Fifth Yom Kippur Greeting

It’s raining. And the artist is outside. Working with clay.

It’s maddening. He’s trying to shape it. He’s trying to make it into something beautiful. But he can’t.

For some reason, the rain isn’t affecting the clay at all. It feels perfectly smooth in his hands. And, as he runs his fingers over it, it obeys his every command. He can shape it, perfectly.

But it won’t become beautiful.

It’s in the middle of the day, and the artist is sitting on a pier. Not a beautiful pier overlooking some blue eyed lake, but a concrete pier. Massive and wide. And surrounded by the heavy industry of a port. He sits there, all alone in the middle of the day. It’s dreary, gray, almost dark. And it is raining.

The artist’s clothes are soaked. His hands are working feverishly as they search, together with his eyes, for the solution to his dilemma. But he can not solve the problem. He can not make the sculpture beautiful.

He stands back for a moment. Just to stare at his work through his rain soaked glasses. He sees it clearly. In front of him, and in his mind. It is perfect, there is no ugliness.

And yet, there is no beauty.

He casts his eyes downwards – towards the concrete of the pier. A massive ship looms over him. And he waits, dejected.

Hours pass, night comes, the day returns, and night comes yet again. Slowly, the dock begins to fill with people. Working people, loading and unloading cargo, running the business of the dock. They trudge through the puddles of rainwater, decked out in galoshes, heavy raincoats and wide brimmed waterproof hats. And each and every one of them stops. They stop to look at the sculpture, to admire the work, and to take pleasure in it. And they stop, every one of them, to wonder about the artist, as he stands still, dejected, staring at the ground beneath him.

Slowly, over days, the artist raises his eyes. And slowly, over days, the clouds begin to break. The rain stops, and a sliver of sunlight casts itself over the harbor. People still dart, to and fro, and every one of them still stops to admire the sculpture. Perhaps, they stand still, staring at it, for a moment longer than they did before. And, a few begin to see the beauty of the artist.

With time, his eyes bring themselves up and over the sculpture. And he sees that it is Beauty. And the sculpture, still wet despite the heat of the sun, begins to see the artist. The artist, who is cold, hungry and weak – and oblivious to the time that has past.

The sun is overhead, and the waters of the harbor reflect a blue that belies their surroundings.

The artist and the sculpture stand together, and alone, upon the dock. They delight in each other as the sun casts its joy upon them.

Years pass, and they become one.

The greatest pleasure is to be able to look into one’s soul and see beauty…

***********************

I have spent most of my life trying to improve myself. Trying to eliminate my shortcomings. As time passed, my focus switched from one problem to the next. When I started the exercise, I was trying to control my anger. Laziness was a target for some time. And last year, haughtiness was enemy number one. Over time, I’ve largely overcome these problems.

Most years I’ve had to think about what to say in my Yom Kippur greeting. I’ve had to examine myself, and probe for my mistakes of the past year. And when I found them, I’ve had to ask all of you for forgiveness – for slights known and unknown. This year the process is a different.

A little explanation is in order:

This past year was an important one in my life. Many of my friends know me to be care free, to be happy, and to take whatever path I see in front of me. And with G-d’s help, to meet with success despite the apparent flippancy of my decision-making process.

A few years ago, Shoshana Levin (a very good friend of mine for those of you who don’t know her) told me that she knew I’d be a success, because unlike many people around me, I didn’t have a plan. So, even if the world around me fell apart, I wouldn’t. Shoshana also implied, correctly, that its best for me not to adhere to strongly to a plan. This year I forgot that lesson.

For the first time since I was a little kid, I was stressed out. Not artificially stressed out as I tend to make myself to get myself to work, but actually stressed out, like a ball of tightly clenched muscle.

It was because I had a goal, I made a plan, the plan failed, and I forgot the goal for the plan. Just as Shoshanna had said I shouldn’t do.

For years, I imagined myself growing up to be a tycoon in the image of the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts and the Mellons. I thought I would be somebody who would be able to give away billions of dollars to those in need. An influential person, and a powerful one. Hashem has granted me many, many blessings, and I felt that if I didn’t succeed on that level, my life would have failed in some way.

Then, in May of this year, I shut down Aeslyn Education. The decision took me a long time to make, and I talked about it with dozens of people. And then I did it. I was stressed out before, and devastated afterwards.

I’ve never much cared for jobs. A career doesn’t address what I want. And it seems to me like I’m not made out for one. Without Aeslyn, I was floating without a purpose. I had attached myself to business as the path to my real goal – which was to give Tzedakah and be a mensch.

About a month after Aeslyn failed, I revisited an idea I had had about a year before. It’s called Chai-a-Day. Chai-a-Day is an Internet site where people can sign up to give $.18 or $.36 or even $18/day to a different Tzedakah every day. Thousands of people’s donations will be pooled together each day, and a check will be made out to the Tzedakah de jour. Chai-a-Day revitalized me. It gave me a new path towards my goal. And, I’ve come to realize, it has given me a new goal as well.

I saw that Chai-a-day was something better than what the Vanderbilts, the Mellons and the Carnegies did. Chai-a-Day is about more than giving Tzedakah. It’s about encouraging others to give Tzedakah. And about encouraging others to encourage others to give Tzedakah. I see it almost as the MLM of the charitable world. Chai-a-Day is about experiencing Tzedakah as a joy, and not as a duty or an obligation.

Perhaps most importantly, Chai-a-Day made me realize that I should not simply focus on improving myself. Because the best I’ll do is eliminate imperfections. To create beauty, I’ve got to help others enjoy life and encourage others to create beauty in their own souls… two things that are in many ways one and the same.

So I’m going into this Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur with a different plan than in the past.

This year, I have finally realized that on Yom Kippur we not only wash away the mistakes of the year past and steel ourselves to avoid them in the year to come. We also look for ways to create good in the year to come.

As always, I ask all of you to forgive me for any slight, insult or damage, known or unknown, which I have caused you in the past year. I have tried my hardest to avoid such things, and I know that I’ve fallen short this year, just as I have in the past. Nonetheless, I would like your forgiveness. And, as always, I forgive all of you for any slights you may have caused me, although, once again, none come to mind.

But this year there’s something more. Unlike in the past, I’m also asking all of you to cast Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanna as the festivals they are. Take these two Chagim as opportunities not only to put away the bad, but to bring about the good.

L’Shana Tova,

Joseph Cox

p.s. I know I’m not the first to approach Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur this way. I know many of you already do. But the opportunity for *me* to do so for the first time excites me nonetheless.

p.p.s. I know this is a little early, but I wrote it early this year and I don’t like sitting on copy. So give me an advanced forgiveness notice if you would 🙂

Mini-dictionary:
Tzedakah: Charity
Mensch: Basically good guy
Chagim: Festivals

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