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Performing the Tahara
By Carol Abadi
Imagine for just one horrible moment that you have died. Youre soul is hovering over your body, and you are scarred and totally confused. What is going on? Am I dead? What happens now? You see two men come in (or women if you are a woman) and start preparing your body for burial. At this point, or maybe later on, you realize that in order to become pure again for the creator, your body must be prepared a certain way, and they are doing it all wrong. You want to beg them to send you to your destination prepared correctly, because your soul knows you can not enter Gan Eden (paradise) any other way, but nobody hears your pleas.
This is not a nightmare, it is a true story, and I felt that this was what was going to happen to my husbands beloved Aunt.
She lived and died in a small town, where there was no Chevra Kadisha (holy Jewish burial society), and due to circumstances beyond our control, there was no way to transport her body to a place where she could be prepared properly, and in time for the funeral. What could I do, let her be buried with out the ritual purification, or perform the tahara ( ritual purity) myself?
I'm the type of person who can't look at a dead animal, let alone see a person who has passed on. I always speed up and look the other way when I pass any type of accident, and refuse to watch scary or violent movies. I even faint at the sight of blood. Performing a tahara was definitely the scariest thing I had ever contemplated doing, but letting her be buried as a non-Jew was out of the question.
My husband and I live in Miami, and were scheduled to leave for the town where the funeral was to be held, before sunrise. I knew Jews were prepared for burial in a very special way, but had never really wanted to know how this was done. Now, I had to learn how to perform a tahara in the next few hours. I called the Rabbi, and he referred me to a woman, who I now think must be part Angel.
She took me to a funeral home for a tahara crash course, and just walking through that door was torture for me. There, she and a special Rabbi gave me the ritual instructions and a video where a taharais performed on a mummy. After this, they took me to see a body that was ready for burial, and gave me the supplies I needed. I was not able to go in the room where the dead body was and all my doubts and fears started haunting me. If I could not see the body of a person I did not know, how in the world was I going to be able to see my sweet Aunt? I told the Angel-woman just to explain the ritual and prayers to me and that I would somehow muster the courage later. At this point seeing how distraught I was, she offered to help me at the site by guiding me on the telephone every step of the way. What a brilliant idea!
Still shaking I went home, read the ritual instructions plus prayers many times, and watched the video with the mummy, until exhaustion.
As soon as I went to bed, my heart and mind start racing. I became totally terrified again and decided to wait until morning, to tell my husband that it was impossible for me to perform the tahara.
I did not sleep for one second that night, and as soon as my husband woke up I told him I could not do it. Again, we started to look for alternatives. We called more Rabbis, more associations, and more foundations, but there was no other option, than letting her be buried impure, or doing it myself.
A person can not perform a Tahara alone. The ideal number of people is four, but in this case, that was not an option either. The only other Jewish woman, who could help me, was my sister in law and she was even more fearful than I was. There was no choice and she bravely volunteered. I could see the pain in her eyes. She loved her Aunt dearly and having lost her was hard enough.
It was a long road trip, so I, the expert on Tahara, had enough time to explain the procedure to her.
When we arrived at the funeral home we watched the video for the last time and before we went inside the prepping room, I took a moment and prayed to G-d with all my might. I asked for courage, love, light, guidance and every positive thing I could think of. I begged G-d to help me perform this ritual perfectly so that the deceased could enter Gan Eden. Then, my sister in law and I entered the chamber. At that moment I realized my cellular had no service, and I panicked. How was I going to call the Angel-woman? I found a telephone, connected it and it worked!
Until that moment I had not even dared to look at the covered body on the other side of the room. I called my support lady, put her on speaker phone, and started the Tahara.
As soon as we started the ritual and the corresponding prayers, I went into a daze and started feeling a special love; peace and serenity encompass my whole being. Everything flowed perfectly. It seemed as if my soul had taken over and knew exactly what to do. I wasnt scarred to look or touch or anything. I was doing something beautiful and so very important. The last act of kindness!
When we finally finished and left the room, my husband told us we had been in there an hour and a half. It seemed like only a few minutes, as if we had surpassed time and space.
After the funeral, when I finally had a moment to think, I realized that I had been told this was a great mitzvah because you can never expect anything in return from the deceased. I feel as if I'm the one that benefited from it all. What a great opportunity it was for me to learn about our totally awesome religion and what is really important in our life. I am a different person since that day, and I hope that G-d will help me stay this way.
When I got home, I felt as if I needed to encourage everyone to do a Tahara if necessary, and this is the reason I wrote this true story. I want everyone to know, that if my sister-in-law and I were capable of performing a Tahara, anyone can. It is not scary or gory, and our fears are much worse than performing the act itself. It is an incredibly beautiful spiritual experience, and nothing can be more important than sending off a soul, to join G-d, with love and caring; and pure again. All Jews have this right, and we should never allow another Jew to be buried without a proper Tahara. If even one Jewish soul is buried with a Tahara because of this story, sharing this experience has served its purpose.
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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