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Life Cycle

Life Cycle

By Amichai Lau-Lavie | Student, The Rabbinical School of JTS


Worn Torn / Shiva Shirts Collection (2015)

"Abraham mourned and wept for Sarah." (Gen. 23)

Did he rip his clothes? And what did Isaac do when hearing that his mother died?

I think of him this year as the verse in "the Life of Sarah" leaps again beyond the Speaking Scroll, an annual review of loss and mourning. Just about a year ago my father died. In the moments following the news, alone in a hotel, far away from anyone and anywhere, my first instinct was to tear my shirt, observing “keri’a.” But I waited, holding on until the funeral, standing there with family, where one at a time

By Alex Braver | Student, The Rabbinical School of JTS


My mother was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia the day before Erev Rosh Hashanah last year. Through the Days of Awe we discussed her genetic profile, her symptoms, bone marrow transplants, and chemotherapy.

We approached Hanukkah unsure of what was working and what wasn’t.

She died on Purim.

Purim, the festive carnival holiday of costumes and fun. It is a bizarre day for someone attuned with the Jewish calendar to enter into aninut, the period of mourning before burial, during which all religious obligations are exempted in order to attend to the details of the burial, and to sink into

By Cantor Nancy Abramson | Director, H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, JTS


Parashat Pinehas is one of several instances in the Torah in which the holidays and their sacrifices are described. In Leviticus, we read the verse, “These are the fixed seasons of God, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions;” (23:4) a prelude to the descriptions of festival practices with particular emphasis on the offerings made by the kohanim (priests). Here in Pinehas, the Torah lays out the religious calendar as a catalogue of these public sacrifices (Num. 28:1–29:39), which forms the maftir Torah reading for each festival.

The music for this text, composed by Salamone Rossi, was

By Rabbi Mychal Springer | Director of the Center for Pastoral Education


This model of family caring for the dying is embodied powerfully in this week’s parashah. Jacob, aware that he is dying, speaks plain words to his sons: “I am about to die” (Gen. 48:21) . . . “I am about to be gathered to my kin” (49:29). By giving voice to the reality that his life is ending, Jacob opens up sacred opportunities with his family. He creates moments to put his blessings into words and communicates his wishes for what will happen to his body: that he be buried with his family in the family cave so that he can be gathered to his kin in all ways.

By Allison Kestenbaum | Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, JTS


When I encounter this parable (often) in my work as a chaplain and pastoral educator, I am struck with the parallels to Abraham’s path after Sarah’s death. Although we do not know from the text if Abraham was inconsolable, we are told that he actively mourns his wife. We also know that Abraham goes on a quest, not to have Sarah restored to life but to find a suitable place to bury her. (Gen. 23:3–16)

Recent developments in psychiatry and neurobiology show that a quest, or what is called the “searching mechanism,” is normal and perhaps crucial to the grieving process.

By Rabbi Samuel Barth | Senior Lecturer in Liturgy and Worship


In the elegy of David for Saul and his beloved Jonathan, the Hebrew words “Eikh naflu gibborim” (2 Sam. 1:17) carry a wordless cry and howl of anguish not rendered by the translation “How are the mighty fallen?” Professor Francis Landy of the University of Alberta notes[1] that the first word, Eikh, most of all, is onomatopoeic. Eikh is a primal groan, howl, or keening; it is giving sound to inner pain and desolation, a sound of agony that comes in the immediacy of loss, ripped from the heart and soul.

By Rabbi Lilly Kaufman | Director of the Torah Fund Campaign of Women's League for Conservative Judaism, JTS


In my family, we are not the retiring type—although we do tend toward shyness. What I mean is that we don’t have a family tradition of retiring from professional work. We tend to work until we can’t. When I noticed that Parashat Beha-alotekha features an early appearance of the idea of semiretirement, I wondered about current work and retirement trends in the United States. Here is what I learned:

[T]raditional one-time, permanent exits from the labor force continue to be the exception rather than the rule, and . . . the retirement patterns of the Early Boomers, those on the cusp of

By Rabbi Marc Wolf | Vice Chancellor and Director of Community Engagement


In the immediate wake of tragedy, our response is appropriately silence. Aaron movingly illustrated this in the parashah from two weeks ago after he lost his sons, Nadav and Avihu. Following their shocking deaths, the Torah records Aaron's response to Moses' attempt at consolation simply as, "and Aaron was silent" (Leviticus 10:3). We cannot begin to imagine the sense of loss and disbelief that radiated from the depths of his soul when he learned his sons were destroyed by the God who ordained their service.

By Rabbi William Friedman | Co-Director and Rosh Yeshivah, Nishma: A Summer of Torah Study in the JTS Beit Midrash


What are the rituals that help us transition from one experience to another? Do we merely float through life, stoically absorbing its shocks, riding its waves, and pushing its regular cycles to the periphery of our awareness? Or do we take the time to stop, take stock, process, and move forward purposefully and consciously? These are the fundamental questions Parashat Metzora asks us to consider.

Leviticus 14–15 deals with three subjects: (1) the purification ritual of someone diagnosed with tzara'at (a skin disease classically but probably inaccurately translated as "leprosy"); (2) the

By Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz | Director of Israel Programs, The Rabbinical School, JTS


One of the most enigmatic and painful moments of all of Tanakh occurs in Parashat Shemini. Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s sons, come before the altar and offer what Torah describes as an “alien fire.” Without any sense of deliberation or warning, a divine fire issues forth and consumes Aaron’s progeny. Clearly shocked by the mystery of their deaths, Leviticus tells us that “Aaron was silent” (Lev. 10:1–3). Though I have often pointed to Aaron and his response as a powerful example of mourning the inexplicable loss of loved ones, Nahmanides gives us pause to reconsider the peshat (Torah’s literal