Respecting the OGs: Eikev, Lewis, and Aunt Ellen

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion we recall the making and re-making of the Tablets of Stone, the incident of the Golden Calf, and Aaron’s death. There we read:

From Beeroth-bene-jaakan the Israelites marched to Moserah. Aaron died there and was buried there; and his son Eleazar became priest in his stead. (Deuteronomy 10:6)

Riffing off of the tragic death of Aaron the Midrash explores the context of this loss. There read:

R. Yudan said: For what reason is the death of Aaron (Deut. 10:6) being so near the breaking of the tablets (Deut. 9:17)? To teach that the death of the righteous is as grievous to the Holy One as the breaking of the tablets. ( Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Achrei Mot 10:1)

There is a rich reading in the text here in as much as the second set of Tablets replaced the first just as Eleazar replaces Aaron in the same breath of his passing. And in both cases the second copy only makes us realize the unique and special quality of the original.  While we can try to replace what is lost, the act of replacement make us miss them even more. Aaron is the original and Eleazar will never completely fill the void left.

I was thinking about this idea this week with the recent passing of two very different people. The first is Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis z”l and second is my great aunt Ellen Katz z”l.

John Lewis was the youngest of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the legendary 1963 March on Washington. He fulfilled many critical roles in the civil rights movement and its actions to end legalized racial segregation in the United States and served in Congress for 17 terms.

John Lewis and the March on Washington speech he never gave - Vox

Aunt Ellen was my Oma’s sister-in-law. Born and raised in Germany she left Europe during WWII on a HIAS Kindertransport by herself at the age of 12. Her father had come to America at the start of the war in an effort to get the money and paperwork needed to bring over the family. Tragically her 16 year old sister, mother, and grandmother all died in Auschwitz.  Ellen lived her teen years in modest living situation with her father. Eventually she was set up on a date with Ernie, my beloved great Uncle. Three weeks later they were engaged. Together they made a great life for themselves, their two sons, 5 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren. For Ellen family was everything.

While their lives very different, John Lewis and Ellen Katz both lived full, authentic, and noble lives. They were OGs and as we learn in the Midrash they can never really be replaced. But in giving there memories their dur respect we remind ourselves what is good, what is worth fighting for, and what is holy.

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