When All is Said and Done

eMy friend, since I entered rabbinical school in 1968, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, has the honor to present the azkarah, the memorial tribute to colleagues who have died in the past year at the upcoming convention of the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis (NAORRR).

Because the convention will honor Joe and his classmates on the fiftieth anniversary of their 1973 ordination, Joe also prepared a special azkarah for members in his class no longer living. His beautifully crafted, sensitive and caring remarks bring vividly to life each of the individuals he named and fill me with gratitude that I am not on the list. It also strikes me that the azkarah list is one that no rabbi escapes forever. 

And so, I found myself environing my own funeral and asking, “What will they say about me?”

They would recall, I guess, the books I have written and some of the distinctions and honors bestowed on me over the years. These milestone events crop up at various points on a clergy person’s path if he or she does not commit murder or some other egregious offense that disgraces the calling. 

As these “highlight moments” came to mind –and each had seemed so precious at the time—I found myself asking aloud, “What do they matter?” And the honest answer is, “Very little indeed.”

What I really would like my azkarah to include are some moments no one knows about, many of which I have forgotten myself or the impact of which I was not aware in the first place. As legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, once wrote: “A teacher never knows what stays with those he or she is teaching.”

At the end of the day, the only moments that really matter in my life are the moments when something I said or did made a positive difference in another person’s life.

Those are the moments that matter … the only moments that matter.

Awards and honors afford only ephemeral gratification. Often, they result from luck or circumstances that have nothing to do with objective merit. Often too, they are an excuse for an organization’s fundraising effort.

As Vickie’s childhood Rabbi, the late Alvin Fine, wrote, “Victory lies not at some high place along the way but in having made the journey … a sacred pilgrimage.”

As the famed sportswriter, Grantland Rice put it so eloquently: “When the one Great Scorer comes to score against your name, He writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the game.”