From the desk of Rabbi Leonard ( Yehuda ) Blank, MS. BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
April 29, 21  ^^^^^^

After this article, there will be three more articles I will be dedicating to my wife Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen – two before her yartzeit and the third after the last memorial for this year- a yartzeit siyum being held the night after Shavuos. A culmination of my articles which included when my wife was quite ill and the following months after her petira leading up to the final memorial for this year. I still receive thanks from those who have found my articles comforting and inspiring, from others who have gained another way of seeing what is has been for a husband, a widower lens not just in the realm of grief and bereavement, but in the impact in my life. In general the feelings, the emotions , the journey, my journey and how I have been able to live a “normal” life, an active life a meaningful life and at times somewhat lonely. But there is one word I have never thought of and to my knowledge, have not used throughout my articles. That word is EMPTINESS. That is the key and missing word not mentioned. There has been a void, in my life. Sure, I have mentioned how I miss her, missing all the things we shared and did together, with our children, family and others. EMPTINESS – but something has been missing. A gap in my life. So here is another analogy. It is possible for a person to have a gaping hole due to an injury which eventually closes up. Sometimes on it’s own and sometimes with stiches. Eventually, a scab forms and covers that hole, not to be seen again. I have filled that gap with the many diverse things I have been doing, professionally and personally. My feelings of loneliness and sadness started to dissipate. Meaningful activities, prayers, Torah learning, the various programs I have been working on has helped fill the gap. New experiences, friends, colleagues and relationships and the feeling of hope has help shape, create and fill any moments of loneliness with a rededicated life.  With new relationships on the horizon, with joy of connecting with family, and finding the kindness, joy and meaning has helped shift the feelings to a happier place in life. None of this comes easy, but the desire to “go on in life” not being swamped or heaven forbid, drowning in self pity, being as productive as possible is so important. I have been reminded from those who I am close with how much my wife would be proud of what I am doing and how much she wants me to be happy.  Happiness can be defined in different ways. Unfortunately, COVID has prevented many including myself from going places, doing things – even a shul kiddush has been mostly nonexistence. This includes having guests over in general let alone without wearing a mask.  For many, not being able to get the vaccination for months due to age requirements or the fear instilled by those who preached about not taking the vaccination was horrendous and only added to the sadness in life. Many of my readership have heard or read about these thoughts, but until it hits home, find it difficult to really feel the challenges many of us face. I just ordered new easy to do cookbooks, as I’m back to cooking etc. I’m even having the first day of Shavuos two guests for a Shavuos meal that I will be preparing. Having these guests is meaningful for me in more ways than one. Especially it will be the yartzeit of Keila Lutza bas Shalom HaKohen A”H. Also, having company for a meal together is really a big thing. I even reviewed the menu with them. And now with various restrictions being lifted, I hope to be getting “my feet even more wet” but still being cautious whenever necessary. Rather than the day of her yartzeit to be remembered how and when she died, to remember how important doing mitzvos and kind deeds because of our Torah which meant so much to her. And the kindness she bestowed on to others. Even as late as yesterday, I am reminded by others of her radiant smile filled with her happiness and joy of life-with practically no one ever suspecting how serious her illness was.

With a new great granddaughter born last week and the baby being given the complete name of my wife has been a relief and comforting to me to know her mesorah will now continue in a different way Kaila Lutza bas Gedaliah. The hakamos matzeiva ( or as many used to know it as the unveiling), the yartzeit, the final siyum and the forthcoming simcha in the family, has given me much to be comforted with, and feeling spiritually uplifted. I am sharing all this with my readership, to give another view of life. To be understanding what life has been like and continues for a spouse and in this case a widower – and that is me. I hope all my readership will be able find the meaning of the  different stages of life and death and how hope, emunah and betachin is so important especially when offering counseling and pastoral care to someone going through his or her own challenges in life or due to the death of a loved one. I have enlightened my readership to many of the directions in my own journey. I have deep appreciation to all of my family, colleagues, friends and others I have mentioned in the past. Ultimately, it was I who had to decide what directions to take and it wasn’t the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. There is no simple answer. Professionally, I have tremendous appreciation to Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik Executive Vice President of the RAA, for all of his encouragements, enthusiasm, and support for whatever I have been doing. In my remarks this past Monday evening on our chaplaincy seminar, I mentioned the wonderful opportunity of achdus, such as shown with the RCA and Rabbi Dratch, RAA and Rabbi MIrozcnik and Rabbi Doniel Kramer of and the Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplains Listserv who joined together making the presentation a fantastic success. The two panelists Rabbi Welcher and Rabbi Dr. Glatt Md were superb. In the past, we had the zchus of the National Council of Young Israel Rabbonim with Rabbi Binyamin Hammer, Rabbi Zvi Gluck of AMUDIM, and many others. Dr Norman Blumenthal I cannot ever forget so grateful for his sincere expertise. Achdus is so important. It really means with ones heart. The seminar gave another perspective of how and why Orthodox Jewish Healthcare Chaplains are professionals and why following al pi halacha is so important. 

