Home > D'vrei Torah > Some Thoughts on Ed, Farrah, and Michael: D’var Torah, 6-27-09

Some Thoughts on Ed, Farrah, and Michael: D’var Torah, 6-27-09

Someone else gave the d’var torah at synagogue on June 27, but I was leading services, and I had to say something about the notable celebrity deaths of the previous few days. I figured I would prepare something in case I was asked to deliver the eulogy at Michael Jackson’s funeral, but alas, Jermaine never called. (Latoya did, but that was just weird).

Some Thoughts on Ed, Farrah, and Michael: My D’var Torah at Shir Chadash 6/27/09

Michael Jackson from 1984 (Public Domain)

On Thursday, people who used the web service Twitter were encouraged to include in their “tweets” the name of Gilad Shalit so that his name would show up in the list of the top trending topics of the day. That way, people using Twitter would see his name among the top trends and remember that after three years he was still in captivity. For a while that day, it was successful, and Gilad’s name was ranked among the top trends appearing on the site. That is until mid-morning Thursday when news about Farrah Fawcett’s death hit the internet and then later that afternoon when people started talking about Michael Jackson. For several hours late Thursday, the internet was at a virtual standstill, as Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, Wikipedia, and Google News all suffered from the huge pileup of internet traffic from fans wanting to learn about and discuss the death of these pop icons.

This week, three celebrities left us but their loss means more than what we may read about in People or hear a blurb about on Entertainment Tonight. We lost three icons- people who we’ve come to know and love and who have played a part in our growing up or in our nightly rituals or in the music to which we and our kids have danced.

Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon (photo by Christa Chapman)

For twenty years, Ed McMahon was part of our nightly soundtrack as Johnny Carson’s sidekick on the Tonight Show, and for many of us his distinctive laugh and “Hiyooo” was one of the last things we heard every night before going to sleep. Farrah Fawcett was an international sex symbol of the 1970s and 80s and who can forget her indelible image from 1976 that became the top-selling pin-up poster of all time. 12 million copies of her poster decorated the walls of impressionable teenagers. And finally, Michael Jackson, for whom we must overlook the media scandals and eccentricities of recent years and remember him as a musical legend—holding the Guinness World record of Most Successful Entertainer of All Time. With 13 Grammy Awards, 13 number one singles, and 750 million records sold worldwide, you have to reach a very far corner of the Earth to find someone who hadn’t heard of Michael Jackson or had been affected by his music. He was a revolutionary singer, songwriter, dancer, and musician and spent a large portion of his short life as an inspiration to millions.

Ed, Farrah, and Michael were three of our icons—and as we remember them this Shabbat, our mission is to focus not on the troubles that the three of them have had in recent past. Troubles showcased and trumpeted by the media and gossiped about by many. Twitter, blogs, and Facebook have all been overloaded with comments, tributes, gossip and innuendos about the loss of these three icons. But the rabbis teach us to focus on these individuals in the vital roles that they served. In Pirkei Avot, chapter 1 mishna 6, we’re taught “select a master-teacher for yourself, acquire a colleague for study; When you assess people, tip the balance in their favor.” “Dan l’kaf z’chut”—giving someone the benefit of the doubt. A teaching based on a line from Leviticus Chapter 19 verse 15, “in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” In our torah reading this morning, we read about the 14,700 people who died from a plague because they followed the rebellious words of Korach instead of believing in the power of G-d. Korach’s bile spread like wildfire around the camp, and the people focused on the gossip, the lashon hara, and the negative stories. For that, they were sentenced to die.

And so on this Shabbat, as we take a break from E News, and TMZ, and Perez Hilton, and Twitter, and the Drudge Report—all of whom are trying to increase their viewership by being the first to release a scandalous story or an intrusive picture, we remember those we lost this week for the good that they have done and for the lives they have touched. We focus on Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson as our entertainers, as part of our lives, as our companions through our growing up. We focus on their laughter, on their spirit, and on the joy they brought us for which they made their lives ambition to spread. May their loved ones be comforted among the mourners of Zion and may their memories be for a blessing.

Will Samuels
Shir Chadash, Metairie, LA
June 27, 2009

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