I keep seeing this principle of life. It is becoming more and more clear to me. The world works like this: 1. A burst of energy 2. Work 3. Transcendence. Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz spells this out in his incredible work Living Inspired. Since looking at the world and my life in this way, I am seeing it EVERYWHERE. And it has huge ramifications.
Think about it. An egg is fertilized in a BURST of energy (biologically and physically). Then the woman works for 9 months to gestate that embryo into a baby – a human being. And the moment of birth is the transcendence – the harmony of the first two parts. It keeps going. The baby is born is a BURST of energy – that last push, or more and more often these days, the emergence from the cut of a c-section. And all is (please G-d) wonderful and exciting. And then there is WORK. Work for years to raise the child and hopefully get to a place where they can transcend and emerge an individual with their own purpose and direction. There’s more…I couldn’t wait to be a “grown up.” And when I became one it was exciting. And since then it has been WORK. It takes inspiration to upgrade the iPhone, but it is the huge amount of work by the engineers to actually produce it. I like to think that I am an upgraded version of myself each year..and boy is that work. The Torah tells us that this is our job until 120. To “give birth to ourselves.” We are born (burst of inspiration), then we live my life (the work), and after 120 years our soul (the True “I”) transcends to the Next World of Eternity.
Marriage is like this too… The moment under the chupah (the wedding canopy), the two souls become one and the wedding celebration and the wedding night are that burst of inspiration. I am a therapist and coach for people mostly in their late 30’s all the way to 120 (ok, my oldest client was 101). I can tell you from personal and professional experience that marriage TAKES WORK. That burst of energy from the wedding day is NOT what a marriage is made of. It is the WORK, the day in day out, the ups and the downs and everything in between that makes a good marriage and makes a marriage last and transcend to higher and higher levels of unity and love. After 26 years (bli eyen hara) I am starting to see that in my own life. And the marriages of 50, 60 and 70+ years that I am blessed to see in my work proves this time and time again. Burst of inspiration. Work. Transcendence.
We see this equation play out in good times and in bad times. Each year for the last 4 years I have been given the gift of taking a group of Jewish mom’s to Israel on an incredibly inspiring trip. It is amazing how we all come back so pumped up, so ready to implement the incredible insights we gained. And despite everyone’s commitment to do so, most or even all of the burst fades. I am always inspired by the ones who really run with it. It is such a beautiful thing to witness and support them along their journey. Last year one of my kids came back from camp so inspired. She went on and on to me about how she wanted to implement these insights into her life. I said “Write it down! You are going to forget!!!” I forgot the rule of parenting teens…never tell them what to do as it almost always ruin your chances of it happening! And most of it did fade. She is a great kid thank God, however, the inspiration did fade. A more mundane example is how often people get inspired to go on a diet and after a while their commitment dwindles. Many weight loss programs count on this happening and make lots of money because of it. So do gyms. Gyms are filled in January! Resolutions are made and memberships are bought. And sometime around mid-February they become less and less crowded.
