GOOD MORNING! It's time for the annual Super Bowl joke!  During the game, a man turns to the lady on his left and says, "You and I are sitting next to the only empty seat in the stadium and these seats are being scalped at $5,000 a pop!"  The lady replies, "Yes, it was my late husband's seat."  The man offers condolences and says, "But I would have thought a friend or a relative would have wanted to make use of it."  "Yes," says the woman, "I would have thought so, too ... but they all insisted on going to the funeral."

If I may turn away from the Super Bowl, to look at why most people find the joke funny -- it is virtually unthinkable -- and the last thing we would have suspected for a wife -- to choose a football game over attending her husband's funeral.

How we treat our dead tells us a lot about ourselves and our society.  Rabbi Doron Kornbluth has just published a new book Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View. In it he deals with the reasons people choose cremation over burial and reasons why people choose burial over cremation.

Rabbi Kornbluth cogently presents the information needed for a person to make an informed and intelligent decision.  The time to decide how to bury is before a loved one passes away.  It is a great kindness to your relatives to think this through and make your arrangements in advance.  The more information a person has, the better decision he will make.

Oftentimes parents will opt for cremation thinking that they are saving their children money and the trouble of making choices.  Cremation is not always significantly less money -- and it robs the children of having a grave to visit on Mother's Day, Father's Day or before Rosh Hashana.

Because children are so geographically dispersed these days, some people think that having a portable urn makes it easier on the kids.  How many urns can a child take with him through how many moves in a lifetime?  And what happens to those urns with the next generation?

And for those who choose to avoid the urn problem by having their ashes spread over their favorite golf course or fishing hole -- one might think this is a romantic notion and ecological, too.  Some may find it romantic, but it is definitely not ecological.  In some places, particularly soccer pitches (fields) in England, they have made special pits for ashes because they are toxic to the grass on the field.

Environmentalists are against cremation and do not find it eco-friendly --because of the tremendous amount of fossil fuels needed to cremate (especially as we become a more obese society) and the toxic wastes, particularly heavy metals (the EPA estimates that in 2005 -- 6,600 pounds of mercury was vaporized into the air via cremation which eventually finds its way back into the waterways, the fish and the ecosystem).

Do not think that cremation is quick, clean and neat.  It is not.  In reality, it is a gruesome process.  Google it.

The Torah teaches that every human being is created in the image of God.  The body is the partner of the soul to do the Almighty's will; it thus gains a measure of holiness and must be respectfully buried in the ground.  "Burial emphasizes the dignity and worth of human life and how our actions — done with our physical bodies — have eternal value.  Cremation, on the other hand, destroys the body, symbolizing and promoting the marginalization of the worth of physical life, and of the individual," writes Rabbi Kornbluth.

After everything is said and done, there is one thought in the book that particularly impacts me -- "Do we burn things we love?  Think back to your first pet: We burned the trash and buried the treasure.  That is why, faced with life's first lessons in mortality — the dead kitten or bunny rabbit, or dead bird fallen from its nest on high — good parents search out shoe boxes and shovels instead of kindling wood or barbecues."

For additional depth on cremation versus burial, you may wish to see my site  To purchase a copy of Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View, go to .


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Torah Portion of the Week

The Jewish people leave Egypt.  Pharaoh regrets letting them go, pursues them leading his chosen chariot corps and a huge army. The Jews rebel and cry out to Moses, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt?  Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert?"  The Yam Soof, the Sea of Reeds (usually mistranslated as the Red Sea) splits, the Jews cross over, the Egyptians pursue and the sea returns and drowns the Egyptians.  Moses with the men and Miriam with the women -- each separately -- sing praises of thanks to the Almighty.

They arrive at Marah and rebel over the bitter water.  Moses throws a certain tree in the water to make it drinkable.  The Almighty then tells the Israelites, "If you obey God your Lord and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all His commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am God who heals you."  (This is why the Hagaddah strives to prove there were more than 10 plagues in Egypt -- the greater the number of afflictions, the greater number from which we are protected.)

Later the Israelites rebel over lack of food; God provides quail and manna (a double portion was given on the sixth day to last through Shabbat; we have two challahs for each meal on Shabbat to commemorate the double portion of manna).  Moses then instructs them concerning the laws of Shabbat.  At Rephidim, they rebel again over water.  God tells Moses to strike a stone (later in the Torah God tells Moses to speak to the stone, not here!) which then gave forth water.  Finally, the portion concludes with the war against Amalek and the command to "obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens."

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

In a ploy to entice Pharaoh to pursue the Jewish people into the desert so that he will receive his final defeat, the Almighty directs the Jewish people to backtrack and appear lost.  The Torah states:

"And Pharaoh will say about the Children of Israel 'They are entrapped in the land, the wilderness has enclosed them' " (Exodus 14:3).

How is it possible that after all of the miracles that Pharaoh could possibly think that the Almighty would abandon us?

Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm elucidates that there is a fundamental principle that a person's will and desires blind his intellect.  When a person has a strong will, he will act as irrational as a person who is crazy.  His bias will convince him that what he plans to do is sensible even though any simple person could easily tell him that he will be harming himself by his actions.

This is the answer as to why Pharaoh followed the Jewish people into the desert and into the midst of the Yam Soof (Sea of Reeds, also known as the Red Sea) to his ultimate destruction.  Our lesson: Whenever you have a strong will that might be biasing your thinking, consult other people for objective advice.  Don't act impulsively!


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All human actions have
one or more of these seven causes:
chance, nature, compulsion,
habit, reason, passion, and desire
--  Aristotle


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Rabbi Kalman Packouz

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