Rabbi Sokol told the story of his zeide’s tallis this evening just before Neilah. His Zeide had been a European-trained rabbi, a talmid chacham. When he died, 37 years ago, R’ Sokol was learning in
When a man is buried in the
Then the question arose – who will wear Zeide’s tallis. Nobody wanted to wear it, since it had been wrapped around the dead body, so it went into Mrs. Sokol’s trunk of precious things. And there it sat, for 37 years.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year, R’ Sokol’s uncle died. Nobody could find his tallis for burial, but Mrs. Sokol remembered her father’s tallis sitting in the trunk. Finally, it was buried, albeit not with its longtime owner, with its owner’s son, where it should protect him as his father had.
R’ Sokol went on to speculate about everyone’s tallis and how they reflect one’s personality, stained with tears from years of tefillot, twisted from someone who was under tension, unused from someone who never went to synagogue. He expanded on this theme, that each of us has, on Yom Kippur, the chance to reweave our talleisim, to reconstruct and redirect our lives, particularly as we draw to the close of Yom Kippur.
* * *
What of my zeide’s tallis? I have it, after all, in the closet.
My zeide, for one, was never called zeide. His first language was Yiddish, he had a solid cheder education in
After they died, in 1985, Dad and Uncle Max cleaned out their condo. I had visited them once there (they moved to Florida in 1975, after Grandpa’s bout with double pneumonia the previous summer); the apartment was basically their one-bedroom in Boro Park transplanted – the same furniture, the same plastic dustcovers, but the food was worse. Grandma’s mind was starting to go, and she had stopped cooking, so Grandpa suddenly had to learn how to cook at age 90. He didn’t do so good. He could still play clarinet, and one of the highlights of the trip was getting to play some duets (Pleyel) with Grandpa.
So anyway, while cleaning, they found Grandpa’s tallis. It must have been the one from their marriage in 1912 in Berdichev, in the
Meanwhile, on a trip to
When I got married, I thought of Grandpa’s tallis, sitting in the closet, which I had sometimes used if I were leading services in my parents’ shul. I wanted it to be at my wedding. And so it was, it was the chuppah at my wedding. My grandparents were long gone, but a reminder made an essential part of my wedding.
* * *
So there can be life after death, not only death after death. For Rabbi Sokol, whose zeide was a talmid chacham and a tzaddik, the zeide’s tallis was only useful after death for another death. For me, my zeide’s tallis, while not so useful during my grandpa’s life, because he kept it as a reminder of his wedding, from house to house to house, it became used to start another generation in a wedding. Where his wedding may have been the last religious thing he did for decades, the tallis he had then, came to us, to start us out right building a bayis ne’eman beyisrael.
It’s wearing out now, the squares of fabric at the corners are frayed, so I don’t wear it for davening much any more. But it’s still there in my closet, a bit of my Grandpa with us forever.