Last month the Napa community lay to rest Richard Bien. As a doctor, he demonstrated how God works in one of God’s core identities: Rofeh Cholim, participating in healing sickness with all his being. Richard was “Bien”; he was “Tov”; He did “Good” in all facets of his life. And, he turned the few months he was promised with pancreatic cancer into 2 and ½ years of heightened focus on each person, each detail of wisdom and insight from whichever culture, including Jewish spiritual study that centered all the rest for him each day and filled his days with a lifetime of blessings.
Richard died on the first day of the month of Av. The timing of his death touches on the teachings I wrote of last month; from the dark of despair you emerge with comfort, guiding you all the way into readiness for a New Year and a new direction in which to aim.
Rabbi Jack Gabriel of Sonoma’s Shir Shalom uncannily sounded out our situation with the Almighty in sharing Avinu Malkeynu, our Father, our King, forgive us, for our deeds are miniscule, a touchstone of Yom Kippur. And as Rabbi Gabriel immersed us in the spirit of the day, I had an AHA! Richard was one that the Midrash (rabbinic stories and insights that teach valuable lessons) referred to as not even needing Yom Kippur. In the teaching, the Teshuvah (making amends) process works as follows: those who are entirely good pass straight through, with no need to do Teshuvah. They are at once written in the Book of Life (in this realm and beyond!); those who are entirely bad pass straight through to God’s Judgment, with no appeal. Then there are those in the middle, who do some good, some bad, more or less…the rest of us. We are the ones for which the process of Yom Kippur applies.
One of the comments made about Richard was that he never got anywhere on time. He would arrive to the Passover Seder about the time of opening the door for Elijah. Another AHA! Elijah the prophet, according to tradition never died; he sailed off in his Chariot only to return to help out where he could, a Jewish Lone Ranger, commuting between Heaven and Earth, timeless, as in God’s domain. It made perfect sense that Richard was always late. He was as Elijah, and the way he lived, especially his last years, were a blue print of Elijah, in your face with his care, even as his own body was slowly, if painfully, leaving him. Richard as an outstanding physician and vascular surgeon and colleague and friend enabled God’s identity as Rofeh Cholim/Healer to shine into this world.
Richard Bien ran out of time on the first day of the month of sadness and despair, Av, but it turns out he never really was in time, as he was too busy helping in some situation, or learning something new about life, even to his last moments. He, as God, was/is timeless.
Then there are the rest of us, with so much to do: to use every opportunity we have to refocus on becoming better and better, even as we dedicate ourselves to bringing the best out of each other. We have today, tonight, tomorrow, and God-willing, many days, months and years to engage a process that will lead to a good and better 5770.
The Way the System Works for the rest of us: By nature, from time to time, when you least expect it, you will mess up, drop a glass, say the wrong thing, do something unwittingly hurtful.
God gives us the gift of Teshuvah, the change in course that leads to forgiveness, a new beginning and renewed focus. It is the second gift and attribute that God gives us in Partnership, an attribute for attaining and maintaining a balanced partnership with life and with the Almighty. (The first gift is your functioning mind/heart/feelings..through which you are created in God’s image and endowed with the choice to do good, or not).
Thisperiod of the Days of Awe is a prime time to seek out someone with whom you are at odds, whether they hurt you, or you hurt them, or, so often the case, both…and to seek and to offer forgiveness. That is a great way to energize community and strengthen it one relationship at a time.
I wish you and all your dear ones a good and healthy and sweet New Year.
Shana Tova U’Metukah!
Please stay tuned for more details of these 2 Days of Awe related programs:
Join the folks of Napa ’s Beth Sholom on Saturday night September 12 for a joint observance of Sleechot, ushering the mood of the Days of Awe. Rabbis Postrel and White will lead the congregations gathering at 8 PM on Elm street in Napa .
And: visiting the graves of our ancestors for the Days of Awe which we will do on Tuesday, September 22 at 4 PM at Sunrise Cemetery . Again, stay tuned for details, by email follow-up and or phone tree.