“The Alshich explains that Moses called all the people together to impress upon them that the mitzvos are incumbent upon everyone equally. Judaism does not subscribe to the idea that “holy people” are obligated in commandments that do not apply to “ordinary “people, or that they have a greater responsibility that others to observe them scrupulously. Thus, the command to be holy applies to everyone, and this being so, it is axiomatic that every Jew has the potential for holiness.” (Artscroll The Stone Edition Chumash Parshas Kedoshim 19:2 page 120)” 

“You shall love your fellow as yourself. The Alter of Slobodka said “The commandment is to love others Kamocha, as you love yourself. Just as you love yourself instinctively, without looking for reasons, so you should love others even without reason.” How to love another. HaKsav V’HaKabbalah offers a list of realistic examples of how one can fulfill this commandment in ways that are possible ( a ) Your affection for others should be real, not feigned: ( b )Always treat others with respect. ( c ) Always seek the best for them. (d ) Join in their pain ( e ) Greet them with friendliness ( f ) Give them the benefit of the doubt. ( g )Assist them physically, even in matters that are not very difficult.(h)Be ready to assist with small or moderate loans and gifts. ( I ) Do not consider yourself better than them.”(ibid 19:18 page 118 – 119). As chaplains and rabbonim, we seek to care for others with sincerity and a full heart. 

The naming of this precious great granddaughter took place this past Shabbos at the Yeshiva Derech Chaim in Brooklyn. For many years my wife and sons before we knew each other not only davened there, but had a close relationship with the Roshei Yeshiva and Rebbetzins. What a wonderful zchus the baby was given my wife’s name in a makom Kadosh she considered home. There is a special bonding between the neshama of my wife and the neshama of the baby with her name. I am very pleased especially since I am familiar with the kedusha of Yeshiva Derech Chaim and the many wonderful neighbors of the community who my wife was very close with. She was able to bring all of her warmth, kindness and sanctity of life with Torah Avoda and Gemilus Chasadim she was so renown for in her neighborhood of Kensington Brooklyn, to the Lower East Side when we married and truly expanded the entire family into one with her tremendous love and keen understanding of life. 

I would like to share with you from Aish.Com from Aish HaTorah, when I was seeking some direction and answers about baby naming. 

Keila is a Yiddish name derived from the Hebrew word “Keli,” which means “vessel.” A talented person is often referred to as “Keli” – a complete vessel, capable of performing great things.

The importance of naming a person correctly is seen by the reference in the Talmud — the explanation of the Five Books of Moses — which tells us that the night before a name is chosen, an angel comes down and whispers the name into the ear of the parents. It is considered that the very essence and personality of a soul will be bound to the person for whom he or she is named. It is considered best to choose the name of a person with a great respect for learning the Torah who was known for doing good deeds and living a long, fruitful life. Hence, many people name their children after learned grandparents or saintly Torah scholars. Within Orthodox Jewish communities, people tend to only give Jewish names to their children without translating them into English versions. In the Talmud, Leviticus Rabbah 32:5, it states that God took the Jews out of slavery in Egypt because they kept their names and did not assimilate by using Egyptian names. From this it can be seen how important the tradition of a naming ceremony is for Orthodox Jews, who try to maintain Biblical customs and adhere strictly to the laws of the Torah.

A name defines a person’s essence. Choose carefully.

