My mother Betty Hilton, of blessed memory, was a truly righteous woman who overcame challenges including early widowhood to found several spiritual groups for women. She became a leader in our local Jewish community, and ultimately served as a professional hospital chaplain in her seventies.
Unfortunately, my mother passed away from complications of abrain tumor at the age of 75. On the day of her December funeral, the weather was a record high for San Antonio and then when we got to the graveside, it dropped from about 85F to 35F and a cold wintry wind–ruach-began to blow.
In the days after my mother’s passing, I felt as if I had received a measure of her ruach spirit. I was saying things she might have said, in her tone of voice, feeling like it was coming “through her” to me.
When I returned home from sitting shivah for her, I decided to look up the passage about Elisha getting a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. I picked up a little Hebrew bible with translation, supposing it would take me a while to find the selection, since I didn’t know the exact location. I felt a moment of spiritual connection as my Bible/Tanakh opened instantly to the right place. Although the sensation of having my mother speak through me didn’t last long, there were many occasions when I asked to draw upon her spirit of chaplaincy when making pastoral calls as a rabbi. And as a good friend of my parent’s said, “Your mother will continue to live on in you; really.”
This kind of experience does not only apply to the spirit of a departed loved one. Previously my Mom used to say that I was “channeling” the (alive and well!) dean of my rabbinic program, Rabbi Marcia Prager, when I led a particularly inspiring life-cycle event. As a rabbi, before I lead a service, ritual, or class, I pause to connect my heart to God and also to the wisdom of my own rabbis, teachers and guides (as well as my colleagues and students).
When a teacher, spiritual leader or family member has been important to our own development, we can honor them by being fully ourselves while realizing that part of them is now part of us, too.
Our loved ones and teachers live within us like Elijah’s spirit continued in Elisha.
–Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan
Featured Image: My mother, age 60, holding my youngest daughter as an infant