We arrived in Philadelphia this morning a bit before noon, hoping that Dad would have one final laugh at meteorology and a very ominous forecast. Thankfully we were spared from the muddy and muddled conditions that a rain and windstorm can create in a cemetary, and were greeted instead by his stately gauze-wrapped tombstone waiting for us to unveil him.
טוב שם משמן טוב: A good name is better than fine oil,
ויום המות מיום הולדו: And the day one dies (is better) than the day one is born.
This was the inscription that we selected to speak to our father’s life. Simply put, it defined his impeccable reputation. And as the sages interpret the latter phrase, Dad fulfilled the potential that was given to him at birth. His name in death conjures the memories of how well and wisely he conducted himself, and enriched the lives of so many that he touched. He was a Patriarch to a large extended family, and dispensed wisdom as deftly as he dispensed glasses. He was a master diagnostician of the eye, with a keen eye toward others’ minds. He was a gifted educator, and personalized the many formal as well as informal lessons that he imparted on such a wide level.
The inscription, now etched in stone, is from the opening of Chapter 3 of Kohelet (or Ecclesiastes, if you prefer the Latin transliteration of the Greek translation) – a word meaning gatherer. More familiar of course is Chapter 7, owing in part to Pete Seeger’s song adaptation of “To Everything There is a Season”, re-made by the Byrds as Turn! Turn! Turn!
Today was a time to gather stones, and to embrace.