Last weekend was Independence Day. Celebrating the 4th of July has always been a favorite time for me. Growing up we would visit my grandparents and cousins and spend the time at the beach in Connecticut. On the 4th we would go to the parade and celebrate the birth of America while honoring the military veterans who marched in the parade. These are some of my fondest memories.
As I got older, the 4th of July weekend became a time when I got together with friends. For the past 29 years, a bunch of us get together and spend the long weekend reconnecting, celebrating, and just having fun. We got together this year; however, it was a bit different.
Getting together with the same group of friends means two things. One, I’m very lucky to have such longtime, good friends. Second, we’re getting old. This year highlighted both. One of our friends couldn’t join us as he was put into hospice with two different forms of cancer. He passed away early this morning. Another friend did join us after he finished his chemo treatment this week. Cancer in both lungs. He’s halfway through chemo and when he finishes, he’ll undergo radiation for another cancerous spot that was found. Yet another friend, who has never joined us, went public with his terminal cancer status, letting everybody know that he has stopped treatment and is now saying his goodbyes. When I think of his little daughter who is preparing to lose her father, my heart cries in pain.
As I think of my friends battling or accepting their fate, I get filled with both sadness and gratitude. When you have these types of friends, it’s as if we have made a vow to each other to always be together. To always be there for each other. This week’s Torah portion, Parashot Matot-Masei focuses on promises, oaths, and vows. Judaism teaches not to make a verbal commitment unless you really mean it. Such a commitment is something one is morally obligated to honor, even if it later becomes inconvenient. That’s what these friendships are. Long time commitments, oaths, and promises to each other. When these friendships are impacted by health challenges and even impending death, it highlights just how important these oaths, vows and promises truly are.
One of the great things about the Jewish community is how we care for each other. Every day we make a vow and commitment to take care of our fellow Jews. One of our guiding principles is Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other. We don’t make these promises, vows, and oaths lightly. And we strive to live up to them each and every day.
As we prepare for Shabbat, hold your loved ones a little tighter. Call those who don’t live close. Invest in the relationships with friends that truly matter. Enjoy the wonders of our vows, oaths, and promises to each other. Our time is fleeting and it is our commitment to each other that truly makes our time special.