Memorials in March
It has been one year, on March 25, 2020, since my beloved husband of 48 years, Neil Abraham Lash, was promoted to glory. In traditional Judaism, this is a point in time when the life of a departed loved one is recognized in a special way. We remember them as a gift from a loving God, but also acknowledge that life continues and must be embraced as we honor their memory.
Remembering is a very Jewish, biblical practice. The word in Hebrew for “remember” is zakar (za-KHAR, rfz) and occurs 238 times in the Tanakh. Fifty-seven of these occurrences are in the Psalms, since remembering was a major part of worship of the God of Israel. For example, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You” (Psalm 22:27). The Israelites were admonished to remember what their God had done. (Neil embraced this idea throughout his life and kept a little book of “faith facts” that documented God’s actions on his behalf.)
The Hebrew word for “memorial” is zikron (zee-KRONE, iurfz) as seen in Exodus 28:12, “And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel.” Remember. There is so much about remembering in the Jewish tradition. We pray prayers of remembrance at the New Year (Zikron Teruah), which are called Zikranot (zee-krah-NOTE, ,ubrfz).
The death of loved ones is especially remembered. When the grave of the dearly departed one is visited, a stone of remembrance is left on the grave. (In my case, it is a white lucina shell.) Setting up stones as memorials has its basis in the Torah (Abraham, Genesis 12:8; Jacob, Genesis 28:18-19, and Joshua, Joshua 4:7). A special service known as yizkor rufzh, Hebrew for “may He (i.e.; God) remember,” includes memorial prayers for departed loved ones. A special candle, known as a yahrzeit candle, is lit on the anniversary of someone’s death, in remembrance of them. It is more Jewish to remember the death of a departed loved one than to remember his or her birth. I find it interesting that our Messiah never told us to remember His birth, but He did say, “This is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). We remember Yeshua’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). “Communion,” the Lord’s Seder, can also be called “Zikrone Yeshua,” Remembering Yeshua.
A Service of Commemoration
There is a service called an Unveiling that usually occurs about a year after the death of a loved one. The practice originated with the biblical story of the patriarch Jacob, who erected a memorial pillar for his wife Rachel following her death (Genesis 35:19-20). The Unveiling is attended by a small group of family and close friends. At the service, held at graveside, the memorial stone with its inscription is “unveiled” for the first time. While the Unveiling is not mandatory in either traditional or Messianic Judaism, it provides an occasion to pay additional tribute and respect to a worthy individual. Neil is certainly worthy of this act of remembrance, so I have planned a small Unveiling service at the end of this month.
Memories: Looking Back
Looking back in my journals at the year preceding Neil’s home-going, I came across some beautiful insights into my husband that blessed me, and I pray they bless you. On the evening of November 3, 2018, after Neil had been informed that the prostate cancer of 2000 had metastasized to his bones, he said to me: “It’s time to talk.” I wrote down his words after he finished telling me things that he wanted me to know. In Neil’s words: “I am totally at peace. I have no regrets. I am ready to die if the Lord wills. My only concern is for you. God has blessed me more than I had hoped for. I have no unfulfilled aspirations. I am so thankful to have had two sons and Liam, a grandson. I have loved God with my whole heart.” (Pause, tears falling)
I had no idea at that moment that Neil had five months left on this earth. I didn’t like his talk of death and chose to focus on how God had fulfilled the promise that we claimed for Neil on his 75th birthday: “Yes, may you see your children’s children” (Psalm 128:6). Neil passed when Nancy was pregnant with our granddaughter, Lucia, but he got to enjoy Liam 2-3 times every week.
I thank God for the truth of Jeremiah 31:14 that I saw manifested in Neil’s life: “I will satiate the soul of the priests with abundance, and My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the LORD.” Neil was definitely, positively satisfied with the goodness of God.
On November 30, 2018, we bought a new plant for the patio garden that I tend at our condominium. It is called “Esperanza” (“hope” in Spanish) and has gorgeous, profuse yellow flowers. Neil loved flowers—actually all of God’s creation. He would always comment on the beauty of Esperanza and the creativity of God. Although he loved the idea of my rosemary plant (rozmarin ihrnzur in Hebrew) being called the “memory plant,” since it is the last spice that remains on the tongue, Neil did not want me to cook with it. (By the way, rosemary is planted in cemeteries all over Israel and on the medians and highways in Jerusalem because of Psalm 137:5.)
