Did you make the time to think about how much Hashem has given you this year? Some of His gifts, the kinds that come wrapped in the experiencial version of shiny gift wrap; joyous occasions, unexpected moments of profound beauty.; people who entered your life and will become part of you and the gift of having more capacity to be who you want to be, so that you meet challenges far more successfully than you ever thought that you could. There are also gifts you dreaded receiving and didn't want to open. That doesn't mean that they weren't gifts; at the time that's certainly not what they look like or feel like. Sometimes you can look back, and recognize how precious they were.
This past week I was fortunate enough to be at my granddaughter Shoshi's wedding. Some of you may know her from having stopped by my house of Friday morning when she would come by to clean. Her squeeky new husband's father was talking about something that took place in his life that he sees as a real gift, but that's not how it felt at the time.
He was in the States on business. He left on time to get to the city he was headed to on time on Friday. Don't you know the next sentence before I write it? To make a long story short, he and his partner ended up in an anonymous motel with various unrelated items that he managed to pick up at the nearest convenience store (I imagine that it must have been a real feast, featuring canned peaches, matzah and ‘Must’ chewing gum, or something similar.) From then on, whenever he left on a longish trip, there was always wine challah and other basics in the trunk. What makes this story worth hearing is a story within the story.
He just had to do a flashback on his father's life, and all the strength you could ever want would flow through his veins. His father was born in the States in an era when Torah institutions were still unheard of; in a world enamored with modernity. Modern equals American. American equals good, sucessful and most of all redemption from a painful past. He was sent to yeshiva in New Haven, which was just about the only show in town at the time. The late tzadik, Rav Scheinberg ztl was there as a young man just about at the same time. The next step in his life was marriage, and with that facing the struggle to earn a living while still keeping shabbos. The possiblities were somewhere between non-existant and brutal.
A friend had invested in a farm, and had began to make grapejuice. The next step was marketing the stuff. Neither man thought that there would be any possiblity of marketing to the general public. Our hero's job was to take the bottles of grapejuice (and later wine), and show it to other religious (or at least wannabe religious) Jews who would want kosher wine for kiddush. Step one was getting them to taste the stuff. Step two was to take orders. So far, so good. The next step was to deliver cases of grapejuice to the customers. For him that meant lugging cases up and down the stairs as he crossed Brooklyn-Manhattan topography again and again. He had a shopping wagon that held several cases. That meant repeating the entire process with mind numbing repititions. The end of the story is the world famous Kedem wine which many of you have heard of and tasted. You might think that when the week finally came to an end, and he could park the wagon in the basement, shower and dress for shabbos that there would be only one thought filling his mind; sleep. Get through the services in the synagogue. Do the meal and head to the heaven in the back of the house, slip between the sheets and float off into blessed oblivion. That's not what happened. He was filled with energy, joy, so that each moment of the day was treasured. No wonder that his son carried shabbos in his inner repertoire of beloved moments.
You may not have that in your repertoire. That means just one thing: you can be the one whose story is the first one in your family's diary. Your hard moments can be changing your life and your children's lives, and the lives of anyone who will know you, far beyond the reaches of your family. Your hearing this story changed you (whether you realize it or not), and will change anyone who will know you.
The main thing for you to realize on Rosh Hashanah is that underneath many layers, your deepest self wants Hashem, who knows you better than you know yourself, and loves you far more than you can possibly love yourself, to be the only One who writes your script.
May Hashem grant us all a chativa vechatima tova,