Throughout my life I’ve had my share of struggle and trauma, I have had incredible successes and monumental failures, yet despite the odds being stacked against me, I’ve persevered. My life journey has taken me to far fetched places, from the Lacandon Jungle of Zapatista country in Chiapas, Mexico, to cities and towns throughout the heart of Latin America, to our Jewish nation of Israel and all across this great land. I’ve seen the worst of humanity and I’ve seen the best, more often than not within the very same people and every segment of that rocky journey has brought me closer to enlightenment. But the most fulfilling part is that I’ve been fortunate to have made lifelong friends from every walk of life and every religious and ethnic background. We may not speak as often as I’d like, yet I know whether the chips are down or up, they would drop everything, it’s been proven by the test of time.
For me, while I often forget, getting wrapped up in ego and pride, that it’s not our station or status in life that’s important, frankly It’s irrelevant, it’s our relationships, it’s our friends, it’s our family, it’s our community and it’s our deep spiritual connection that brings us closer to our Godly soul. Despite the risk of sounding like a ‘Pollyanna’, it’s these friends, the Chassid who takes the time to wrap Tefillin with another Jew, the bank teller or the homeless woman who might only cross our paths for a fleeting moment, those whom we thought were our friends, yet disappointed us and our loved ones whom we have lost, yet who still live deep within our souls. It’s all of these relationships, good and bad, that God places in our path to teach us a lesson, and when we let them, they lend themselves to help us reach our highest potential.
This time of year has always been a particularly difficult one for me as well as for the Jewish people. I’ve never quite understood why, until I learned that the 9th of Av has been the most tragic time in our history. It’s the day both our First and Second Temple were destroyed, on that day in 133 CE, the Romans butchered 580,000 Jewish rebels in the battle of Beitar and a year later destroyed the Temple Mount, our holiest site. On the 9th of Av in 1290 CE the Jews were expelled from England, on the 9th of Av in 1492 the Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of the Jews and on 9th of Av in 1941 commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for ‘The Final Solution’, leading to the senseless murder of 6 million Jews, tragedy after tragedy has befallen our people on that day.
What’s the point?
Unlike the period of our First Temple when we were generally under self-rule, that wasn’t the case during the era of the Second Temple when we were routinely ruled by foreign powers. Prior to the destruction, the Jewish community was divided by politics, in large part because of our lack of autonomy. Our fragmented people and senseless hatred of one Jew for another were partly if not fully responsible for the destruction of our Second Temple. We then literally and figuratively lost our ‘Spiritual Capital’, causing a domino effect that ultimately led to thousands of years of exile from Jerusalem. With every tragedy, with every attempt to exterminate the Jews, we have subconsciously recreated and retriggered that trauma, prolonging the suffering that continues to plague our people.
Yet, it’s not all calamitous, with destruction comes the opportunity for redemption. We are now in the month of Elul and for the Jewish people, it’s a time devoted to soul searching and repentance in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy days. I’ve learned that in order for the Jewish people to truly gain redemption that only a qualitative change that impacts the entire world is enough to make up for the destruction of the Second Temple, every single one of us plays a role. When that happens, we are taught, the world will be repaired, the suffering will end, elevating all of us to a higher level of consciousness.
Now, I finally understand my preoccupation with higher purpose, why I have incessantly set such a high moral standard for myself and why I often fall short, I am a Jew. My own personal journey irrefutably aligns with the complicated history of the Jewish people. We achieve greatness, we forget where and who it came from, becoming arrogant and excessively righteous, it’s then destroyed and taken away from us, we then regain humility, pick up the pieces, we get closer to God, renew our faith and then we repeat the pattern all over again, it’s been a never ending cycle for our people. I now realize I can’t do anything alone, I am just one cog in a very large Jewish wheel and ‘it takes a village’, a community of friends and family to walk towards the path of righteousness. It’s all becoming clear, when life gets tough and bad things happen causing suffering and struggle, it’s God intervening, he’s forcing us to be accountable, to get back on track, to repent, to make amends for our indiscretions, making resolutions and taking responsible action to change our conduct in order to realign our spirit, moving the Jewish people closer to redemption.
I’ve always followed that rocky and unpaved road full of potholes, I’ve reached the top of the figurative mountain and like the Jewish people, I’ve tumbled back down, my ego and pride, battered, bruised and bloody. Yet with the help of God, I’ve always climbed back up with fresh perspective and a new outlook, believe me, I’ve got the scars to prove it. Today, I no longer choose to tumble down that mountain, I may fall and rise, that’s the human condition, but it no longer has to be done so dramatically and so painfully. I realize now that self deprecation, ego and pride no longer serve me, yet humility and self respect do. And it’s my people, our history and our religion that is giving me the clarity, hope and freedom to live a life of great purpose. I’m on a pilgrimage to become the person and the leader I’ve always wanted to be, because I choose to move towards hope, I choose to move towards God, I choose to move towards Judaism and in the spirit of the month of Elul, I choose to move towards redemption.