Extract from a talk given at Shabbat Dinner at the Chabad House of Stanford,
April 15, 2005
By Rabbi Dov Greenberg
This past week we marked the first Yahrzeit of our dear friend, Amir Lopatin, who was tragically and suddenly taken from us on the third of Nissan, 5764. On Amir’s first Yartzeit the hakamat matzevah (unveiling) took place at the Ahavath Torah Cemetery in New Jersey.
Tonight, I would like to reflect upon the language of the Torah and our tradition, which employs three distinct and paradoxical names for a cemetery:
1) Beit Hakvarot: a home for burial
2) Bait Olam: a home of eternity
3) Beit Hachaim: a home for the living
What is the significance behind the strikingly different names conferred by Jewish tradition on a cemetery?
The answer is profound.
These three titles – a home for burial, for eternity and for the living — represent three ways in which we can understand death. These three interpretations are expressions of three ways in which we can understand life. The way we define life, is the way we define death.
If we define life as an exclusively physical experience, an opportunity to maintain, nurture and gratify our material selves; if life is merely about tending to the appetites of our bodies and hearts, then death – that unfathomable moment when the body turns lifeless – constitutes the tragic cessation of life. The cemetery, then, is a home for burial. A life has, sadly, reached its final chapter.
“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Yogi Berra taught us. But in the cemetery, “it’s over.”
But there is another perspective on the meaning of life: Seeing life as a spiritual experience, in addition to a physical one. If life is also about nurturing and nourishing our souls, our spiritual identity, our inner spark of G-d, then death, as irrevocable as it is, is not the interruption of life.
Tragic and horrendously painful? Absolutely yes. The end of one’s life? Absolutely not. Because a soul never dies. It continues to live, love and feel in another dimension, on a spiritual plane, one that cannot be grasped through our senses of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting. Yet, the soul, which is an aspect of G-d, a fragment of the divine, is not subjected to death, only to travel from one realm of experience to another.
In this perception of life and death, a cemetery is a home of eternity. The body is interred, but the soul remains eternal.
Yet there is something even greater we can achieve. If we, those left behind, use the passion and the values of our loved ones who are not here with us, to inspire and affect our daily lives and behavior, then the cemetery becomes a “home for the living.” By inspiring and touching the daily lives of their loved ones, fellow students, friends and community members, they are in some very real sense still alive. Their own dreams and ideals continue to exist, in a very tangible way, in the earthly lives of the people touched by their love and goodness.
This is true of our dear friend Amir Lopatin, who was loved by his family and his many friends. In Congregation Emek Beracha and here, The Chabad House at Stanford, he shared his warmth with others and lit the fire of compassion in many hearts.
Over the past year, I have often thought of those moving words, “Tzadikim be-mitatam nikraim chayim,” the righteous, even in their death, are called living, because a trace of them remains. The good they do lives after them; their influence leaves a mark on many lives. For Rachel, myself and many of you, that is true of Amir Lopatin. May his memory be an inspiration and a blessing…