Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko (Ayelet’s Grandfather) - Funeral Speech
Text from Rabbi Poupko’s speech:
There aren’t words but we are compelled. Compelled to convention to speak.
Once a year on the Yom HaDin, on the Rosh Hashanah, we are taught the highest form of speech.
It’s a speech without words.
On Rosh Hashana we are told the shofar, that the sound of the shofar, is in fact the sound of tefillah. Primal prayer.
It comes from the depths of a broken Jewish heart. It comes from the depths of a broken spirit. And the shofar represents that most beautiful of prayers because it has no words.
And we have no words.
The sound of the shofar reminds us of the broken heart of a mother longing for her son, longing for a child, longing for a daughter. Ama Disisra, the prayer that has no words.
Friends, we gather in the midst of whirlwind of terrible loss and terrible tragedy.
In English, we know what to call someone who loses parents, because that’s normal. We know what to call someone who loses a spouse, because that’s normal. An orphan, a widow, our vocabulary in English at least, does not grant us even a word.
Because there are no words.
And when we don’t have words of our own, we rely, as we do always, on the words of chazal and the words of Our People.
Avos D’Rav Noson tells us the story of Rab Yochanan ben Zackai. That extraordinary figure, who more than anyone else, guaranteed the survival of the Jewish people in the face of tragedy, and loss, in the face of churban.
We are told that Reb Yochanan ben Zackai lost his child.
And as you know from Pirkei Avos he was blessed with many wonderful students. And one after another each of his students entered the home of mourning to try to give some kind of comfort to Reb Yochanan ben Zackai in the aftermath of unspeakable loss. Nichnasu Talmedi l’Nachamv, His students came to give comfort. And one after another came in, and they reminded Reb Yochanan ben Zackai, based on historical and biblical precedent, that there have been loses before and people have received comfort.
One student mentions Adam Harishon, first man who loses a son, and accepts words of nichumim. One student mentions Aaron Hacohen, Aaron the High Priest, who loses 2 children and accepts comfort. Mentions David Hamelech and on and on one the student comes in one after another expecting their rebbe, their teacher, to be inspired by biblical and historical precedent and to likewise receive comfort. And each time Reb Yochanan ben Zackai turns to one student after another telling them that it is insufficient that I have my own pain that I need reminding of the pain by my forebearers.
Until finally his finest student comes in, Reb Elezar Ben Arach.
And before he opened his mouth, Reb Yochanan ben Zackai turns to his shamash and said, he will tell me the right words. Get ready to leave the house of mourning.
And Reb Elezar Ben Arach came in, and he said to his teacher, let me give you a parable…. Dont expec’t any deep thoughts, or profound insights, or penetrating phsycological concept. He said the simplest words that human beings can say in a terrible time.
He said to his teacher, I will tell you a parable of a king who leaves his most prize possession with one of his subjects. As long as the prize procession is in his hands, the subject is nervous in trepidation lest some harm befall that precious possession. And when the king returns to reclaim his possession, and it is unscathed and undamaged, there should be comfort.
He said to his teacher, you were entrusted with a precious gift, who entered this world in a state of absolute purity and innocence. And you were able to return this gift to God in the same state of absolute purity, and absolute kedusah, and absolute holiness.
A precious gift was given to Hindy and Seth and the entire family. A precious gift, a little baby. Beautiful, fragile, vulnerable, but with steel resolve. An extraordinary gift.
And the gift has been reclaimed.
There is no great philosophy here, there is no profound insight. But a precious gift was given and a precious gift was taken, and returned to God in a state of absolute perfection, and holiness, and purity.
Just yesterday we received the 21st notice that yet another life saved had been from searches done for Ayelet. Do we know anyone else who has saved 21 lives?
Everything was done right. The denizens of this world did everything right. On this plane of existence everything did everything right.
Hindy and Seth were extraordinary parents. As grandparents, we received nachas we never wanted or desired as we saw our children, rise day after day, blow after blow, with unrelenting devotion to Ayelet and unrelenting devotion to each other.
Nachas we never wanted.
Ayelet brought out from Hindy and Seth extraordinary love. And taught them that there are wellsprings of intelligence, intuition and courage, that they or any of us knew they had.
There is a mystical bond between mother and child that we all saw. Ayelet just wanted her mother, that’s all she ever wanted, just to hold on to Hindy.
And the intuition that Hindy had, a life saving intuition, time after time.
Hindy was never known for her skill in science or math, but to sit in a room full of renown physicians, and to see grandparents, who do not suffer from humility, open mouth and in awe of little Hindy as she spoke to doctors, residents, attendants, specialists about science; everything from chromosomes to medication, where heads of labs in the most distinguished labratories in America after conversations with Hindy would ask,“Remind me, what field of medicine are you in?”
Within weeks of diagnosis she knew everything there was to know and when it came to Ayelet’s care, she knew everything, and there was so much sadly to know. She would instruct not take instruction, she would guide, she would implore, she was the protector and defender together with Seth in ways that were extraordinary.
Nachas we never wanted. Nachas we never desired or sought.
Everyone did what they were supposed to do. Everyone in this world did what they were supposed to do.
She brought out so much good, the response of all of you has been extraordinary. Shes brought so much beauty so much love in this world, but what we wanted most, we didn’t get.
We have to thank so many people but I just want to mention Arna, the extraordinary Grandmother, who was like a second mother, who was there all the time.
Hindy Seth, everyone here loves you so much.
Rabbi Yochanan also taught us something else. There is something Zechar L’Chorban and Zechar L’Mikdash. You have to remember loss but you also have to remember what was. Where Zechar L’Chorban is today, Zechar L’Mikdash is the rest of life.
And by that I mean is, that Ayelet taught all of us, to fight for life.
And if you want to pay the fitting tribute to Ayelet, you fight for life. You fight for joy. You fight for optimism you fight for hope.
That is what Ayelet taught us. If you want to remember her correctly and pay her the highest tribute you fight for life. You fight for joy.
You choose life, as our tradition guides us.
You choose joy.
You choose hope and you optimism
The beautiful tefillos of the last year had to go somewhere. We cannot live in a world where those tfillos just bounce around in a sound proof chamber, they have to go somewhere. And we all know where they have gone.
They have gone to the tfillos for the future happiness of Seth and Hindy, they should only have good. They should be surrounded by family and always be surrounded by love, and they should choose life and choose joy.
There is one guarantee we will not relent on, Lev Nishbar V’nidke Elokim lo Sivze, God has promised us he does not turn away the prayers of a broken heart.
That much we can demand today.
To Hindy and Seth, we ask that you just lift your eyes for but a moment, through the veil of tears, and to see all the people here that love you. And to know that you are not alone.
And will continue to look to you as they have for inspiration and joy in living and joy in hope.
To Choose Life.