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Peter J. Rubinstein
Between Forever and Today (Shavuot Yizkor)

Peter J. Rubinstein  |  June 7, 2003

There is irony in the celebration of Shavuot. This holiday commemorates a time of birth for the Israelites. We had been forged a people and a nation in the cauldrons of slavery in Egypt and the ensuing exodus, but our real beginnings as a faith were rooted at the foot of a mountain in the midst of the wilderness.  There we experienced God’s presence when we heard the blast of the horns and the thunder, saw the lightning and the clouds and received the commandments that placed more upon our shoulders than simple genetic linkage.

There at Mount Sinai we received the promise of a land that would be ours alone.

The irony is that, while none of them knew it yet, every one of those people who were gathered at the foot of the mountain who were twenty years or older were never going to cross the Jordan. They would die in the wilderness. Their fate was sealed. From rather early on and for thirty-eight years, most of the Israelites would mark time until they died and remain behind, buried underneath the rocks and bushes of the wilderness. The promised land was unattained by those of that generation. All they could do was to bring closer to their own unfulfilled dream the descendants who came after.

None of us live otherwise. As was true for our ancestors, all of us has had an unattained promised land in life: one more fulfillment or cherished moment, one more celebration or accomplishment that always and forever remains just beyond our reach, never to be achieved or attained. We cannot have it all before we are called home.

And we do not know when our end will come. So we live comforting ourselves that there will always be more time and another day. How awful it would be to live each day believing that it might be our last! That is not a way to live. But neither is it helpful to believe that life is endless. So there we are caught: between forever and today—living with immediacy, knowing that we do not have forever; and living with forever, believing that we will always have more time.

We cannot know when our days will end and our farewells must be concluded.

At the commemoration of Marla Bennett, we remembered a young woman who, among others, died tragically in a terror attack at Hebrew University last July. Her boyfriend wrote that when she left their apartment that morning, he imagined her returning home that night. Who would have known that departure would be her final one? How could they have known when they kissed that day, it was their last embrace? How might they know that when she fell asleep in his arms the night before, it was to be their last song?

Life is that way, isn’t it? We never know whom we may pass by for the last time. We rarely know which will be the day when we should have said our final farewell. And what that means is that it is best to close our eyes each night able to rest quietly knowing that we have done our best that day. It means that we say what is in our heart when we are moved to speak from our heart. It means that though we may not complete our task, we know that we have used our time as well as we might, that those we love know of our love, that those we cherish hear it from our lips, that those who should know of the pain in our hearts, feel the pain that is in our hearts. It means that we do our best to live fully and to fall asleep at night without regret.

If you love, you grieve, and there are no exceptions. That is why we are here. But if you love, you share that love fully and completely, and for that there must be no exceptions. The meaning of life is connected to the meaning of death: time without limit does not exist, so even in the midst of this time, we learn that life lived well is life lived fully. While we mourn for those who have passed beyond this life, let us live so that we never cry for unfulfilled moments in our own life.

Let us use our time and our life well and without regret. And let us remember those who lived their lives as best they could creating the love that has brought us here for this moment of memory.

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