When we lose a person we love, someone who inspired and enlivened us, sadness and mourning are natural. It is common in Jewish teaching, to honor the memory of the dead by teaching in their honor. Preserving the thought and deeds of the dead in the hearts and minds of those who knew them is a very Jewish view of how we “live on” in this world. In referencing a beloved parent, teacher, friend who has died, we say after their name, “zikhrono livrakha” or “alav ha’shalom” meaning, “may his memory be a blessing” or “may peace be upon him.” Pete Seeger, whom I have lovingly referred to in our kehilla as “Reb Pete” for many years, was most certainly a rebbe – a teacher of ours through his music, his conduct, and his dogged determination to pursue his ideals about justice and the human capacity to unite around right.
A beautiful Hasidic teaching tells us that there are three ascending levels of mourning: with tears, that is the lowest; with silence is higher, and with song – that is the highest. I recently learned from Rabbi Samuel Dresner, z”l, may his memory be a blessing, that this teaching was often shared by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (Heschel, Hasidism, and Halakha, R’ Samuel H. Dresner). In a universe filled with Divine Mystery, both enormous and minute examples are available daily if we but look for them. It seemed so fitting to place Heschel and Seeger in the same paragraph. Both were 20th century icons – pursuing peace and justice through a public pulpit crafted and elevated by their enormous intellect and personality, perseverance and vision. They both had an uncanny ability to see the arc of time and their role in that continuum. Each lived with one foot in a past way of living and one foot in a future they both embraced and which troubled them deeply. Both men had a mesmerizing talent for uniting diverse people around important issues of social justice and inspiring change. Both men spoke words that empowered and emboldened even the most downtrodden among us. Two bearded men with sparkling wit – you can almost imagine them now, singing and talking, laughing and pondering humanities failure to yet beat swords into plowshares and elevate the pen over the sword, the banjo over the bomb.
To everything (Turn Turn Turn), there is a season (Turn Turn Turn), and a time to every purpose under heaven … a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time reap, a time to laugh a time to weep …
Tribute from Jessica K. Shimberg, rabbinic student and Spiritual Life Coordinator for Little Minyan. Words used in Turn, Turn, Turn from Ecclesiastes. Bottom photo by Thomas Lindsay from www.nippertown.com