A few months ago I flew from Long Beach to Brooklyn. It was a long, sad and lonely trip. A few days earlier, my mother had turned 82 years old and was looking forward to a special birthday, when tragedy struck. A fire broke out in her home. Quickly, her life was taken by fire and smoke. No goodbyes or time to prepare for closure, just a cruel death.
My father survived the fire but lives daily with his memories. He now spends his time living a day or a week with different children and grandchildren. He recently came to California to join our family for the holidays. Even though the children and grandchildren were here something big was missing. Yes, our dear mother, the grandmother, was missed.
One way Jewish people deal with the grieving process is to name children after their dead parents, grandparents and teachers. Somehow, having a child carrying the name of a departed loved one brings a closure and tranquility.
In large families the happiest times are the holidays. That's the time for family reunions, when adults visit with their children and grandchildren, and the mood is festive and merry. It's a time for cousins to meet for the first time. Children find out that they are special and connected to a big family. It's like a large tree with so many branches and leaves, each growing in their own direction, forgetting that they all come from the same root.
My American grandfather Shea had six sons. When he died, each son gave their newborn baby boys the name of their father, Shea. So at their gatherings there were five or six children called Shea Hecht. When their holy Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok died, they named their next newborn son Yosef Yitzchok. Now there were six Yosef Yitzchok Hechts. You can imagine how the third generation of boys felt when asked who they were. They had to explain that they were the sons of the sons, causing lots of confusion.
During the holiday this year, my father was sad, but he would not speak of the tragic loss. Then suddenly the phone rang: a grandchild had given birth to a baby girl. Now mom had a name.
On the following Sunday, my son called and said, "Mazel tov -- congratulations, my wife gave birth to a baby boy."
My father jumped and said, "Today is mother's 82nd birthday, what a gift."
Now, once again I am on the same flight to Brooklyn, but this time to celebrate the circumcision of my grandson, who was to be named Mordechai after his grandfather. My son Boruch is named after my grandfather Boruch and now his son is named after his grandfather.
It may be that our parents and grandparents don't die; they just pass on, adopting new bodies, continuing the blessings of having wonderful families that continue their family heritage and lifestyle. Sometimes it certainly seems to be so.
I asked my father if he was happy with his life.
He answered, "A father doesn't ask himself if he is happy. Instead, he asks himself if he is doing the right thing. When the answer is yes, then he is happy."
Unfortunately, for so many fathers the opposite is true. If they are happy, they reason that whatever they are doing must be the right thing, regardless of the cost to the family.
My job as a father has been made simple by being blessed with a father who expects you to live like him.
There is a "Father's Prayer" created by the great Chasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslow (1772-1810):
"Dear God, teach me to embody those ideals I would want my children to learn from me. Let me communicate with my children wisely -- in ways that will draw their hearts to kindness, to decency and to true wisdom. Dear God, let me pass on to my children only the good; let them find in me the values and the behavior I hope to see in them."
A happy Father's Day to you all.
Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.