Monday, October 31, 2011

Commemorating Your "Own" Yartzeit

The experience of looking up on a memorial plaque during davening and noticing your own name, exactly matched in both Hebrew and English, with a little light bulb lit up next to it, along with and engraved date of death can be a little unsettling.

I knew my namesake's yartzeit was coming up soon, but the exact date slipped my mind amid all the busy running around from Yom Tov and delving back into work at grad school. I was genuinely surprised when I noticed the small light bulb glowing this morning after I finished Shemonah Esrei.

It's hard to describe the exact feeling that coursed through me, but chilling may have to do. Though I've heard many stories and learned various bits of information about the concept of gilgulim, or 'reincarnated' souls (for lack of a better term), I'm not 100% sure what I understand or believe. The notion of naming a child for a deceased relative, as is the Ashkenazi practice, seems to incorporate some aspect of gilgul, in addition to the more mundane belief of serving as a merit for the family member who has passed on and a living reminder of their legacy.

My great uncle - my paternal grandfather's older brother - though not a particularly religiously observant man, was a pediatrician, fought in World War II, and was one of the first white doctors in my hometown to treat minorities, often at reduced cost or for free. He was well known in the general community, in addition to the Jewish community, and I have often been "recognized" waiting in line at the pharmacy by an elderly person looked at me with a confused expression and informed me happily that my namesake was their pediatrician back in the day.

I was once at a local hospital signing in for a blood test when the nurse filling in my data suddenly stopped. She reread the information on the screen, turned to me, and asked if I was 90-something years old. I realized that the hospital had never properly declared my great-uncle dead, and quickly explained to her that I was indeed the 20-odd years I looked.

After noticing the lit bulb, I quickly walked over to a family friend, who is of my father's generation, and asked him if he would say kaddish for my great-uncle, who was this man's own pediatrician in his childhood. I figured it would be more meaningful than asking the fellow sitting next to me, who could say kaddish since his parents have passed away, merely out of convenience. The family friend graciously agreed.

I stood nearby whenever he recited the kaddish, and sensed some strange aura of fulfillment answering him. I have no idea, even if the concept of gilgul is readily applicable in our day and age, if there was some aspect of my neshama responding to the kaddish being said for my namesake. It certainly felt something akin to what I just described, but who can know for sure?

I can only hope that my own actions, including my study of Torah and observance of mitzvos, which exceed the level of religious practice of my great-uncle, can serve as an aliyah for his neshama in the Olam HaEmes.

1 comment:

Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.