Finding balance in both life and death

runyan_josh_otNobody likes dealing with the dead. So many of us view it as a necessary evil: Attending to the burial of a loved one is seen as a crucial part of the mourning process, but it is never embraced as something to be anticipated. It is what it is, much like death itself.

But one Jewish family in Baltimore, the Levinsons, have made catering to those dealing with life’s final moments — and those moments immediately after — their calling. Their business isn’t an easy one, whether in terms of the regulatory and religious frameworks governing their trade or in terms of the emotional toll that tragedy inflicts upon their clients.

But as you’ll read in this week’s JT, they’ve been successful in ensuring that the physical necessities of the dearly departed and their journey into the world to come are taken care of with the utmost sensitivity. It’s part of the reason why they’re the only game in town.

For sure, traditional Jewish practices surrounding funerals and burials are way more simplistic than the non-Jewish wakes and similar services in other faith communities. The traditional Jewish casket — in those locales where a casket is used — is no more than a pine box, for instance, emphasizing both the necessity of not hindering the natural process of decay and the idea that when it comes time to appear before the True Judge, we are all human and therefore equal.

But the Jewish funerary business has been evolving, and many families seek to adapt traditional practices or insert their own innovations. That makes the role occupied by Sol Levinson and Bros., Inc. not an enviable one.

It’s a role not unlike that of a pulpit rabbi, who on the one hand is the keeper of tradition, the teacher of the congregation, and on the other is the representative of the congregants. The rabbi represents not only Judaism, but Jews and so must conduct the holy work of congregational leadership with an eye on the individual. It takes both integrity and sensitivity.

Come to think of it, integrity and sensitivity are traits that more of us should nurture and develop in our own lives. More often than not, people err on one side or the other, embracing steadfastness but sacrificing empathy or sacrificing principle in the pursuit of harmony. Finding that balance has never been easy, but were more people to cultivate it, the world would be a much happier place.

Centuries ago, Maimonides ascribed a host of ailments to the lack of balance in a person’s physical, emotional and spiritual lives. And kabbalistic wisdom has long stressed the idea that spiritual flaws can manifest themselves as physical maladies, and vice versa. So the search for balance becomes not an added component to a life well lived, but a prerequisite to a healthy life.

As we approach the final month of the Jewish year and the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, may we all find balance, especially those of us who are dealing with tragedy.

jrunyan@jewishtimes.com