Mazal Tov. There’s this fellow who I know–a friend of a friend–who just had his first child earlier this month. I stopped into his work office later that week to congratulate him on the good news. He wanted to talk. It had been a big week for him and he was looking to unpack it all. Understandably so: he was coming from having experienced the fullest array of human emotions at their peak, and he wanted to share some of it with a fellow earth-dweller. So I listened.
He spoke about what the child means to him; how it’s changed his whole perspective on life; how he promises to take care of this child. There were complications in the childbirth, so he shared the conversations he had with G-d while internally willing his way through those hard moments–determined to stay in his right mind. And the exploding relief and unimaginable joy when the doctors brought him the baby to hold.
And then he told me about his recent interaction with his mother. He had disappointed his mom with some of the bigger life decisions he had made. She, not knowing how to handle her disappointment, had boxed him out of her life. They ached over their disconnect for many years. When his mother heard the news that his wife was pregnant, though, she gave him a call. Here’s the approximate gist of what she told him:
“You’re bringing new life into this world. You’re my son. You’re of my flesh and blood. I want you, your wife, and your child back in my life. Close to me. Please, let us let the healing begin.
“Oh, and I’m stoked to be a grandma soon!”
Something like that, anyway.
I enjoyed listening. I was honored, truly, that this man, much my senior, shared his heart with me. That’s not really the point, though.
It struck me only much later; I believe there is a valuable lesson to be had here, an underlying truth to this man’s story which might be a microcosm of something much bigger. Like New Years big. (Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Years, is tomorrow by the way. This worked out perfectly.)
Judgement. Forgiveness. Atonement. Sin. These are words thrown around quite freely surrounding the High Holiday season. These words strike a specific cord within our psyche, perhaps instilling in our conscience the gravity, solemnity and awesomeness of these annual landmarks. Still, these words are not usually shared with the most happy and positive of tones. Maybe if we’d just use more common everyday language, the High Holidays could mean something else entirely. It might just be a story.
There’s this child. Actually, first there are the parents, who brought this precious thing into being. They then raise the child. They have their hopes and (key word: reasonable) expectations of the kid. But the child is independent, though, and makes, well, independent choices. In the child’s all too human nature, the child wrecks up and disappoints the parents. Honestly, the child should have done better. The parents are maybe upset, but at the root of it, they are disappointed. They know their child could have done better.
Let’s make this extreme: the wreckage is irreparable. The child can not turn back the clock and undo their own making in this instance. A bad choice gone bad. It’s over.
But then there’s a moment where this realm — in which the bad choice occurred — ends, and they, the parents and the child, are transported to a deeper reality and truth. They experience a place in which no bad choice was made and the relationship was never strained, because, well, there were never any expectations. This is the realm of life itself. And in this universe, there was always only a child, with whom the parents are inextricably bound. Full stop.
Maybe it’s the birth of a new child in the family that carries them to this other realm. Conversely, it might be a sudden illness and the question of a loss that hits this core. The new truth is the same: there never was a disconnect in the first place.
Imagine this: an (extremely) insensitive person approaches the mother after just placing her all-important tear-filled phone call and tries having a “rational” discussion with her:
“So, I see you just spoke with Joe! How nice. So Joe must’ve fixed the bad choices he’s made hasn’t he?”
“Joe is my son. He is having a baby!”
“Didn’t he strongly disappoint you?”
“How could you say such a thing now?! He is my son. We are fixing our relationship.”
“Did he fix his mistakes?”
“He’s my son.”
You know what? She’s right. At least in the realm she’s in now, she is. The challenger and her are speaking two different languages. Challenger: realm of disconnected facts and occurrences; mother: reality of son.
I know, we all have to return to the universe of checks and balances, actions and consequences. But here’s what’s cool about the fantastical (albeit brief) experience of other realms: it trickles down into our daily-grind world as well. Because, after seeing the truth from a different angle, maybe that which I thought was irreparable isn’t irreparable at all. Maybe we could still hold on and make the here-on-out so much better. And maybe, we can even make the bond stronger than it ever was.
Now, in a religious sense, at the macro level:
Ultimately, doesn’t sin just mean a created being not living out their fullest potential and making a harmful decision? Well, then atonement–in our relationship with G-d–is the acute awareness that it is G-d who breathes our very life and that we were never for a moment separate from His all-encompassing Oneness. Which trickles into a resolution that we will do our very best to repair the hurting world; that we will live out His truth to the best of our abilities, starting with the little things. And judgement is that G-d looks at us as a piece of Him, as a product of His breath, and smiles. Resulting in a verdict that we be granted with the strength to succeed in our battles to come and thrive in the year ahead.
The year is ending. I’ve messed up. I want to live in the world where G-d is my truth. This year, I’ll try to make that world my world.
G-d’s world is a world where I’m constantly aware of Him. G-d’s world is a world where I respect others the way G-d respects them. And G-d’s world is a world where I’m aware of my shortcomings, but I go at it, I work on it, day after day.
Yeah, that’d be a sweet year.
Shana Tova Umetukah!
(Have a happy and sweet new year!)