Tuesday, February 18, 2020 -
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Why no flowers?

Dear Tzviling,

I am going to visit my grandmother’s grave and was planning to purchase a bouquet of her favorite flowers. But I have noticed that Jewish graves don’t have flowers, only stones laid on them. Is there anything wrong with placing flowers on a grave?

Wendy, Denver

Dear Wendy,

The custom to place a stone on a grave is an ancient one. By doing so, we are symbolically building up the monument that honors the departed. Placing flowers on a grave is not our custom. Flowers wither and die. Stones remain unchanged.

While flowers are a beautiful gift to the living, they mean nothing to the dead. In death, the body which is temporary is gone, and all that remains is that eternal part of the person, the soul.

The body — like a flower — blossoms and then fades away, but the soul, like a solid stone, lives on forever.

In the “world of truth” — the place we all go following life on earth — what counts is the lasting impact we had on the world.

It is the achievements of the soul, not of the body, that outlive the grave. The money we make, the food we eat and the games we play — these are all flowers that die along with us. But the good deeds we do, the love we show to others and the light we bring to the world, are eternal stones that never fade.

If you want to honor your grandmother, take the money you would have spent on flowers for her, and give it to charity in her memory. And take a modest stone that costs you nothing and place it on her grave, to tell her that though she is not here physically, the impact she had on you is everlasting.

Dear Tzviling,

I recently moved into town, and started attending a local temple. I am surprised at the disrespectful behavior displayed by some of the congregants — for example, the person next to me has a habit of sleeping and snoring during the rabbi’s sermon. And the rabbi doesn’t mention anything. What should I do?

Ron, Montreal

Dear Ron,

Wear ear plugs.

Seriously, your question reflects a dormant attitude on behalf of many congregants, and the rabbi’s reluctance in awakening the slumbering habits of courtesy and respect.

As a public service to our readers, we proudly present a Tzviling Alert:

Six things your rabbi won’t tell you:

• It is one thing to check your watch during services, but it’s another thing to shake it to make sure it is still running.

• I don’t mind when you check the clock repeatedly during my sermon, but please don’t check the calendar.

• I understand you may occasionally forget to silence your cell phone during weekday services, but does the wake up alarm have to ring around the time I complete my sermon?

• I’m sure you’re sincere in wanting your dog to be Jewish, but I still can’t make a Mi Sheberach for her by the Torah reading, even if her name is Huntel bas Pooh Pooh.

• I’m happy it’s your cousin’s mother-in-law’s birthday, but it still does not override a yahrzeit in receiving maftir.

• So you want maftir, or the honor of practicing your voice by leading the musaf services, or a lighter sermon, or a kiddush with more kugel and a cholent with less potatoes. Will that be with fries?

More letters in this week’s IJN. Order your copy from Carol at (303) 861-2334 or email@ijn.com.

Send your questions to DearTzviling@ijn.com, to be answered with wit, wisdom and humor by identical twins Rabbis Yisroel Engel (Denver) and Shloime Engel (Montreal) who share their combined 100 years of experience.

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