Dear JCCNS Members and Community,
I’d like to start by sharing a story that I heard recently, one that I found to be both inspiring and poignant for this time in our lives. The story is about world-renowned Israeli American violinist, conductor, and music teacher, Yitzhak Perlman, who suffered a broken string on his violin during a large concert performance. Perlman, as you may know, is physically disabled, from a case of childhood polio at the age of four which resulted in the permanent loss in use of his legs. When the violin string snapped, with what was described as a “rifle-like” sound, the accompanying orchestra stopped playing and everyone expected that someone would quickly bring Perlman a replacement violin. However, after a short pause, the musician simply started to play, even with the missing string. Not surprisingly, his performance was so moving that he received a standing ovation at the end and then he raised his bow to signal for quiet. "You know," he said to his audience, "sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left.”
It strikes me as we approach Rosh Hashanah, that all of us are engaged in the art of creating a beautiful life, and like Perlman, we are challenged with doing so with the hand we’ve been dealt. Creating music can most certainly be viewed as an apt metaphor for living life- with its high notes, low notes, sometimes complicated rhythms, and intricate melodies. Perlman certainly personifies one unique example, but I believe we can all look around for positive role models of those living beautiful lives and I would guess that we too can each find the spark of recognition, of transcendence if you will, in our own lives. That spark is an interesting one to consider. How does it form and where does it come from? I believe that when we take time to really reflect on our behavior- even take the time to have an internal conversation with ourselves about the reasoning (often stemming from emotion) behind our words or actions- we allow ourselves the opportunity to acknowledge and assess where we may have “missed the mark,” which ultimately allows us the insight to make meaningful personal changes for the better. This process of self-recognition and reflection can be arduous but is necessary for growth.
Traditional Jewish thought focuses quite a bit on the journey to personal enlightenment and more elevated behavior. In encouraging a lifelong search for wisdom and serenity, some of our most renowned sages often speak and write about the concept and attitude of daily gratitude. In this regard, Rabbi Dov Heller says, “Gratitude is ultimately the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift.” Like Perlman, we are often challenged with moments of decision to focus on what is lost or what is left…and on finding the hidden message or opportunity that change or “loss” presents.
When I found myself between jobs for a relatively short period of time some years ago, this idea, the importance of gratitude, was driven home with great intensity for me, especially each Monday morning at the start of the workweek. It seemed ironic that the weekday morning which I had previously found to be the most challenging to motivate myself after the weekend, had now become the very morning I felt myself pining for the opportunity of having to be somewhere, to begin my own workweek. I was suddenly wishing for a place to go, somewhere to be needed. I remember so clearly looking out the window thinking to myself… “Where are all those people going?” And with a touch of self-pity, I seemed to be bemoaning the fact that right then, I had nowhere to go.
Of course, each person has their own unique take on what a beautiful life might look like, and for some it may include things such as: being surrounded by a large, loving family or having an impressive list of professional accomplishments, or the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing good in the world through your deeds or actions. However, I submit that being grateful and truly appreciating all those things, in the moment and upon reflection, is the foundation for living a genuinely beautiful life. Gratitude for everyday gifts has a way of bringing even greater joy to new experiences, helps us to focus on actively listening to others, and ultimately enables us all to see the world with enhanced wonder and awe.
I wish you all a Chag Sameach. May you be blessed with a year filled with good health, prosperity, the company of loved ones and, equally importantly, the wisdom to see it all as a gift.