My Grandmother lived a rich, full life. There was some debate when she died whether she was 99 or 100, but either way, it was a full life.
My grandmother and that side of the family go back a long way in this country. In fact, my grandmother and great grandmother were both members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but resigned in 1939 when the DAR refused to allow Marian Anderson, an African American singer, to perform in the DC Headquarters. Although my Grandmother was not observant, she felt that being Jewish was an extremely important part of her life.
My Grandmother married a cohen, Herbert Marker, and both were community leaders. Not just in the Jewish community, but for the entire community. Two things from today's parsha -- Emor -- reminded me of my Grandmother. First, like the Cohanim chosen as the leaders of the people, my Grandmother and Grandfather were very conscious of the idea of "kedoshim t'hiyu" of setting an example as leaders of exemplary conduct. They knew that as leaders they would be judged not just as Herbert and Rose Marker, but as the "Jews from Benson Herst" active in Brooklyn politics. In all matters, they conducted themselves with the idea of "kedoshim t'ihiyu."
Second, oddly enough, is the matter of the Blasphemer. The incident of the Blasphemer rings odd in modern ears. How can God be so petty that merely cursing his name brings the punishment of death? Aren't we all taught as children that mere words are not cause for violent response? "Sticks and stones," etc.
I suggest that one important lesson of the Blashpemer is that little things matter. They matter a great deal. And when one can treat God so lightly that one can curse him before the assembly simply to show anger, then it means that respect for God is seriously diminished. We respond with such vigor because this apparently minor action corrodes the foundation on which the entire religion lies.
My Grandmother beleived very much that the little things mattered. She had a strong sense of propriety and politeness. She did not tolerate bad language or bad manners. As a visiting grandchild, I rarely appreciate this. In retrospect, however, it makes a great deal of sense.
And it served my Grandmother well, even into her last days. Although my grandmother remained reasonably physically mobile and comfortable until her final weeks, her memory slipped away many years before the end. Always, however, her iron will and sense of propriety allowed her to carry on with dignity and courage. She may not have remembered who I was, even from moment to moment, but she remained gracious and polite with a positive attitude. She died well and with dignity, under circumstances that usually rob one of dignity, because she had a strong foundation. When all else had fallen away, that foundation still remained, because she had not allowed little things to undermine it.