We fasted at the beginning of 2019, standing on the acronym FIGHT: “Fasting Is Giving Hell Trouble” and “Fasting Is Giving Heaven Trust.” Neil fasted from sweets. No chocolate—his very favorite. The new year began with a call from one of our pre-believing Jewish neighbors to please come verify that her partner had indeed died. We arrived to find Wendy dead in a recliner, and Neil led in prayer for her roommate Carol. Neil had such a gentle way about him. Our neighbors appreciated this.
January 13, 2019 – Neil prayed for someone, blessing them with one of his favorite promises in the Holy Scriptures based on Genesis 28. In this chapter, Jacob sees a ladder that reaches to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob revealed Himself to Jacob there at Bethel. Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.” Neil would point out that Jacob asked God for three things: His Presence, His Protection, and His Provision. He believed that God wants to give these three blessings to all His children—through Yeshua, the Ladder that God sent down from heaven to connect God and man forever (John 1:51).
January 17, 2019 – Neil and I took the antique clock that has been in my family for generations, to be restored to working order. For 47 years of marriage it had been just a decoration on the wall. We had no idea that the “clock was now ticking,” literally. Oddly enough, the Lord brought to my mind at the same time a poem I wrote in college about time: “Time is constantly escaping to eternity above. Let us love every moment. Every moment let us love.”
January 23, 2019 – I was moved by a quote I had read: “An inheritance is what you leave FOR someone. A legacy is what you leave IN someone.” Neil left a legacy in hundreds of people.
January 25, 2019 – Neil enjoyed a very special family day at Disney World, with our grandson, Liam, traveling around the park on Pop Pop’s lap on an electric scooter. (I encourage you to make memories with your loved ones while you have them.)
Wednesday, February 6, 2019 – During Neil’s 4th chemotherapy treatment, he prayed for one of the nurses who had three negative experiences with churches, and had strayed from God because of them. Neil encouraged her to look beyond people, to a loving God.
Thursday, February 7, 2019 – Our 48th wedding anniversary. Neil played golf with his regular group of guys while I taught my Bible study. We had a lovely dinner with our son Jonathan and his wife, Nancy, at the Melting Pot. Neil had roses on the table for me.
Thursday, February 14, 2019 – We went on a memorable sleigh ride with our friends Gary and Chrissy in Ogden, Utah. (The last photo I have of us together. So appropriate. On our first date, Neil bought me a ski house in Vermont. I know. Unbelievable. We had an unusual life together!)
Thursday, March 14, 2019 – I felt led to memorize Romans 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” (I had no idea that death was 11 days away. But God knew.)
Thursday, March 21, 2019 – Neil’s final (6th) chemotherapy treatment. He played a great game of golf that morning, took me for a romantic lunch before the treatment, took a nap, and insisted on going to the Panthers hockey game. During the break, Neil insisted on buying me a Panthers plastic tote bag to make it easier for screening at the entrance to the games (forever thinking of me—plus, he had a coupon). There is a tag on the bag with a big word on it: Forever. The rest is history. Neil collapsed. Paramedics. Ambulance. Hospital. Diagnosis of a catastrophic cerebral hemorrhage. ICU.
Saturday, March 23, 2019 – Our family met with a representative from hospice who asked us what type of rabbi Neil was. When I said “Messianic,” she proceeded to show us the pendant that she was wearing and said, “I got this from a wonderful little store in Oakland Park called Jewish Jewels. I used to get their newsletter too, and just loved it!” (We all smiled and told her who we were. Only God! He has a way of assuring us that He is with us—even in the face of death.)
Sunday, March 24, 2019 – Purim. Neil had been asked to speak at the annual Esther Tea at Temple Aron HaKodesh, the temple that he founded in 1976, but he did not feel led to speak. Instead, our dear friend Mark Chibis took his place. The theme chosen for the tea was “Heaven,” specifically, Habayit Shel Abba, Father’s (Daddy’s) House. So, Neil was on his way to heaven, while the ladies of the temple he founded were focusing on our Father’s House. While they were remembering the victory over the descendants of Amalek (Haman; see also Exodus 17:14) our family was with Neil, remembering the victory of Yeshua over death. This Purim 2020, as we agree with God to BLOT OUT the memory of Amalek, dor v’dor, from generation to generation, we will KEEP the memory of Rabbi Neil Abraham Lash, dor v’dor.
