Sermon: The Magic Paint

Parashat Acharei Mot
April 11, 2014
Temple B’nai Chaim
Rabbi David Lipper

The Magic Paint

Signor Amato di Prima was the agent of an Italian paint company. He had come across a sample of a paint that according to its developer protected one from misfortune and would quickly replace amulets, four-leaf clovers and charms in general. The challenge was to replicate the formula and then produce it on a commercial scale.

At first glance it appeared to be no different from any other paint. But the effectiveness apparently spoke for itself. A fishing boat that had been coming back empty for weeks on end, now had its nets full, once its hull had been painted with it. A typographer mixed the paint with printing ink and typos vanished. So the lab analyzed the sample with the latest technology. It deduced that the key was the element tantalum, #73 on the atomic scale. And it proceeded to duplicate the paint and soon sent a large sample back to Signor di Prima.

The paint agent coated himself with it and stood for 4 hours under a ladder on Friday the 13th in the company of 13 cats without any harm befalling him. Another person used it and within a couple of days could testify that he never had to stop for a red light, he never got a busy signal on the phone, his girlfriend made up with him and he had won a prize in the lottery. Alas, his luck ended when he took a bath and washed his good fortune down the drain.

Don’t we wish we could get a sample of that good fortune paint? I am sure that I would’ve won the Mega Millions jackpot, if only I had some of that paint.

There are people who seemingly are ever blessed: the bad stuff slides off of them and/or luck always seems to be with them. But most of us aren’t so fortunate. And we look for ways to guarantee good fortune.   How many wear a mezuzah or Chamsah around one’s neck as a way of ensuring mazal? How many of you still say Ken a Hora, or Poo Mashallah to avert the evil eye? When your kids were young did you tie a red or blue ribbon or a glass bead onto their crib to protect them from evil? How many kiss the mezuzah on a doorpost as a way of guaranteeing good fortune or more precisely Godly fortune.

Alas, as experience teaches us, bad things happen to good people, even to those who are religiously pious and even to those who wear kabbalistic charms.

Okay, so the paint only exists in the world of fiction and the charms and amulets which we embrace probably can’t hurt, but certainly can ensure us mazal. But more than mazal, what most of us desire is a way of staving off death. We want to hold off our appointment with the Malach HaMavet, with the angel of death.

Death is seemingly around every corner. In our portion this Shabbat, Aaron has just witnessed the death of two of his sons.   They in their zeal, sought to become closer to God, and their zeal and the fire they offered consumed them.   Aaron is ordered by God, through Moses, not to mourn for his children, not to desanctify himself through mourning, not to lose himself in grief.

It is a tough portion and a tougher lesson for us as we, who have faced loss after loss over the years, need to grieve, need to mourn, need to feel what we can feel in safety. 

So this Shabbat I want us to focus on loss and work together towards healing. That’s where we are in time. The long march to the Exodus, the darkness of the plagues, the death of the firstborn and the light of Sinai. Judaism focuses its energy on the healing not on the loss. And while we are constantly remembering, we are remembering life not death. And so tonight, when you leave the sanctuary, I have made a bookmark with a special prayer on it.   It’s a prayer for healing and peace.   Here is what it says:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָה, יְיָ אֱלֹהַי, הַבּוֹרֵא וְקַיֵם אֵת כַּל הֶחַיִים, אַשֶׁר הִנְהִיג לִי עַל מַסָעתִי מִצַעָר אֵל בְּרִיאוּת, שְׁלֵימוּת וְשָׁלוֹם. אַמֵן

Baruch Ata, Adonai Elohai, HaBorey V’kayam et kol hehayim, asher hinhig li al masati, mitzar el briyut, sheleimut v’shalom. Amen

Blessed are You, Adonai my God, Creator and sustainer of all life, who guides me on my journey from grief to healing, wholeness and peace. Amen

We are like Aaron, facing losses and moving on way too fast.   We are sometimes afraid to feel, hide our emotions, refuse to cry, silent in the face of loss.   Maybe the text this week forces us to move this way, maybe it’s just our nature.   But I feel that Judaism pushes us in another way.   And grief and healing go hand in hand. We can’t move forward until we come to an understanding of new realities.   We can’t heal until we face our past.   And no amount of magic paint will change us or our flow through time. 

We can’t ransom ourselves from the inevitable visit of the Malach HaMavet. We can, however, perhaps find hope and strength in images of a future filled with healing.  It is in our recollections of the lives of the departed that we find comfort. As we recall their lives, we recognize the void in ours, but yet can find strength as we build on their lives.

So now I want to encourage you to join me on Monday April 21 at 10:00 am for a moment of Yizkor. We will hold a brief service to remember those who have left this life for eternity since Yom Kippur.   I will read the list of those who have died since September 2013. We will recall their memories, remember their voices, and feel their sacred touch.   Yizkor is supposed to be observed at the end of each of the Pilgrim festivals.   Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot call out to us as these moments as well as Yom Kippur.   We are obligated to remember, we are called to heal, and we are encouraged to embrace. 

I conclude with this wonderful Anonymous poem on healing. Like Aaron in his loss, may we find the comforting memories and meaning words of blessing and find healing in the moments we need.  

You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what he or she would want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Shabbat Shalom