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How will you be remembered?

Thursday, 11 April, 2019 - 1:19 pm

This past week our family marked the Yahrtzeit of my grandfather, Reb Mordechai HaKohen Rivkin OBM, who passed away eleven years ago. Zeidy Rivkin, as we called him, was not a rabbi. In fact, since he lost his father at age 12, he had to go to work, thereby losing the opportunity to attend Yeshiva. He was a businessman all his life. Yet he was blessed with, and worked hard to further develop, a highly attuned sense of proper priorities in life. Over the years, the Rebbe found in him a person to whom he could entrust a number of sensitive and important tasks; and they would get done. My grandfather got involved in many important initiatives and institutions that were near and dear to the Rebbe. Zeidy had a sharp intuition for getting to the bottom of a situation, whether it was business or communal activism. He was extremely proud of his children and grandchildren, and everything they did to advance the cause of Yiddishkeit and the Chabad movement. He and my Bubby, may she be blessed with good health and long life, served as the super-glue to keep the family very close. Indeed, in our family, first cousins are like siblings and second cousins are like first cousins. As the fourth and even fifth generations are emerging, there is still a very acute sense of family.

On his yahrtzeit earlier this week, a number of grandchildren posted memories on social media and family chats. Many of the posts highlighted accomplishments of the several dozen great-grandchildren named Mordechai after Zeidy. What struck me was, what he was being remembered for. There were two common themes, family, and devotion to Yiddishkeit and the vision of the Rebbe. My grandfather was a man of the world. He was always dressed well and could enjoy a good restaurant or trip to a nice place. However, when he is remembered, what stands out was his devotion to his principles and ideals. This stems from the way he prioritized his life. What is valued and what is secondary? Eleven years after his passing his priorities still ring loud for us, his grandchildren. His love for us and his high regard for the important things in life loom very large for us and continue to inspire and guide us in how we live our own lives.

That same evening I attended a meeting of the Chevra Kadisha of New Orleans. The room was filled with special people who devote of their time to the ultimate kindness for those who have passed away. There was some discussion of the policy of the Chevra Kadisha with regards to burial. Someone mentioned that there were people in the community that asked to be buried with their Saints jersey. As the Jewish custom is to be buried wearing shrouds, the Saints jersey would have to be placed near the body… Now I am a New Orleanian, and I know and appreciate the importance of the Saints to our area. But when considering what to have with you for your final journey… that may be a bit much.

So when thinking about how one will be remembered after 120 years on this earth… think about what legacy will be left for children and grandchildren. What are the things that have eternal value? The answer to that question should be the engine that drives ones prioritization of time, resources and energy in life. Hopefully we will all make the right decisions, making our lasting impact on this universe that much more meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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