A Moment of Insight
The Kavod v’Nichum board and staff keep busy most of the time, some of it ‘on stage’, but a lot of the time it is behind the scenes. At the moment, there is a lot of work going on with revisions, updates, and improvements to the next two Gamliel Institute courses that will be offered in sequence (Course 1, Chevrah Kadisha History, Origins, & Evolution, to begin online January 3rd 2017; and Course 4, Nechama/Comfort, to begin online in March 2017. Both will be twelve sessions. You can register for either now; more information will appear in the announcements that follow this article).
One of the current tasks is to run through the items that are linked in the online course materials for these classes. In doing so, I ran across a link to a page that appears on the Kavod v’Nichum website at One of the assignments in a Gamliel Institute course is for students to write a story along these same lines. For students who have not yet been involved in a Taharah at the time they write the story, we often have asked that they imagine what it will be like, and write what they envision. I was looking back at some of the past work turned in for this assignment, and it made me think back to an experience of my own – and because no one else submitted anything for the blog this week, here it is. [If you want to avoid me reminiscing, all you have to do is submit articles!]
This was quite a few years ago. I am not sure I remember the name of the deceased, though I could look it up; I would not name him in any case, as a matter of protecting his privacy, so it doesn’t matter. It was not my first Taharah, but it was at an early time in my participation with Chevrei in Chevrot Kadisha.
This is what I remember. We entered the room, and he was on the table, covered by a sheet. We prepared, donning gowns and protective gear, filled the buckets with water, gathered the materials, and stood in our appointed places.
The Rosh signaled that we should begin. The first step is to examine the deceased to ascertain the condition of the body, any complications or difficulties, and the like. We seek to maintain modesty as we do this, by keeping the deceased covered with a sheet, only uncovering the limb or other body part that is being examined at that moment, so there is no overall view, no sense of the ‘whole picture’, if you will.
We moved then, as we do for all, to wash the body, removing any dirt, dirty clothing, or extraneous material. This is the same preparation one undergoes before entering a Mikvah – a ritual bath – to be purified; that is what we are actually preparing the deceased for, because the actual Taharah is akin to immersion in a Mikvah (and in some places they actually use a Mikvah). In any case, we carefully prepared for the washing. This meit (deceased) was in excellent condition, remarkably so. No sores, no cuts, no bandages, no medical apparatus, no imperfections in the skin, and even very few markings or discolorations or bruises.
We proceeded to the Rechitzah, the washing, itself, reciting the liturgy and pouring the water.
It was during this step, as we were carefully pouring the water, uncovering the body only as much as needed to pour and wash, that the liturgy and the reality began to come together for me for the first time.
I heard the verse from Zechariah about removing the filthy clothing from him, symbolic of removing taint of physical and spiritual sorts, was said as we took away the old clothing. We carefully poured water in the prescribed order, reciting the verses from the Song of Songs that discuss the attributes of the person. As we said those lines, we washed and praised his physical body, the home of his soul while living.
We continued, performing the ritual of Taharah, then dried the body, and dressed it in the tachrichim (shrouds).
At that point, it was possible to see this body in its fullness. I could sense this man as he was when living. This vessel that had housed his soul lay upon the table before us, and I could see that it was magnificent, a work of art. He had a full head of hair, thick, now gray. His features were regular and finely chiseled. His skin was supple but with wrinkles. His lips were slightly curled, seemingly into a smile. He was tall, and though a bit thin now, he was a fine specimen of a man. The words of the liturgy felt true and completely relevant.
And what came to mind for me for the first time then was that this amazing work of art had been intended as the disposable shell for the truly glorious contents, the soul that had been housed within it. That was the moment when I began to understand dimly how precious each person is that I encounter, for they all contain a soul that is beautiful beyond our imagining – a lesson I have hoped never to forget since.
GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES
Please Tell Anyone Who May Be Interested!
NOT TOO LATE – THERE IS STILL TIME – REGISTRATION IS OPEN: THE COURSE BEGINS SOON!
Gamliel Institute Course 1, Chevrah Kadisha History, Origins, & Evolution (HOE) as planned will be offered over twelve weeks on Tuesday evenings. The schedule is from December 6th, 2016 to February 21st, 2017, online.
For those who register, there will be an orientation session on the Monday evening prior to the first class. It is intended for those unfamiliar with the online course platform used, all who have not taken a Gamliel Institute course recently, and those who have not used an online webinar/class presentation tool in past.
Class times will all be 5-6:30 pm PST/6-7:30 pm MST/7-8:30 CST/8-9:30 pm EST. [If you are in any other time zone, please determine the appropriate time, given local time and any Time Zone adjustments that may be necessary.]
Please note: the class meetings will be online, and will take place on Tuesday evenings (unless a Jewish holiday requires a change of date for a class session).
The focus of this course is on the history and development of the modern Chevrah Kadisha, the origins of current practices, and how the practices and organizations have changed to reflect the surrounding culture, conditions, and expectations. The course takes us through the various text sources (biblical, talmudic, rabbinic, and on) to seek the original basis of the Chevrah Kadisha, harking to Prague in the 1600’s, through the importation of the Chevrah Kadisha to America, and all the way to recent days. It is impossible to really understand how we came to the current point without a sense of the history.
SIGN UP NOW TO TAKE THIS COURSE!
Please register, note it on your calendar, and plan to attend the online sessions.
There is no prerequisite for this course; you are welcome to take it with no prior knowledge or experience, though interest in the topic is important.
The registration fee is $500.00 per person, but NOTE that there are registration discounts available for three or more persons from the same organization, and for clergy and students. There are also some scholarship funds available on a ‘need’ basis. Contact us (information below) with any questions.
You can “>jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.
For more information, visit the “>Kavod v’Nichum website or on the
ORIENTATION & REGISTRATION
Gamliel Institute will be offering course 4, Nechama (Comfort), online on Tuesday evenings (except on Jewish holidays) in the Spring – watch this space for details.
If you are not sure if the Nechama course is for you, plan to attend the Free one-time Taste of Nechama session planned for Monday evening, February 13th, 2017 at 8 pm EST. The instructors will offer a few highlights from the material that the course covers, and let you know what the course includes.
Donations are always needed and most welcome. Donations support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.
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If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.