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Friday, 5 September 2014

Betting on a Good Eulogy


Daf Yomi Moed Katan 25

“Oy, the cholent!” he cried, as he threw himself upon his mother’s bier, “Nobody makes cholent like you, Mama!  What shall we eat now that you are gone?”

Some funerals you just want to hide under the seat in embarrassment at some of the things said in eulogies.  We’ve all heard about the cholent and the chocolate cake, about the golf game and the ability to pick a horse.  And we cringe.  Not to mention those eulogists who believe that they’ve been hired to do a stand-up routine about their loved one.

What are some of the elements of a proper eulogy?

The Beraisa states: Whoever cries and mourns over the passing of a righteous person is forgiven for all his sins.  The Gemara adds: Indeed one must rend one’s garments for a righteous individual who is not even a relative.

A proper eulogy achieves two aims:
Firstly, it should demonstrate the righteousness of the deceased.  S/he is now standing in front of the Heavenly court.  The eulogy acts as an advocacy instrument prior to the soul’s judgment.  It’s not the occasion to talk about the chocolate cake, it’s when we focus on the true qualities this individual exhibited.  It goes without saying that one may not embellish since the court will turn to the soul and ask them to explain why people had that exaggerated impression of them.  Remember, it’s the World of Truth we are talking about.

Secondly, we want people to cry and mourn for this righteous person.  A eulogy is not meant to be funny or entertaining.  It should bring people to tears.  It should be emotional.  And it should tug at the heartstrings to such an extent that people are so moved by the loss of this righteous person that they want to become a little more upright themselves.  When G-d gets that sense He in turn, so to speak, is ‘moved’ to forgive the listeners for all their prior iniquities.

Next time you’re asked to give a eulogy, remember these two goals.  Tell us about the most important qualities the deceased exemplified.  Pull at our heartstrings.  And move us to become better, more spiritual, human beings.  May the Almighty forgive us all for past misdeeds!