“75 Summers” D’var Torah by Elaine Hartsman

“75 Summers” by Elaine Hartsman

D’var Torah for 7/1/17

Shabbat Shalom. When Rabbi Allen asked me to talk about “75 Summers,” I readily agreed, and then, I panicked. How would I sum up my whole life in a few paragraphs? But, then I realized that at 75 Summers, I can say anything I want.

When I say I am turning 75 years old, I feel the years piling up one upon the other. And I feel a heaviness. When I say I am “75 Summers,” I feel a gentle breeze go by as the time merrily slips away. And I feel a lightness. Both feelings are true, I think it was Bette Davis who first said, “Growing old is not for Sissies.” I could not more heartily agree.

When I think about the changes that have happened in my body in the last five years, I know that the golden age is not really gold. Another fairy tale bites the dust. Five years ago, I could’ve walked out on the bimah, stood before you, and given a talk. This year, my legs won’t permit it and I’m in chronic pain. I know that aging is a period of loss on many, many levels. I also know that the challenges at this stage of life, as it is at any stage of life, is to live life to the fullest.

So I looked at ways to tell you about what’s important to me and I went to the parsha of this week.  And I found the story about Miriam and her death. That with her death, the water flow to the Israelites stopped. When she was alive, her presence helped bring forth life giving water and hope. When, she died, so did the water. Her life was life giving.

I also read the verses about when Moses struck the rock that he wasn’t supposed to do. He was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. I personally believe that G-d overreacted. But because of Moses’ life force, the people were able to carry on and go forth in spite of his death. That’s no legacy to sneeze at.

I also read the parable about the Red Heifer. Each time I read it, I talked to others about it and read other commentaries.  I shut the book several times. However, I kept going back to it, being drawn to the story.  And this is what I got out of it;

The Red Heifer was the animal that was sacrificed. Its ashes, along with other specified items, were mixed in water and sprinkled on a person who became unclean or contaminated because he came in contact with the dead. In order for him to become pure again, the priest had to sprinkle this holy mixture on the contaminated person–and in doing so, the priest and all those involved in the ritual became contaminated.

So what did I learn? What did I extrapolate from this story? That in order to reach out, and in order to help another person, you can become contaminated when you take on another’s pain.

And I take this to be part of the meaningfulness in my life. In order to reach out to others, I have to be open and willing to take on their pain. And in order to be open to being helped, I have to acknowledge that others risk being contaminated.

However, for me, this is the kernel of life. For me, it is important, regardless of what’s going on, it’s important to remain connected to others and to realize the interdependence we all have in order to go forth.

At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, however briefly, that people within our country are being threatened with the cutoff of health services. And it is us who have to risk being hurt in order that all can survive.

There are a few other things that I learned in “75 Summers”:

It is very important to laugh.

And it is very important to cry.

It is also very important for me to be honest with myself and with other people. It is also critical to acknowledge the past, look to the future, and never, never stop learning.

And I also know that at 75 Summers, I can say anything I want.

Shabbat Shalom!

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