This week’s Parsha records the passing of Miriam and that she was buried in a place called Kadesh on the outskirts of the land of Israel. Miriam was 126 years old. Our Sages tell us that Miriam was buried immediately after she passed away. Commentators point out that Miriam was not suitably eulogized, and therefore, immediately after her death, the Jews lacked water. They then realized that the water from the rock that hydrated them throughout the 40 years of travel in the desert was due to Miriam’s merit, and now that she was gone, the rock stopped producing water. The Jews then reflected on her greatness and mourned over the profound loss of Miriam the prophetess.

Our Sages teach us that Miriam’s death is written in the Torah right after the Torah speaks of the law of the Red Heifer which purified and atoned a person and vessels that came into contact with a corpse. This is in order to teach us that the death and loss of a great and holy person also brings atonement to the Jewish people.

I’m sharing the following story to bring an awareness of an important matter; and to convey someone’s great resolve to make sure to do things right while dealing with a great loss.

Over the past 20 years we became friends with a wonderful couple who lived in Northeastern PA. About eight years ago they moved to Florida. We still maintained a connection with them.

During Covid when I began giving classes on Zoom, the woman joined the class frequently. A while later, she was diagnosed with cancer and we prayed for them and visited them in their home. Amazingly, she would join classes on Zoom while she was receiving treatments. Sadly, she passed away just about this time last year.

Her husband called me and told me that she wished that I conduct the funeral. I made reservations and when I was just about to board the plane I called their nephew (they had no children) to check in to see if everything was set and taken care of. He mentioned that the plan was that she be encrypted on the seventh floor of the mausoleum. I was shocked! I had no idea that these was her wishes, and I thought I had been clear when I originally asked if all the traditional rituals were in place.

This was all happening as I was getting settled into my seat on the plane. I told the nephew I’ll keep in touch.

I quickly called a Chevra Kadisha ―burial society―member who I know in Florida and told him about my predicament. He told me that the funeral homes sell this more economical way of ‘burial’ and that the clients are not aware that it is against our Halacha and they also don’t know that due to the extreme heat in the airtight space of the stainless-steel caskets, the bodies eventually explode inside due to bodily gases. He told me that he had reinterred 75 of these type of mausoleum burials after family members became aware of the problems with it. He told me, “Dovid, you need to explain to the family what might happen and he wished me luck.” I called my rabbi and sought guidance about how to proceed.

When I landed in Ft. Lauderdale I picked up my rental car and proceeded straight to my friend’s home. The husband was very distraught and was mourning deeply over the loss of his beloved wife. They were just a month short of celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

We sat together for some time while he emotionally shared memories. When I felt the time was appropriate to discuss the funeral and the arrangements, I segued into expressing how I was caught by surprise about the mausoleum arrangements. I related what the Chevra Kadisha member told me about what eventually occurs to the body. The husband told me that he too was thinking about it, and he had second thoughts about it. He was just not sure what to do, since his wife thought that it was a viable way to be buried since it was offered by the Jewish based funeral home.

I told him that it is not a Halachic approved way of burial and I unfortunately couldn’t be involved in the burial procedure.

He thought about it and then realized that he had secured and paid for the same mausoleum arrangements as his wife, and was really concerned about it. He asked me if he switched to a regular burial for his wife and for himself, would that violate her wishes which included being buried in the dress she had bought for her anniversary party. I related to him that from her vantage point now, where her Neshama/soul is in the world of truth, she would certainly want to be buried in the in the ground as is the proper way to be buried.

Their nephew, who was in the room the entire time, then spoke up and said his father who died some eighteen months earlier, had at first made mausoleum arrangements but as his illness progressed he switched to in-ground burial.

At this point the husband made up his mind to make the switch. We needed to contact the funeral home. The funeral home director called back and said it was possible to switch; the only problem was that since it was already 6 pm and the funeral was set for 12 the next day, Thursday, there was no way to perform a Teharah – ritual cleansing and dressing the body ―in time for the funeral. The burial would have to be Friday. There was also no way of notifying friends to switch the funeral to Friday. The funeral remained set for Thursday.

The husband’s resolve to switch to a traditional burial was very strong. In fact, the difference in cost between their original burial plan and the current plan was $30,000 dollars for the both of them!

As our meeting came to an end, I felt that it was an auspicious time to pray, and I asked that we all stand up together and pray for our needs – it was a truly emotional few moments.

The funeral was conducted on Thursday and at the end of the service I announced that a traditional burial will be conducted privately with only family members. The casket was escorted out to a waiting hearse and family and friends mingled and then dispersed.

Her traditional burial, thank G-d, was done on Friday morning.

May the memory of Mindel Leah bas Mordechai be of a blessing to her special and lofty soul!