Sign In Forgot Password

Hatzar Ha/Mavet – The Courtyard of the Dead. – YK 2016 – 5777 – Rabbi Noam Raucher

09/14/2016 03:29:21 PM


In 2005 I entered rabbinical school at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Bel Air. Immediately my class built friendships and lifelong bonds with one another. Along the way one of our classmates, Joel Shickman, was diagnosed with Luekemia at the age of 37.

Despite all our efforts, love and organizing, Joel lost his battle to cancer 8 months after his diagnosis. He left behind a loving wife and 3 beautiful children. Shortly after he died, Heather, Joel’s wife decided to move their family back to Dallas where they had come from before Joel entered school with me. As I helped Heather pack up her home she gave me a gift.  She knew that rabbis like books and so she gave me some of Joel’s. In fact she gave me his entire set of Steinsaltz Talmud, a set of over 20 books.

For any rabbi this is an essential text. A way of understanding rabbinic thought. I put that gift on my shelf, and like all rabbis I let it collect dust for a few years. Until one day recently when my mind was drawn to a text that I had first studied in rabbinical school. Feeling nostalgic, I picked out the volume from Joel’s Talmud that possessed the text. Normally when you study some Talmud in rabbinical school it’s for the first time. There are any number of questions to ask and pieces to draw inspiration from. But this time was different. This time, somehow, I remembered everything, if not most, of what I had learned about before.

When I opened this book I was taken back to the moment when I first studied that text with Joel in our first year of school together. It was as if the conversation never ended, just paused, and picked up where it left off. In that moment I could heard Joel debate all my thoughts and opinions; and I heard him raise some of his own. It was as if my friend had never left. It was as if he was standing and studying with me right there.

That book helped me reach through the memory and touch him one more time. Our Tradition teaches us of a special place called the Hatzar Ha-Mavet – the courtyard of the dead. Know that this is not a cemetery – a place where the dead rest. Rather our tradition, by way of a legend, proposed another location: a courtyard where the dead can meet and converse with those who are still living.

Each one of us has a place where we meet our loved who have passed on.  For some it’s in a book, others find it in a watch, or handkerchief bequeathed to them. Or perhaps simply in a photo of that person. We’ve all got places to go to reanimate those memories in our lives. Yizkor, this moment, it is our chance to place ourselves in the courtyard and meet with our loved ones, one more time.

Tue, September 17 2019 17 Elul 5779