I’ll never forget the moment. It was a little over five years ago. My wife Mushky and I had only been married a few months and now it was July 20th, my birthday. I had turned 28 but my wife hadn’t mentioned anything all day.
I remember it like it was yesterday: We were sitting on the red couch in our living room. I turned to my wife and said “It was my birthday today.”
My wife couldn’t believe it. She was in shock. How had she forgotten my birthday?
It turns out she hadn’t forgotten my birthday. She was actually planning gifts and a special surprise outing (Marry Poppins on Broadway, if you must know) but she was planning it all for my Hebrew Birthday, which was still a few weeks away.
But even still, she was so upset. In her home growing up they only celebrated their Hebrew birthdays whereas in my home we celebrated both and she knew it was important to me. She had been so busy planning my Hebrew birthday with such anticipation and love that she had overlooked my English birthday and forgot to mark it.
She started crying and crying, all the while apologizing to me for “forgetting” my birthday.
I couldn’t control myself and now I started to cry as well.
And there we were, husband and wife — friends, lovers — crying in each other’s embrace.
What was it that made her cry so? And what was it that overwhelmed me with emotion that I started sobbing as well?
Did she think that she was in trouble? Was she afraid of some punishment or consequence as a result of her omission? Was she fearful that I wouldn’t love her anymore? Or that our relationship would break apart?
Her pain was not that she had forgotten my birthday; but that it was my birthday she had forgotten. She wasn’t crying because there’s some rule that says that wife’s must remember their husband’s birthdays and that she had somehow broken that rule.
No. She was crying because when she thought about me and who I am in the context of the relationship – her best friend – the minor “infraction” of forgetting my birthday became heartbreaking. Because our relationship mattered, therefore my birthday mattered.
And so why was I crying?
When I felt the love that was emanating from her, when I saw how much my birthday really did matter to her and just how deeply she cared, how could I not cry? I felt so loved and I’ll never forget that feeling.
Tonight is Yom Kippur. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world will be going to Shul to recount their sins. And countless more will not be attending any Yom Kippur service for that same reason.
Yom Kippur was given to us as a gift, an opportunity for us to unite with the deepest and truest part of our being, which is another way of saying “uniting with Hashem.”
Let us not spend these next 24 hours, these holy, precious moments, wallowing in this past year’s misdeeds, sullying our white garments with the surface dirt of yesterday, recounting specific ways we have been naughty.
Instead, let us focus on our relationship and just how much Hashem means to us and how much we mean to Hashem. When we contemplate how close we actually are with G-d, how much He loves us and how we are truly one with Him, we will naturally avoid anything that will cause distance between us and be motivated to do everything to draw Him near.
So let us spend at least 23 hours of this next 24 hours contemplating this closeness, and only one hour tops thinking about any misdeeds.
This will surely give us the fortitude and power to experience at-ONE-ment with ourself and with others – with grace, kindness and joy.
May it be a year of sweetness for all our people and all of humanity. Amen.
[The above talk was delivered Yom Kippur night at the Beverly Hilton to the Young Jewish Professionals of Los Angeles by Rabbi Saadya Notik.]