Aaron's 3rd Yahrzeit
The following is the d'var torah I delivered at our siyum on Monday night for Aaron's 3rd yahrzeit. I'm posting it today, the anniversary of his death on English calendar. May all who knew him take comfort in their memories of Aaron and in their faith that his essence lives on.
B’rshus harav, beloved family and friends:
Debbie and I offer our deepest thanks and appreciation to all of you for participating in tonight’s memorial marking the third yahrzeit of our dear son Aaron, Aharon Elimelech Z’L. Your presence, your chizuk, and especially your day to day friendship mean more to us than any words of ours can express.
Three years ago today at Aaron's levaya, I began my hesped with the words "I'm not supposed to be here". Tonight, I'd like to ask a somewhat similar question, one that we could collectively be asking: "why are we here"? What is the significance, what indeed is the relevance of marking the occasion of a yahrzeit with a siyum? This question has been much on my mind these past few days, and I'd like to suggest some possible responses and perhaps a connection to Aaron in particular.
Harav Pinchas Teitz Z'L, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Aaron's Mesivta, noted – as often quoted by his children and grandchildren – that the special kaddish said at a siyum is also recited on just one other occasion – that of a levaya, a funeral. This is the only form of kaddish that mentions techiyas hamaysim, the resurrection of the dead, explicitly, and thus seems quite appropriate for a levaya. But isn't it rather anomalous to recite this same kaddish at siyumim? After all, we know that a siyum is generally associated with happy occasions. Just a few weeks ago, right before Pesach, those of us who are bechorim - first borns (like myself and Aaron) – attended a special siyum enabling us to eat on what would otherwise have been a fast day. Many have a similar practice during the nine days between the first and the ninth of Av, of holding a siyum which then allows meat to be eaten during what would otherwise be a period of semi-mourning. So why then, do siyumin also seem to be linked with the most somber occasions of death and bereavement?
Perhaps the significance of this connection between siyumim and loss, between completing a section of learning and the completion of a life, is that from the former, we can help find an approach for understanding the latter. What do we recite upon finishing a masechte:
Hardan… We will return to you, you will return to us. Just are we expect to review our learning again, so too we hope that we will be reunited with our loved ones with the resurrection, the techiyas hamaysim.
Daatan/Lo sisnashi… We are thinking of you, you of us. We will not forget you, nor you us. Clearly, we understand that we are thinking of the masechte that we learned, but how can we possibly say that it is thinking of us too? Yet chazal chose these words to emphasize that indeed, on some level we can't rationally understand, the very maseches we learned has us in mind.
The connection to a lost loved one is clear. We all have the opportunity to think about Aaron – some just occasionally, while for some, like Debbie and me, not a moment goes by that he is out of our thoughts. We can sometimes distract, but never truly forget. And therefore, just as we are thinking of and remembering Aaron, we are to understand that he is looking down at us and thinking of us as well. This may seem as great as mystery, as remote from everyday experience, as the idea that the maseches we learned keeps us in mind. Yet I believe deeply that Aaron is still watching over and communicating with us, and both Debbie and I have had experiences over these past three years that reinforce and deepen this belief.
In the previous two years, I selected the mesechtos on which to make Aaron's siyum, and in each case there was particular relevance to the one I chose. This year, the maseches was selected by my son Ben, who as I mentioned also made this same siyum tonight in eretz yisroel. But there is special meaning to his choice as well. Beitzah deals with the laws of yom tov, and many of our final and most intense memories of Aaron are connected with yom tov, that final Pesach together on which his illness was beginning to become apparent. And yes, perhaps it does also get back to Beitzah, the egg after all. The egg, the food eaten at a seudas havraah, at a mourners's first meal. The universal symbol of life, of the cycle of life, of the belief that that which seems lost will come around and be found once again.
And speaking of different masechtos. One important point about the hadran and the other words said after completing a meseches, is that no matter how long or short the maseches we learned was, the same formula is used, the same words and the same special kaddish is said. There is no "abbreviated version" of the Hadran for a shorter maseches. This tells us that all learning, no matter the number of pages or how long it took to complete, is special unto itself and of tremendous value. So too, every life we mourn is of incalculable worth – regardless of whether the individual was granted length of years or - as in Aaron's case – so very few. Aaron's span may have resembled a "Horayos" more than a "Bava Basra", but there are still so many memories he has left us with, as painful as it might be to being them to mind.
When we complete a maseches, it is appropriate to ponder what we have learned from it. So tonight, as a maseches was completed tonight in Aaron's honor, let's all try to remember what we had the opportunity to learn from him in his short time here on earth. To paraphrase the famous words of chazal, "U'mibinee yoser miculam" from my son I've learned the most of all. There are many lessons that Aaron's life and actions have set for me, and in some ways, despite being the father, I'm still working to catch up with him. To mention just two:
- Work hard, but also enjoy yourself. Succeed, but don't forget to have fun!
- If you have talent, abilities, or good fortune, don't be selfish with them - share them with others. We've all so often heard about how Aaron had quietly, without fanfare, coached so many of his fellow students in a variety of subjects throughout high school, a trait that inspired the Chai Lifeline fund which you and others have so generously supported.
- And don't stop here – please think of your own lessons that you learned from Aaron.
Let me conclude these thoughts as I did tonight's siyum, with the words of the hadran:
- Hadran… may we return to each other
- Daatan… we are thinking about you, may you think of us
- Lo sisnashei… may we never forget you Aaron, and may you never forget us.
May Aaron’s legacy and Aaron’s memory continue to be a source of comfort and strength to all of us who knew him, and may his neshama be a malitz yosher for us and for all of klal yisroel. Amen.