Eight years ago, on the 19th of the Hebrew month of Elul, God called my mother, Ruth Schochet Benson, to leave this physical world.
On Thursday, I will pray with a minyan and recite the kaddish for her.
I will also be thinking of my father, Jacob Benson, who was gathered in by God on the 19th of Chesvan, almost 33 years ago.
Both of my parents have been gone for over 7 years, so I am confident that their souls have reached the highest heavenly realm where many Jews believe that God himself explicates the Torah.
For a long time, as an adult, I have been apathetic about regular participation in prayer with a Jewish quorum, though it was a very important part of my teenage years.
Then, after the horror at the Tree of Life Synagogue last October, I felt that just showing up (as Woody Allen noted) was vitally important. I began attending Shabbat services more often.
And, I began to pay more attention to the weekly Torah reading. The more I paid attention, the more I would remember the words of Ben Bag Bag from the Talmud speaking of the Torah:
turn it and turn it again, for all is in it; see through it; grow old and worn in it; do not budge from it, for there is nothing that works better than it.
I knew that I had neglected Torah study for too long.
I also decided that I wanted to become a baal koreh – a reader of the weekly Torah portion – something I haven’t done since my bar mitzva. Which meant I not only had to study and understand the words, but learn to sing the Torah in a pleasant way so that others would be drawn to it.
I’m starting slowly. I will be the baal koreh this Thursday, the 19th of Elul, and I will chant the first 15 verses from the chapter – Ki Tavo – of the fifth book of the Torah – Devarim (Deuteronomy).
As I have studied and reviewed these verses, they have served to deepen and renew the connection between my parents and me.
I grew up in galut – exile – and I still live in exile. But my parents’ home was a home that made exile tolerable. I think because there was always hope…and faith. Hope and faith that there was a plan and purpose to life and that, whatever the circumstances, life was a blessing to be cherished and enjoyed.
My parents loved Judaism and they loved Israel. They imparted this love to my sister and brother and me gently and subtly. We each developed our own attachments that built on the foundations that my mother and father laid for us.
So, this week, when I chant this verse from the Torah:
And it will be, when you come into the land which the Lord, your God, gives you for an inheritance, and you possess it and settle in it
I will think of the home that my siblings and I grew up in and that today, 11 out of 12 (so far) of my parents’ great-grandchildren are growing up in Israel. I will think of the respect that my parents taught us for God’s promise of the land of Israel as our inheritance.
And, as I read further:
Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household…
I will be filled with gratitude for my parents and the pleasant pathways of Torah they taught.