Saturday night Ted and I went to a concert. The music was good, but my mind kept straying. I was thinking about my father. Feeling depressed, because it dawned on me that, 3 1/2 years after his death, he wasn’t coming back. That only happens to deities.
My mind flashed back to the scene at his bedside the night he died, after being severely impaired by a stroke a year earlier. My oldest brother and I were in the hospital room with him. Nobody had made any funeral plans. I’m not sure why. Maybe because my mother is so superstitious.
In any case, according to traditional Jewish practice, Dad had to be buried as soon as possible. My brother was losing his mind and screaming into the phone trying to arrange for a funeral the next morning.
In the midst of all this chaos, I was reflecting about my father and what would be a good capsule summary of him — the man. Then it just came to me — a sort of off-the-cuff eulogy. A phrase from the Torah:
You shall walk humbly with your God.”
To put this in context:
The prophet Micah is warning the Israelites that God is angry with them because the rich are oppressing the poor. They are stealing from the less well-off, or even forcing them into labor. The Lord promises retribution, and He even bids the heavens and earth bear witness to His words.
The weary Jews reply that they just don’t get it. Haven’t they given God the finest gifts and burnt offerings? What does He want of them? To sacrifice their firstborn children, maybe?
He has told you, O man, what is good. And what the Lord requires of you. Only to do justice. And to love kindness. And to walk modestly with your God.”
In other words, no fancy gifts are needed. As a matter of fact, says the prophet ( metaphorically), the ostentatious public displays of piety and all the preaching are as welcome to God as the “incessant dripping of water.” He sums up: “Just do good, be kind and don’t be too full of yourself”.
My father seemed to have taken a page from that book, literally. He was a very devout person, but not “an angry one,” as Mike Huckabee once put it — or a haughty one. Gandhi over Jerry Falwell, you might say.
Dad did a lot of good things — without being showy about it. I remember the time that he was honored for his many years of service running the synagogue’s “free loan society,” a revolving credit fund from which needy people could receive interest-free loans in modest amounts. My father worked long hours, six days a week, and after he came home at night, he would start his “second job” as a “loan officer.” It seemed like there was an endless stream of people.
But what I liked most about Dad was that he was a kind and decent man. Soft-spoken. Gentle. And apparently, I was not alone in thinking that.
At my father’s funeral, the rabbi began the eulogy. He related how the high priest of the ancient temple used to wear very fancy garments to do the work of the Lord. Clothes made from scarlet and turquoise wool, interspersed with golden threads. On his outer garment were embroidered pomegranates (a sacred fruit and symbol) and bells. Also a breastplace which contained 12 precious stones. This was the priest’s everyday outfit.
The rabbi then contrasted that with the high priest’s attire on the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur, the only time the priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. On that day, he wore plain white garments made of flax. As a symbol of humility.
My Dad, concluded the rabbi, was like the high priest on Yom Kippur — always doing God’s work — but clad in plain white linen. Never tooting his own horn.
Of course, I was — am — very proud of that.
This morning, I was browsing the web, looking for something of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s to post, something that would be pertinent to my readers. Not out of political correctness, but because he is just so good — eloquent, I mean.
I came across this quote, and it seemed to fit just right:
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”
This reminded me of my father and the injunction in Micah to “do justice.” I’m sure, as a preacher, the Rev. Dr. King would have been very familiar with it.
I agree with Dr. King about the injustice of it all. In this country, gross inequities exist between the rich and the poor — or even the middle class — when it comes to healthcare. 18,000 people are dying every year because they can’t afford cancer screening and treatment. Of course, there will always be disparities — the rich eat better than the poor. But we don’t let people starve in the street, do we?
Well, at least we as a society are finally realizing our healthcare system is broke and it’s time we fix it.
The question is: How many out there ware willing to do their bit, to take up the “Micah Challenge”?