Sacred Undertaking


[Author’s Note: Some time back I led a Tahara and afterward had an interesting experience. (When we do this work, we hold a short meeting/briefing for the Tahara team before and after the Tahara itself, to make sure everyone on the team is emotionally and physically healthy.) In our debriefing afterward, an older member of our chevra mentioned to a newer member of our chevra that he hoped when we next meet it would be under better circumstances. The response from the new member inspired this poem:]

 

SACRED UNDERTAKING

 

Sacred Undertaking… today I midwifed a soul from this world to the next.

 

The call came in; assembled the team.

Set intentions to see G-d’s face in the deceased and in each other.

 

Entered in silence.

He didn’t look so good on the table.

Closed his lifeless eyes, covered his nakedness.

Spoke softly.

Read from the Song of Songs.

Carefully washed his body, head to toe, respecting his modesty and dignity. It was tricky to wash his back.

Trimmed his fingernails, cleaned him up.

New dry sheet covering him now.

 

Quoted Rabbi Akiva, “You are fortunate Israel. … I will purify you.” Poured the living waters. “Tahor hu, tahor hu, tahor hu!” He is pure. Dried his body.

 

Dressed him as the High Priest; the name of the Holy One tied into the knots. Laid him gently into the waiting coffin sprinkled with holy earth from Israel. More readings. More silence.

 

Asked for forgiveness in case we did not show enough respect.

 

Then it was again obvious – then it was that I noticed how he radiated the Light. I had seen it before. The Radiance. The Grace.

His gratitude was palpable.

 

Sacred Undertaking… today I midwifed a soul from this world to the next. Today, I was reminded.

 

Someone said, “I hope we meet again under better circumstances.”

The reply was, “These are the most holy of circumstances. These are the best circumstances.” Today, I was reminded.

 

Sacred Undertaking…

Today, I midwifed a soul from this world to the next. Today, I was blessed.

 

Rick Light has been teaching spiritual development for more than 30 years, and started the Chevrah Kadisha in Los Alamos, NM, in 1996.   In 1998 he published the first edition of Guidelines for Performing Taharah as a manual to guide the local chevrah doing its holy work (the 4th edition is now available under the title, To Midwife A Soul). A new book is forthcoming soon (2015) titled, Rites of Death: The Beauty and Power of Jewish Tradition.  In 2006, he co-founded the Chevrah Kadisha of Northern New Mexico, a community chevrah that includes members from six shuls, encompassing all branches of Judaism.  In 2013 he published, Final Kindness: Honoring K’rovei Yisrael, a manual for preparing non-Jews for burial who are part of the Jewish community.  Rick is a Vice President of the North American educational organization, Kavod v’Nichum, Honor and Comfort, and a student and instructor for the Gamliel Institute.  He continues to teach and raise awareness about Chevrah Kadisha, Taharah, and Jewish death and burial practices at the local, state, and national levels. 

 

  


 

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Winter 2016:   

During the coming Winter semester, the Gamliel Insitute will be offering the online course. Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah (T&S). This course will run at two times (if there is adequate registration): from January 5th to March 22nd, 8-9:30 pm EST/5-6:30 pm PST9-10:30 pm AST, and from January 11th to March 28th, Noon to 1:30 pm EST/9-10:30 am PST (12 sessions at each time). There will be an online orientation session Monday January 4th at 12-1:30 pm EST, and a second orientation session on Monday, January 4th at 8-9:30 pm EST (Students may attend either one). PLEASE NOTE: We will be using a new (to us) Platform for the classes, so definitely plan on attending one of the orientation sessions!  

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This course is an in-depth study of the work of the Chevrah Kadisha in the activities and mitzvot of guarding the body of the deceased (shmirah) and of ritually preparing the body for burial (taharah). This is very much a “how-to” course as well as an examination of the liturgy, and of the unusual situations that can arise. The course also looks at the impact of the work on the community and on the members of the Chevrah Kadisha, and provides an ongoing review of best practices. Studies include: spiritual transformative power; personal testimony; meaning and purpose; face of God; Tahor and Tamei; Tachrichim; History; manuals, tefillah, training, impediments; safety; and complications.

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