It is now 3 weeks post burial. My chest is a little less heavy, my gait a little freer from the weight of sadness. My beard is sorely in need of trimming, but when I look in the mirror, it doesn't matter, evidenced by the tears that still flow easily as I write this. Luckily, I am frequently in a setting where no one asks about my three weeks of facial hair, I am where everyone knows why my outward appearance is less socially presentable. I am in minyan.
As we know, a minyan is necessary for the recitation of certain prayers, among them the mouner's kaddish, an opportunity to sanctify life, and my opportunity to help the return of my mother's soul to its source. Traditionally known as "kaddish yatom", I understand that term more acutely personal now. It is the "orphan's prayer", and I am now without both my mother and father. Reb Zalman would say that I now wear the "white beard". I am the elder.
In an interview that she gave after her father died, singer Roseanne Cash shared that, no longer having a living parent, she now felt that "the last barrier between herself and her own mortality had been removed." That powerful insight remained with me, bookmarked for a future date, and was one of the first things that came to mind when my mother Elsie died.
This past Sunday morning, as worship began, we only had 9 people. Those of us who were there to say Kaddish were keenly aware of the lack of a quorum to do so. On a weekday someone would have gone across the hall to ask one of the secretaries to join us. But on a Sunday, not so. When we reached the moment to say Kaddish d'Rabbanan, the leader called out a page number that signaled we were skipping Kaddish and moving on to the next section of the liturgy. Immediately, one of the women called out, "Wait, let me see if anyone is coming." The leader paused, and the woman left the room. Those of us remaining sat in silence, and waited - 1 - 2 - 3 - perhaps 5 minutes, before the woman returned with good news in the form of several additional people who were joining us.
There was something about the quality of those minutes of silence that deeply resonated within me and between those of us who had sat quietly waiting. Time seemed to stand still. In the stillness I felt held by G!d and community. Reb Zalman teaches a possible understanding for ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד to be "Your glory shines through time and space." Indeed, in the stillness the glory shined through - so true, so real, so effortless, so comforting.
That evening, I returned to shul for Ma'ariv. One woman was saying kaddish for her father. It was her last day, after 11 months, that she needed to do so on a daily basis. She was clearly very emotional, and cried openly. She later shared that it was the anticipation she had about the "last day" that had shaken her. She thanked us all for our presence. I recalled the Kotzker Rebbe's gentle reminder that "there is nothing so whole as a broken heart".
I also recognize that there is nothing so whole as a minyan. Ten adult Jews relying on each other's presence - to pray, to remember, to rebuild, to dream awake, and to hold each other in sacred community.
Mark Novak is a "free-range" rabbi who lives in Washington DC and works, well, just about everywhere. In 2012 he founded Minyan Oneg Shabbat, home to MOSH (Minyan Oneg Shabbat), MindfulMOSH (Jewish mindfulness gathering), and