The naming of a Jewish child is a most profound spiritual moment. The Sages say that naming a baby is a statement of her character, her specialness, and her path in life. For at the beginning of life we give a name, and at the end of life a “good name” is all we take with us. (see Talmud – Brachot 7b; Arizal – Sha’ar HaGilgulim 24b)

Further, the Talmud tells us that parents receive one-sixtieth of prophecy when picking a name. An angel comes to the parents and whispers the Jewish name that the new baby will embody.

Yet this still doesn’t seem to help parents from agonizing over which name to pick!

So how do we choose a name? And why is the father’s name traditionally not given to a son – e.g. Jacob Cohen Jr., Isaac Levy III? Can a boy be named after a female relative? Can the name be announced before the Bris?

Jewish Customs

Naming a Jewish baby is not only a statement of what we hope she will be, but also where she comes from.

Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of naming a child after a relative who has passed away. This keeps the name and memory alive, and in a metaphysical way forms a bond between the soul of the baby and the deceased relative. This is a great honor to the deceased, because its soul can achieve an elevation based on the good deeds of the namesake. The child, meanwhile, can be inspired by the good qualities of the deceased – and make a deep connection to the past. (Noam Elimelech – Bamidbar)

The name forms a metaphysical bond between the baby and the deceased relative

What if you would like to use the name of a relative who passed away, but another living relative has the same name? In that case, if the living relative is closely related to the baby – parent, grandparent, or sibling – then you should not use the name. Otherwise, it’s okay.

Sephardi Jews also name children after relatives who are still alive. This source is from the Talmud, which records a child named after Rabbi Natan while he was still alive (Shabbat 134a).

Some customarily choose a name based on the Jewish holiday coinciding with the birth. For example, a baby born at Purim-time might be named Esther or Mordechai. A girl born on Shavuot might be named Ruth, and a child born on Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning, might be named Menachem or Nechamah.

Similarly, names are sometimes chosen from the Torah portion corresponding to the week of the birth. Many names and events are mentioned in each Torah portion, offering a spiritual connection between the baby and that particular biblical figure.

Inner Meaning

In Hebrew, a name is not merely a convenient conglomeration of letters. Rather the name reveals its essential characteristic. The Midrash (Genesis Raba 17:4) tells us that the first man, Adam, looked into the essence of every creature and named it accordingly. The donkey, for example, is characterized by carrying heavy, physical burdens. So in Hebrew, the donkey is named chamor – from the same root as chomer, which means materialism. (Contrast this with English, where the word “donkey” doesn’t reveal much about the essence of a donkey!)

The same idea applies to names of people. For example, Leah named her fourth son Judah (in Hebrew, Yehudah). This comes from the same root as the word “thanks.” The letters can also be rearranged to spell out the holy Name of God. The significance is that Leah wanted to particularly express her “thanks to God.” (Genesis 29:35)

Choose a name that will have a positive effect, since the person is constantly reminded of its meaning.

It is important to choose a name that will have a positive effect, since every time it is used the person is reminded of its meaning (Midrash Tanchuma – Ha’Azinu 7). The person who is called Judah is constantly reminded of how much gratitude we should have toward God!

Esther, the hero of the Purim story, is a name which comes from the word “hidden.” Esther was known to be a very beautiful woman (she was chosen to be queen), but whatever her external appearances, her hidden internal qualities were even more beautiful.

May we all be zoche to be blessed with all the capabilities, with strength of mind, body and soul, and a good heart to fulfill the mitzvos and care for our fellow Jew and all of humanity. By doing so, we will fulfill the mitzvos with determination and with the right mind and spirit. We will be mekadeish H and serve the Ribono Shel Olam filled with love and sincerity. Of course, it would not hurt to do so with a heart of gold and a smile filled with sunshine that radiates and represents our desire for kindness and goodness. Sincerely and respectfully, Rabbi Yehuda Blank

Last week I mentioned about wearing my police department uniform with a sash. I was  representing the Shotrim Society which is the Jewish fraternal organization of the New York City Housing Authority Police Department of which I was both the uniformed police department chaplain and the spiritual director of the Shotrim Society. It meant a lot for them as their chaplain to march together with all the other Jewish police societies at the Israel Day Parade. I am on the left with other police members of the Shomrim Society of the NYPD and Shotrim Society and another police department representative.