Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drasha Diamond Number 5

Parshat Vayehi  2013: In September (see Drasha Diamond Number 4Drasha Diamond Number 3, and Drasha Diamond Number 2) and in April (see Drasha Diamond Number 1), Abq Jew highlighted exceptional drashot that he felt deserved to be brought to the attention of a wider audience.

And Abq Jew invited any and all of the reported 24 ordained rabbis who currently reside in the Land of Enchantment to join in the fun.

Last time, Rabbi Larry Karol of Temple Beth El, Las Cruces rose to the challenge and offered his High Holiday drashot. This time, we return to Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Congregation B'nai Israel of Albuquerque.

This drasha - another jewel - deals with the most important of end-of-life issues. It is reprinted here by permission. Rabbi Flicker's got the copyright; all rights reserved.

Drasha Diamond Number 5
Parshat Vayehi

Rabbi Arthur Flicker
Congregation B'nai Israel

A Jewish Bucket List

Last week I did something that really made me feel old – I signed up for Medicare.

Now, for some of you, the fact that I am just now signing up may make me seem young. For others, it may make me seem old.

On a certain level, 64 and 9 months really isn’t particularly old in today’s world. I assure you, if you watch me at the gym, you will see that I am in pretty good shape for 65. However, it is still the age of Medicare and it marks another milestone of aging in life.

As we reach these “older” milestones – Medicare, Social Security, Retirement – we tend to start thinking about life’s last milestone – death. And that leads us to think about something that has become popular these days, bucket lists.

The expression: ‘bucket list” became famous a few years ago, because of a movie that Rob Reiner made that starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. They played two patients in a cancer ward who escape and run away to fulfill all the dreams of what they wanted to do, that they had never found the time to do, until now.

I did not see the movie, and I don’t know a whole lot about bucket lists. However, there is a new book about dying called Happier Endings: Overcoming the Fear of Death.  It is written by Erica Brown, a Jewish educator who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. In the book is a chapter called “A Different Bucket List”.

Ms Brown begins this chapter by saying that, if you go to Reb Google, and put in: “bucket list”, you will learn a lot about them. Sure enough, I followed her advice, and within a few seconds, Reb Google told me that there are more than sixty five thousand websites that dealt with bucket lists.  Sixty five thousand!  That’s a lot!

I didn’t read them all, but I read enough to get the idea. Most of them are pretty much the same: People write in and fantasize about all the things that they would like to do before they finish their lives. Here are just a few that I copied down at random from the lists that I found on different websites. See if any of these things tempt you:
  • Break a world record - in anything.  
  • Experience weightlessness.
  • Go hang gliding. 
  • Ride an elephant. 
  • Feed the sharks. 
  • Go to the Oscars, and get a front seat. 
  • Learn to belly dance
  • Form a band, and perform at a major concert hall. 
Of course, there are still over 64,900 more. If you are really interested, you can go on line, and read these bucket lists for yourself.

However, one thing that struck me as I read through these lists is that they all have something in common. They are all about the individual, and what that individual can experience before he or she leaves this world.

I think that is sad, because the world does not begin and end with any individual. The world is bigger than any individual and I think that there is something sad about a person whose entire wish list, whose entire vision of what he or she wants to accomplish in this world consists of things like this. The world is not a trivial place, and therefore, I believe, a person should want to do more, and BE more, than is reflected on some of these lists.

Erica Brown offers her own suggestions of what should go into a bucket list in this chapter, and I think that it is a much nobler list than any that I found on line She says that, if you knew that your days on earth were going to end soon, these are the things that she hopes you would do before the end:
  • Pray for once in your life with all your heart and soul.
  • Finish your graduate degree.
  • Say ‘I’m sorry’ to your dad and all the others whom you have hurt in your life. .
  • Take each of your kids on a separate trip. 
  • Reconcile with the friend you are on the outs with.
And finally -
  • Write a letter to your Mom, and say thanks to her for everything.
That is a much better list. What I like about it the most is that it is do-able, unlike skydiving and hang gliding and learning new languages, which are beyond the strength of most of us.

And I like the fact that it is a spiritual list. It is composed of ways in which to take care of our unfinished business on this earth so that we can let go of our lives when the time comes, with a sense of completion.

More importantly, it reads more like a Jewish Bucket List.

We see an example of a Jewish Bucket List in this week’s Parshah. Jacob is dying and he has some bucket list items to complete

First, he blessed his grandchildren. He did this for their sakes, and for his own, because grandchildren are our link to the future. If you can put your blessings upon them, you can leave this world hopeful that your values will live on after you.

The second thing Jacob did was determine where he wanted to be buried, and instruct his children to make sure to honor this wish of his. By doing so, he linked his life to his past. He determined that he would rest in the same place as Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca.

Jacob’s bucket list, at the end of his life, was not to have some athletic or travel experience that he had not yet had.  His last concern was not to see the Grand Canyon or skydive or climb Mount Everest or anything like that.

He wanted to be a link between his parents and his grandparents on one side, and his children and their children on the other. He wanted to be a connection between his past and his future.

That should be our bucket list as well – to serve as a connection between the traditions and history handed to us by our parents and passing them on to our children and grandchildren.

For indeed, that heritage, that knowledge and love of God and Judaism, will be a far greater blessing to ourselves and to our family, than any bucket list trip, or adventure we might experience in life.


Rabbi Arthur Flicker was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. A graduate of Northwestern University, with an MA in Jewish History from the Ohio State University, Rabbi Flicker was ordained by Rabbi Rueben Luckens in 1990.

Prior to coming to Congregation B'nai Israel, Rabbi Flicker served congregations in Tyler, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Columbus, Ohio. He always been active in community affairs, having been awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit Award by the Cincinnati Baptist Ministers Conference. 

In Albuquerque, Rabbi Flicker has served on the board of the Samaritan Council, the Public Safety Partnership, the Governor’s Homeland Security Religious Advisory Taskforce and as a Chaplain for the Albuquerque Police Department.

A former public school teacher and coach, business owner and synagogue administrator, Rabbi Flicker brings a unique collection of skills to the rabbinate. Partnering with volunteers within  the congregation, Rabbi Flicker has brought diverse services and programming to our community. He has also encourage the participation of members of all ages in our religious services. 

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