Since my father passed away, I’ve taken it upon myself to read park bench inscriptions which more often than not, commemorate the lives of friends, family, and loved ones. Putting me in deep contemplation mode, thinking about my friends, family, and loved ones. Wondering who the people are that I will touch and be touched by most deeply, please G-d until 120, to inspire a park bench inscription.
This mode feels contrary to the last few days of summer, yet quite appropriate for the time on the Jewish calendar: Elul. The month before Rosh Hashanah, the day of Judgment not just for the Jewish people, but for the entire world.
Historically, this has been a time of trepidation, with complete awe and acknowledgment that as much as we like to control personal and world events, so much is out of our hands. And often follows an unpredictable course. Just looking back at this past year we saw:
· The election of Donald Trump as President of the Untied States – much to the chagrin and surprise of liberals across America – and some Trump voters too
· The Cubs winning the world series after 108 years in tie-breaking 10th inning overtime – ending what Major League Baseball called the longest drought in professional sports
· The New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history
· A never before made Oscars mistake that led to the producers of La La Land announcing the true winner of the Best Picture Oscar, Moonlight
All lending credence to this quote from the Gemara:
Never give up hope even when there is a sword on your neck. -- Berachot 10a
Was all that decreed on Rosh Hashanna?
According to Jewish theology, the answer is yes. Which just adds one more layer to the age-old question about fate vs. free will. Answered by our fathers:
Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. -- Pirkei Avot 3:19
It’s something my father used to say all the time. Not in those words exactly. He would say “it’s programmed in.” Yet at the same time he would often say “it’s up to you.” Meaning – we don’t know what’s programmed it so we still have to make choices. And we can only do so with the best information that’s available at the time.
The time when my father went to the hospital was the 7th day of Passover. The 7th day of Passover commemorates the day of the splitting of the sea. It’s a day of miracles. It was a miracle my father didn’t die that day based on what we learned at the hospital about his condition.
He needed a new heart valve, and three major arteries were between 97-99% blocked. My father kept speaking about the “collaterals” compensating, which I thought he was something he made up. He didn’t.
They can be thought of as the heart’s ‘back-up system’ as they are essentially invisible until activated, when they can enlarge their diameters in order to carry significant blood flow and bypass blockages.
Which right there is proof of G-d.
The doctors at the first hospital said he needed open-heart surgery. My dad wanted a second opinion and a shot at a less invasive procedure. It was his freedom of choice to do so. Yet those first doctors foresaw the outcome for sure.
Despite them being “right” – I feel like in many ways the last few months of my father’s life played out with divine intervention. And gave my family tremendous opportunity to to spend time with my dad we wouldn’t have otherwise had.
If I had the same level of clarity of G-d’s intervention in other areas of my life, I would never find myself crying about work or boys. Of course it’s easy to have clarity looking back. When we were in the middle of trying to decide which course of treatment for my dad, things weren’t so clear at all.
It reminds me of something my dad used to say about marriage. From my vantage point, because it hasn’t happened yet, it looks like a giant mountain to climb. But when looking back, after it’s happened, it will seem like a tiny hill.
My dad said really awesome things all the time.
Part of me wondered what he would have said about the Eclipse. If he would have marveled at its wonder, or just thought it was too much hype. He definitely would have said it was a bad idea if I mentioned I contemplated driving to South Carolina to see it. He was very much against situations involving long-distance driving and sitting in traffic.
This is how he saw the world. We all have our ways of seeing the world. More often than not, we act like our way of seeing the world is programmed in.
Tuesday night I went to a Torah class in Manhattan, probably the best Torah class I’ve been to since moving to Manhattan. The Rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Sherman of WSIS, challenged me to see the world a bit differently.
He started with this question: Why do we read Psalm 47 before the blowing of the Shofar? I loved that I didn’t know the answer. I knew an answer. Just not his answer.
The Psalm starts: For the Conductor, by the sons of Korah, a Song. (47:1). What is notable about this Psalm? It wasn’t written by David.
King David is famously known as the author of Tehillim. Yet 3 of the 150 were authored by the sons of Korach. And Korach, according to the bible, was despicable.
He organized a rebellion against Moshe. He saw everything Moshe did as a sign that he was trying to usurp power, not be a true representative of G-d. In the end Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth. And his sons?
Apparently they wrote three Tehillim.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin – still quoting Rabbi Sherman – said that in the swallowed earth – some version of Hell, Korach’s sons could be hear saying this: Moses and Torah are truth, and they, referring to themselves, are liars.
Meaning, it’s never too late to see things differently.
There is a famous Jewish quote from the Gemara Rosh Hashanah 16b, change your place, change your luck. We think it means physical place. Sometimes it does. It can also mean our vantage point too.
Another famous quote says insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Which means insanity is seeing things the same way over and over and expecting things to be different.
Since my father’s passing, I have seen him differently. I have heard stories from the women he worked with, how much they loved working for him, how much his patients loved him – something I would have never have known since my dad was not emotive in that sort of way. I saw him buried with military honors, and a man presenting my brother with a meticulously folded flag and words starting with this: “On behalf of the President of the United States. . . “
I saw his 9-year old grandson, my nephew, spontaneously deliver a eulogy for him, with no notes, acknowledging the good things my father did for him.
My father was so much holier and more awesome than I ever realized. A viewpoint solidified when my brother told me a story that in one of the minyanim, a service that my brother leads daily to say a special mourner’s prayer, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yisroel Meier Lau, was in attendance.
How in the world did that happen?
Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven (Berachot 33b).
The word for fear in Hebrew is yirah. Also translated to awe. Also related to the word Re’eh, to see. We fear things based on how we see them. And we are in awe of things based on how we see them too.
My goal this Rosh Hashanna is change the way I see things. It was during the eclipse pandemonium that I freaked out that I might have damaged my eyes, contemplating how difficult life would be if I was unable to physically see. Now is the time when I need to get a grasp on how hard life is when I can’t spiritually see. My goal this Rosh Hashanah is to let G-d know that I want to see things with the right lenses.
The Scorpions remind me:
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change
And world events remind that too much wind will Rock you Like a Hurricane.
May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good and sweet new year!