A tale of two resumes

Rabbi Yakov Saacks – The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY –
AUTHOR of The Kabbalah of Life
I once heard this humorous anecdote about an extremely wealthy man who decided wisely that he needed to pre-plan his funeral. In the process he was on the hunt for the perfect Rabbi who would deliver the most inspiring, gut wrenching and meaningful eulogy.
Well, the story goes that he met with a renowned Rabbi of the largest congregation in New York City. Being duly impressed with the Rabbi he inquired about procuring his oratory skills for an unspecified date sometime in the future. The Rabbi gave him a proposal as follows: platinum package is $10,000, gold is $5,000 and basic is $1,000. The man asked him to explain the differences between them.
The Rabbi responded, “In the platinum package, I speak for 75 minutes, I cry anywhere from 7-11 times and I embellish the story of your life to the extent that there is not one dry eye in the audience. It will be so powerful that The New York Times will reach out to me with permission to reprint the eulogy.” The wealthy man, albeit miserly, inquired about the next lower package. “The gold package will be 45–52 minutes of sheer brilliance. I will put you in the best light amongst your peers. However, I will only break down once at the beginning and then once at the end. Oh, and the obituary will be in the Long Island Business News.” The man now inquired about the lowest package available. The Rabbi responded, “As far as the basic eulogy package for $1000, I will simply speak the truth.”
As a pulpit Rabbi, I am asked to officiate at quite a number of funerals in any given month. I am requested to officiate at funerals of executives, professionals, white- and blue-collar workers. Each person is unique and so vastly different. Some have huge personalities, while others do not. Some are born in the United States while some are immigrants. I have officiated at the funerals of Holocaust survivors and survivors of the Great Depression. Some are philanthropic while some are not. The bottom line is that every person is unique and no one family is like the other.
There are two fascinating common denominators that I have observed over the past 29 plus years that I wish to share with my readership.
1. Every eulogy, whether given by the family or myself after speaking with the family, extols the values of the person in terms of how he/she related to that family. Examples include showing up at various sport games that his/her kid participated in, awesome family vacations in the Caribbean, how he/she donated to the UJA, paid the brother’s hospital bills, saved the synagogue from foreclosure and helped his/her niece get into a rehabilitation clinic. The stories are beautiful and touching.
2. The other common denominator is that not one eulogy ever speaks about the amazing watch collection that the person had, or the obsession with the Porsche Targa which was waxed and polished three times a week. No one ever talks about how this person was a workaholic who did not see his family all week because they left at 6:00am and came back at 11:00pm.
It seems that these people had two different resumes or two very different lives. One life they actually lived and another that is delivered at the eulogy by the family.
One resume depicts a complete preoccupation with the pursuit of materialism, fame, fortune, power, honor and influence. The fixation of collecting things like stamps, cars, watches, cards and coins are critical to this life. It portrays the person as a master deal closer who has the ability to bring his business adversaries to their knees and squeeze until there is no better deal to be had. This life reveals the amazing, almost miraculous accomplishments of being able to work 16–18 hours every day and still remain sharp as a tack. This life also commands a Mcmansion, where every blade of grass has been imported from Portugal and the burnt sienna color of the patio bricks came from a refurbished factory in Greece.
The life that is eulogized is very different. It illustrates a caring parent, good provider, pillar of the community, considerate friend and loving spouse. There is nothing untrue here as who would lie at a funeral. Of course, the person did the right thing and was a great humanitarian. There is no argument that he donated $200,000 to the alma mater and another $25,000 to Save the Whales Foundation.
The major difference between the two is that the life lived fills 200 pages of accomplishments, while the life eulogized takes about 15–20 minutes. There is so much more in the first resume of life than in the second. One resume is literally a book, while the other is a pamphlet.
The correct way to live is that the two resumes of life should be balanced in terms of accolades, praises and credit. Better yet, the life eulogized should be way longer and more heartfelt than the life lived.
It is for this very reason that in Judaism, we recite a parting Psalm right after burial which basically concludes with these words: “When a person passes, they do not take their belongings with them and their prestige and power is meaningless.” What the Psalmist is teaching us is that heaven is not impressed by how much gold and silver have been accumulated, or whether one drives a Bentley or the latest model Tesla, or how much Apple stock you own.
Heaven, family, God, friends, relatives and fellow humans will only remember the person for the good that they have done with people. The make and model of the Peloton is not important at all.
We need to all think about what our legacy is and how we can assure that the resume in the eulogy and the resume of life are at the very least similar in content and size.
Food for thought that you may share.
About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.