Mitzvot Behind the Scenes
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
In my role as community chaplain, I’ve buried several ‘Eleanor Rigbys’. Each one comes with his/her own sad story: estrangement from family, addiction, depression, poverty. The funeral director and I are the only attendees at the graveside service. The ceremonies are very brief, with nobody to tell the story of how this person lived. The casket is lowered, I shovel dirt into the grave, recite el malei and kaddish, and pray for a Jewish soul to rest in peace. I come away every time feeling the same: sad and lonely.
Jews have always assumed the responsibility for taking care of the indigent among them at the time of death. In fact, one of the first organizations established in any Jewish community is a burial society, called a chevra kadisha. It is incumbent upon the community to provide for burial for everyone. We call it an act of chesed shel emet/lovingkindness and truth, which is one of the greatest commandments a Jew can fulfill. It is an act for which the recipient cannot say thank you, or repay the kindness done to them. An act of chesed is done without any expectation of reward or recompense. It is the best of what we, as Jews can do for others.
Here in Atlanta, this mitzvah is carried out through a partnership between Jewish Family & Career Services and Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care. Providing for these indigent burials is done for the most selfless of reasons. These services aren’t advertised.
I believe it is important that the wider Jewish community be made aware of this quiet mitzvah performed away from the spotlight. Our most important and meaningful actions need not be publicized. May each of us be inspired to perform acts of chesed shel emet.