Hello all 🙂
’tis the Jewish holiday season. Most people send Rosh Hashanna (New Year’s) Greetings. Bec and I are a bit strange and we send Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) Greetings. This is the 13th year I’ve done this. The reason I send a Yom Kippur Greeting is simple. On every Yom Kippur, we Jews ask forgiveness from G-d for those areas where we’ve fallen short in our relationship with him. But we can’t ask G-d for forgiveness of our sins against our fellow man. We need to ask the people we’ve insulted or damaged or slighted for that forgiveness. For Bec and I, you are our fellows.
So, Jewish or not, please take a few minutes and allow me to share my thoughts…
Earlier this year, Rabbi Taub of Baltimore – the Breeder Rebbe – passed away after his car was struck by a drunk driver. The best guesses are that he was in his 90s. He had a family and eight children before the Holocaust. He lost them all. After the Holocaust he had another family. Having suffered the pain he had suffered, you would expect a hard man, a reserved man, a man pulling on some tremendous pool of inner strength just to keep going every day. But he wasn’t like that.
Upon hearing of Rabbi Taub’s death, my father wrote: “I have met many “Men of God” both Jewish and otherwise. The Breeder Rebbe, whom I saw once and exchanged greetings once, was simply on another plain, another dimension, while being of and part of the world. I remember everything when I exchanged greetings with the Breeder Rebbe a year ago January. I will never forget his eyes, his interest, his concern, his curiosity. A Man of God. with enormous charisma, power and intellect.”
Prior to this Yom Kippur, I want to ask all of you for your forgiveness for any insult or damage I caused you this year. I extend the same forgiveness to all of you, although nothing comes to mind. I know I haven’t always done or said the right thing – but I truly don’t mean to harm people and I sincerely apologize for the times I’ve done so.
I want to go further though. In my mind, there is a second level of mechila, or forgiveness. We don’t only need to seek forgiveness for specific injuries we may have caused – we need to seek forgiveness for the good we failed to do. In our relationships with other people, we can accomplish more. This was really the theme of my message last year. At that point, given the overwhelming goal of having a child, I missed other opportunities to do good and add to the world.
This year, Rebecca and I have been tremendously blessed in a whole lot of ways. Best of all has been the birth of our little daughter Nava Margalit. This has been a year of tremendous joy. And, heeding my own advice from last year, I have looked elsewhere to see where I can add and where I can help. With blessing has come opportunity – and while my execution hasn’t been perfect, I have certainly tried to keep my eyes open and pursue whatever good I can find. We try to appreciate that blessing needs to be an opportunity to add more beauty and holiness to the world – not just a benefit to enjoy.
As a new dad, I’m only beginning to grasp the beginnings of what Nava means to my life. People talk about having kids as a major demarcation point – that life is totally transformed when that first kiddo comes along. Strangely, and perhaps this is because of the anticipation and the preparation (and the long established love of kiddos), this hasn’t been the case for me. In a whole lot of ways, life hasn’t changed that much. But at the same time, I can feel the rumblings of a fundamental shift.
At the core of it is the feeling that with the birth of our baby daughter, Bec and I now have more in common with Jewish parents from 1,000 years ago than we do with ourselves of five years ago. It is like life is a bunch of slices – slices that others may have experienced and that you can relate to. As a kid you can relate to kids from thousands of years ago more than you can relate to the sages or philosophers of that time, or even of our own. Despite all that’s changed, you can put yourself in those kids’ shoes. You share the same slice. With the birth of Nava, we’ve adding a new slice to our collection – the slice of Jewish parenthood and continuity. With her birth, it is like we’ve finally stepped into a place in the clockwork of Jewish heritage.
As a kid, it is easy to be engaged with your world – to be excited and interested and interactive. But many adults find the same kind of wonderment and exploration hard to achieve. The world can be a very difficult place. Even without hardship, the very concept of death and aging can be a very challenging thing to live with. Many blind themselves with either the drug of stability (which robs them of the full potential of life) or the metrics of accomplishment like money, power or the relative accomplishments of others. My preferred approach is to take what I’ve accomplished and add in all the extra time I could have been working, and get a picture of my missed potential. How much time do I waste playing civ (an interesting, but worthless computer game)? How many opportunities to get work done do I overlook? etc…
In this way, I push myself to accomplish more and to reach my potential.
But on some level, I am technically living the slices of life without really tasting them. I am too focused on achieving the measurable, and it can be a shortcoming. It is only by tasting those slices that I can fully appreciate not only my own life, but life itself. By tasting those slices, I can touch and understand the lives of many others – and augment my own experiences by what they learned. By tasting those slices, I can bring my measurable accomplishments to entirely new plain.
On Passover, Jews read a paragraph from the Torah that begins: “My father was a wandering Aramean…” When we read it, the experience is meant to be immediate – not distant. *We* were brought out from Egypt – not some distant people from the past. With the Passover Seder, a ritual with thousands of history, we are meant to connect with the slices of the past. Time compresses. Until Nava came along, I’d always been challenged by that idea. It was something I had to fool myself into. Now I don’t need to. With Nava, I’m finally appreciating that the Jewish family is a family with 3,000 years of shared experience and that I can connect with my forebearers and tremendously augment my life with the richness of theirs. They shared that same event every year going back to the first Passover – and as Jews celebrating this event, we really can fuse ourselves with their experience.
I mentioned the Breeder Rav earlier. When it comes to knowing life’s hardships, and when it comes to knowing death, few have had more challenging experiences than he. Many of those, understandably, have withdrawn from life. But many others, like the Breeder Rebbe himself, have a tremendous amount to teach us. Despite the horrors he endured, he continued to engage with everything and everyone. By doing so, he added to the lives of everyone he encountered. He became a touchstone for the central nerve of Jewish experience. To me, that sort of engagement is the hallmark of a Tzaddik (a righteous person).
It says that when Aaron, Moses’ brother, died, he was “gathered to his people.” If your life as a Tzaddik is about connecting with the lives of your people, then no better description of life’s completion can exist.
The fact is, I can just be Nava’s dad and help take care of diapers and entertaining her. Or I can make the effort to totally engage with her: to feel warmth, through and through, with her every smile; to sing her nightly Shema with the power of the one hundred generations who have come before me; and to raise her to be a Eishet Chayil (woman of worth) like so many who have come before her. And I can teach her to do the same with her children, G-d willing. These are two ways of raising my daughter, and they are completely different. And it doesn’t stop with her. It continues with every relationship and every conversation and every moment of life. I can live an accomplished life, or I can live an accomplished life which bursts with the flavor and beauty and holiness of thousands of years of history. If I do the second, I can understand life in a way that simply isn’t possible otherwise. And, as the Breeder Rav showed, even a simple conversation can occupy an entirely different plain.
It took little three-month-old Nava to enable me to understand this.
And so, this year, I ask for your forgiveness for the harm I committed. And I also ask your forgiveness for the entire facet of goodness and accomplishment that I’ve overlooked.
And Bec and I (and Nava, we presume) wish you all a year of blessing, a year of joy and a year in which you experience the fullness of life.
Shana Tova U’Metuka (May you have a good, and sweet, year)
Joseph Cox p.s. and for those who know what it means, don’t worry – I’m still a Litvak 🙂