The Netivot Shalom quotes a piece of Gemara based on the last week’s Torah portion, בשלח. BT Sotah 30a describes how at the splitting of the sea, even the infant on its mother’s knee and the baby breastfeeding, experienced the שכינה and sang out in praise the words זה אלי ואנוהו, this is my G-d and I will glorify Him. R. Berezovsky discusses how this shows that it is an essential element of the Israelite to feel an innate sense of needing to praise G-d in song, through the use of poetics. This Gemara also teaches the idea of a sophisticated simplicity. The infant recognizes the granduer of the divine but as an infant, there is no rationalization. It is simply “This is My G-d and I will glorify Him.”
In yesterday’s daily lesson in Tanya, we read the following (english text includes notes from lessons in Tanya).:
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 15In the category of Beinoni there are also two levels: “He who serves G‑d” and “he who serves Him not.”Yet he who “serves Him not” is not wicked, although he does not wage war with his evil nature, for never in his life has he committed even a minor transgression in the realm of negative commandments.
He has also fulfilled all the positive commandments which he was able to fulfill, including the precept of Torah study — which is equal to all the other commandments combined— to the extent that his mouth never ceased from study, despite the difficulty involved in this.
Yet he is still described as one who “does not serve G‑d,” for he does not wage any battle against his evil inclination to vanquish it through the aid of the Divine light that illuminates the G‑dly soul abiding in the brain, which rules over the heart — as explained above1 that the G‑dly soul and the Divine light illuminating it are the Beinoni’s answer to his evil inclination. He (“who serves Him not”) does not struggle with it — for his evil inclination does not oppose him at all in an attempt to deter him from his Torah study and divine service, and thus he need not wage any war against it. So it is, for example, with one who is by nature an assiduous student due to his stolid temperament, and who is also free of conflict with sexual desire due to his frigid nature; and similarly with other mundane pleasures he need not exert himself to master a desire for them, for he naturally lacks any feeling for enjoyment.
For this reason he does not need to contemplate so much on the greatness of G‑d to consciously create a spirit of knowledge and fear of G‑d in his mind in order to guard himself from transgressing any prohibitive commandments.
He also need not create a love of G‑d in his heart, which would motivate him to bind himself to Him through fulfilling the positive commandments and through Torah study which equals all the other commandments together.
The hidden love of G‑d found in the heart of all Jews, who are called2 “the lovers of His name,” is sufficient for him to motivate his fulfilling the commandments, since he is naturally so inclined.For a Jew who must engage in battle with his evil inclination, the love hidden in his heart is not enough. He must arouse it to an active, conscious state. For the person who is free of conflict with evil, however, this hidden love (together with his naturally favorable character traits) is sufficient.
For this reason, he is not considered “one who is serving G‑d” at all.
For this latent love is not of his making or achievement by any means. It is our inheritance, bequeathed by our Patriarchs to the entire Jewish nation, as will be explained further.3With this the Alter Rebbe concluded the thought that within the level of Beinoni there are two sub-categories — “he who serves G‑d,” and “he who serves Him not.”He now goes on to say that even one who is not naturally endowed with traits favorable to G‑d’s service, may yet come under the category of “he who serves Him not.”
So, too, he who is not inherently studious, but has accustomed himself to study diligently, so that this habit has become his second nature; thus, diligence is now natural for him,— for him, too, the hidden love of G‑d is now sufficient, unless he wishes to study more than he usually does.To do so, he must arouse a conscious love of G‑d in his heart. Only such a love can supply the strength necessary to free himself from the restraints of his acquired nature.
FOOTNOTES 1. See chs. 12 and 13. 2. Tehillim 69:37. 3. Chs. 18, 19, and 44.
Life is always a process of growth or stagnation. We can very easily believe we should rest on our laurels, thinking we have already reached a high level. The true servant of G-d is the one who never thinks that he/she has made it. Rather the person should always strive for more. This is the challenge we all face in our day to day lives.