Your list of wishes and hopes for the coming year are probably exactly the same as mine. No doubt high on that list are the important “big ones:” Peace in Israel and the world at large, financial stability, safety in our communities, and health and happiness in our personal lives.
But security and stability are not all that we wish for. It is only natural that we should want to keep growing, advancing beyond our current position. And so we also worry about such things as which school to choose for our children’s education and future possibilities; who should we include in our own circle of friends;
are we where we need to be at this point and stage in life; when will we have enough to retire and finally relax, and so on.
For me, the answer to these weighty questions is one word: Action. What are we actually doing today that will enable that growth to happen? Are we maximizing the possibilities of today?
A few days ago, I visited with Alexander, a 9-year-old patient at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Unfortunately, Alexander has many medical complications and is fighting with every fragile part of his body just to stay alive. I was there to give strength, love and support to him and to his family. What actually happened was just the opposite. This amazing, precious child taught me a lesson of life that I will never forget. Watching him fight for every moment of living made me appreciate the immense gift of life given by God to each of us.
One of our great sages was Rabbi David ben Solomon, known as Radvaz. He was one of those exiled from Spain in 1492 during the period of the Spanish Inquisition. Radvaz was asked the following question: A Jew had been cruelly imprisoned by the local nobleman, and after much pleading, the nobleman agreed to release him from jail for one day each year. The Jew was now in a quandary. What day should he choose? Should he ask for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year? Perhaps Passover should be the day, so that during the holiday of freedom he could join with his family and community? Or maybe it should be Hanukkah, the festival of lights?
Radvaz responded that he should seize the first possible opportunity to leave prison and engage in a mitzvah that could not be performed in jail, because when one has that opportunity one should not put it off. The most important day of the year is today!
We live for a purpose, and we are truly alive when we fulfill that purpose. As Jews, we are summoned by God to be a holy nation, partnering with the Creator to perfect the world by doing one more mitzvah today than we did yesterday, because yesterday’s mitzvah was yesterday’s mission, but today brings newer and greater abilities.
By conducting ourselves with integrity and with graciousness, by bringing sensitivity to our relationships, by radiating beauty from our homes, by using words to heal and not to hurt, every one of us can sanctify God’s name in the world.
In Literature and Dogma, the great poet and essayist Matthew Arnold writes: “As long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will come to Israel for inspiration, as to the people who have had the sense for righteousness most glowing and strongest.”
The Talmud tells us the story of how in the study hall there was a custom that the Talmudic sage would teach in a soft tone, after which one of his senior students would repeat those teachings to the study hall in a louder voice. One day the wife of the translator met the wife of the sage Rabbi Abahu, and said, “My husband does not need your husband to prompt him with the discourses, because he is just as learned, and for the fact that he bends down to hear the whispered discourse and then relays it to the audience, he merely does this for respect.”
Rabbi Abahu’s wife complained to her husband, “You must fire this ingrate, since he is not giving you the honor you deserve. One day he will yet claim that all your teachings came from him.”
“What difference does it make?” Rabbi Abahu replied. “Through me and through him let the One Above be praised!”
You see, the world is about action and about getting the job done. Seldom in the past have the opportunities been greater or the stakes so high. For the first time in many, many years we live in a free society in which Jews have the opportunity to participate in all political, ethical and cultural processes. This is a time when Judaic virtues are admired by non-Jews. We are praised for our strong community life, the warmth of the Jewish family, our passion for education, and our commitment to philanthropy. This means that we have the chance to be an outstanding voice in the moral conversations of mankind.
God’s name becomes sanctified when those who claim to have a relationship with Him use their faith to influence their lives. Our great sage Rabbi Abahu, the great Radvaz, and brave little Alexander show us that we too can live that way.
Our resolution for the coming year should be to utilize every moment available to us to live the fullest life possible, by acting nobly and ethically, seizing every mitzvah moment possible. In this way, we will bring honor to ourselves, to the Jewish people, and to God.
May we all be blessed with health, success and happiness!