This summer, my dad died. Twenty days later, my mother-in-law died. Twenty-two days after that, my uncle died. And this week was the funeral for the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Shalom in Wheeling, W.Va., Rabbi Daniel Lowy, z’’l, the longest serving rabbi of my congregation.
Being confronted with so much loss in a relatively short period of time has led to much contemplation about life and death. It has led me to understand and appreciate, in a deeper way than ever before, that when we die, all that is left is our reputations. One day we are here, talking, walking, doing things and taking part in life; the next day we are gone — gone in a permanent and final way.
Once we have departed this earth, all that remains are the memories others have of us, and the stories they will tell about us. In short, it is our reputations that live on after us.
In this week’s parsha, we find a man who is often remembered for the ark he built, and for the animals he brought onto that vessel. But I believe Noach is to be remembered for something even greater than this. Our Torah tells us that Noach was a righteous man, that he was blameless and that he walked with G-d. What a compliment! What an amazing way to be remembered and eulogized. I know if these words were said about me, I’d be flattered and humbled at the same time.
Judaism teaches that the way we live our lives matters. The way we treat others matters. The decisions we make matter, for they influence the way others will remember us. Having just lost my father, I can tell you that one of the most comforting things for me these past three months has been hearing and reading the sentiments people expressed about him.
While the pain of his loss has been great, I find solace in knowing that he touched the lives of many in a positive way. Knowing that he contributed to his Temple, his profession, his community, to the lives of his family and friends. This has brought a measure of consolation and joy to my darkened world, and it drives home the point that once we are gone, all that is left is the ways we are remembered.
Noach was a man who lived during a difficult period. The earth became corrupt and was filled with lawlessness. But Noach found a way to rise above it and lead a good life. As such, we remember Noach, until this day, as a tzaddik.
When our time on this earth draws to an end, and it’s our time to be eulogized, may we, too, be remembered for the good; may we live our lives in such a way that others will say that we lived lives of righteousness, that we were good to our families and that we made a lasting contribution to this world.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)