We can get these bursts in bad times too. This past Shabbat a couple we have been friends with for over 16 years – the husband died. Since learning the news, I have had several conversations with various people who knew him and all of them said something like “Well this was a wake up call!” And I saw it clearly…..the WAKE UP CALL is the burst of energy, the inspiration. Whether it is realizing that the thing I was annoyed at my husband (theoretically speaking of course!) seems so trivial now to “I need to never take my health for granted,” to “I am going to make sure I do everything I can to go to my friends kids weddings, because I don’t want to only show up for the funerals.” All of these ideas are great and important and TRUE. But they won’t last unless I follow through with work. I will get annoyed at my husband as soon as today (hate to admit that), I will complain about a minor ailment without realizing how trivial it is (and I also work as a hospice social worker – and I see over and over again patients themselves realize “it could be worse.” Or- they tell me that they regret not appreciating the health they had, their spouse, their children…
It am seeing over and over again that it is my job to take a burst of inspiration and then ACTUALIZE it thru what will often feel as hard work, or uncomfortable. However, that is the road to transcendence. This actually happened to me last year when I went to my dear friend’s mother’s funeral. She had been diagnosed a few months earlier a terminal illness. I thought to myself “I really should go visit her.” Yet I didn’t. And then one day she took a turn for the worse and she was gone. When I was at the funeral I was so blown away by the stories that people told about her. I kept saying to myself (as I have often do at funeral), “I want to be like that.” And maybe I will think about it for a few days but then it fades away. But this time something shifted. I literally ran to my car after the funeral and typed into my phone everything I could remember. I talked about it for days and since then I would often say “Although there are things in my life that I would definitely do differently if I could go back, I really have no regrets in life*, except ONE. I regret not visiting this person when they were sick. I regret that I missed the opportunity to be in the presence of such greatness. My work shows me over and over that there is greatness in everyone. If I spend the time getting to know them. And I missed this. I could kick myself.” I carried that regret for several months. Until the father of another friend of mine became terminally ill. It was right before Passover. And I had EVERY excuse not to visit. However, I had the gnawing feeling that this was my chance to repair the error from months before. So the day before Passover I drove over to his house and visited him. (I had met him a few times before then as my friend hasd brought him to my home for Shabbat lunch a couple of times.) I brought him some herring and we shmoozed for a couple of hours. We talked about his daughter/my friend and how much she has grown since the burst of inspiration she got when she came on The Jewish Experience-JWRP women’s trip to Israel in 2014 (with me and the daughter of the one regret!) He asked me how I got into hospice work and I told him the story of when my step-father died and how I somehow stepped in and knew what to do and part of that was making sure he had a proper Jewish burial. And then I said “Because that is REALLY IMPORTANT Joe (not his real name).” Then he asked me how I became Torah observant and I told him that I started learning about what I like to call “pre-denominational Judaism.” And he said “Do you think I could learn too?” I said “Of course, The Jewish Experience participates in a world-wide program called Partners In Torah. We meet at the Center on Tuesday nights, but I can arrange for someone to come to your house.” “Really,” he said with the smile of a little boy although he was a few months short of 90 at the time. I told him I would work on it. I left him watching a TorahAnytime.com video of Rabbi Paysach Krohn. He was overjoyed.
I went home and posted on our local Jewish women’s whatsapp chat, asking if anyone thought their husband might want to learn with Joe. And two people responded right away. One of them is the son-in-law of the woman who I regret not visiting! Since then, each of them visits Joe once a week. A couple of months ago Joe said to one of them “You know, Chaya mentioned something to me that I have been thinking about. She said that a proper Jewish burial is really important. What is a proper Jewish burial and why is it important?” So the man said that they could learn about it! Well, this man had plans to be cremated. A HUGE mistake for a Jew. (See my colleague’s website www.peacefulreturn.com). And he was pretty set on it, and all of his children were fine with cremation except my friend. (Remember…she took that inspiration from the trip and has been growing in her Judaism since then due to her efforts. So she knew how important this was for his eternity.) However, I know that through the learning, the prayers and the visit from our community Rabbi (who happens to have a law degree and brought with him a codicil to reflect a proper Jewish burial and said “we can take care of this right now if you want.”), he is now thank God set up for a proper Jewish burial for whenever God determines.
I just saw him at shul on Shabbat yesterday. He is loving life.
I take no credit for this chain of events. But I do see the power of doing something with the inspiration instead of letting it take its natural course of atrophy unless ongoing effort is put in. There is such obvious transcendence on so many levels from this story. Now I am blessed to say that I truly have NO REGRETS. I have said throughout these course of events that this is all l’elui nishmas (for the elevation of the soul) of my friend’s mother Shayna Sara bas Yosef Yisroel, and for a healing of the body and soul of Joe. And now, may we all merit to take our inspiration and may any bit of inspiration-work-transcendence that comes from this blog be also include l’elui nishmas of Nehemia ben Sarah whose levaya/funeral I am booked on a flight to attend tomorrow.
*Why no regrets…that is whole other blog about the Power of Teshuva.