Monday, March 25, 2019 – Surrounded by his family, with songs of praise and love, with Jesse strumming my Omnichord, Christine lovingly touching Jesse, Nancy in tears, and Jonathan and I touching Neil, my very special husband died a king’s death, kissed by His Creator and with a final kiss from me. 7:07 – Neil went to heaven.
Wednesday, April 3, 2019 – Following a shocking, very emotional, and upsetting discovery on April 2, 2019—that no last will and testament could be found, even though Neil was the most detailed, organized, fiscally responsible person ever—God spoke to me. He said very clearly: “Not Neil’s will. My will!” I had been focusing on the wrong thing. I thought my security somehow came from the material world, and all that a will meant in my mind. The Lord corrected me, and I accepted His correction. My treasure, my focus is clear now: God’s will. That is my call and my destiny.
When I spoke at Neil’s funeral (not the Memorial Service, which was six times larger), I mentioned at least fifteen of the qualities of my amazing husband. I share some of them now to inspire us to follow Neil’s example, in whatever way we can. He left us a very high standard, but a truly biblical one.
Rabbi – The word is Hebrew and means “teacher.” That was Neil’s gifting and calling. Early in his walk with the Lord, Neil asked God for someone to teach him. God told him that the Holy Spirit Himself would be Neil’s teacher (1 John 2:27). He was!
Selfless – Neil thought of others, especially his family, above himself. I was at the top of the list. Neil anticipated my needs—always. He was a true servant-leader.
Compassionate – Neil rooted for the underdog. He cried when he read stories in the Readers Digest. He gave to the homeless. (He would like it that I sent his clothing to the poor in Honduras.)
Intelligent – Neil spent 48 years answering my questions. He knew a lot about most everything. When he got his doctorate in educational technology, he taught his fellow students statistics.
Humble – Neil did not have a high opinion of himself. He had simple tastes and had a hard time spending money on himself. You would never guess that he was the head of an international ministry. Neil didn’t even like us to use our last name, so that we would not become “famous.”
Witty – Neil had a great sense of humor. He could laugh at himself and enjoyed making others laugh.
Wise – Neil’s main spiritual gift was wisdom. Oh, how I miss that gift! Neil’s wisdom blessed Jewish Jewels, Temple Aron HaKodesh, and multitudes around the country.
Thankful – Neil was always thanking God for something! He was thankful for hot water, our little condo home, home-cooked meals, backup cameras in cars, vacations, everything.
Content – Neil was content with one sport jacket and two suits, and he might have worn the same couple of plaid shirts on TV if I had permitted it. Neil was a nonconsumer who was against storage units since he felt that we all have too much stuff.
Generous – Neil had the “royal generosity” spoken of in Esther 2:18. A week before he died, he gave away our second vehicle. When I asked him why he didn’t sell it, Neil said: “Why would I do that? I’m storing up treasure in heaven!”
Sports Fan – Neil loved sports, especially hockey and football. He learned to love hockey when he spent years coaching both our son’s hockey teams. We went to Panthers games on date nights. His last night with me was at a hockey game where he stopped in the middle of the game to pray for an evangelistic outreach on a college campus. (The last sentence Neil ever spoke was that prayer.)
Father – Neil became a father at 49 years of age. He was 53 when we had our second son! Besides Jonathan and Jesse, Neil was a father figure to many. Loving. Kind. Gentle. Wise. Caring.
Loving – (Tears flowing, nose blowing on this one) Neil said to me every day, “Have I told you today how much I love you?” He not only spoke love, he lived it. He showed it, in little and big ways. When Neil said to me, as a pre-believing Jewish man, two hours after meeting me, “I have to tell you something. You are the other half of me,” he was being prophetic. God had made a match. He blessed me with 48 years of the love spoken of in Ephesians 5:25 (JNT), “As for husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah love the Messianic Community, indeed, gave Himself up on its behalf.”
What one thing would Rabbi Neil have us remember? “With God, it’s all about the heart.”