Sunday, December 9, 2012

There Is!

The rabbi invited me to receive a blessing at the Shabbat service near my sixty-fifth birthday, and to make a few remarks about what it meant to me. It was also the same Shabbat, Vayeshev, upon which I celebrated my bar mitzvah in 1960 and upon which Jacob celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1990. Between the two of us we are now 100 years old! Consequently Jacob joined me on the bimah to recite the blessings over the Torah and to receive blessings from the rabbi. My remarks are below.

Congregation Beth Jacob
Redwood City, California
December 8, 2012
Shabbat Vayeshev

Some of you were here five years ago on the occasion of my sixtieth birthday when I first asked you to call me by my Hebrew name, Yeshaya. A short time after that, at the suggestion of the young lady who is now my daughter-in-law, I adopted the nickname Yesh, for short. The decision to be called Yeshaya or Yesh in many ways came out of having an adult bar mitzvah earlier that year that launched me on a new leg of my spiritual journey.

Right now I am taking courses in chanting, Talmud, spiritual aging, and Biblical Hebrew. This week in Hebrew class, as we reviewed our new vocabulary words, on the list was the word yesh! Yeshaya, my full name, is Hebrew for Isaiah—which means God is my Salvation. Yesh is a very different word in Hebrew. It is the simple declaration—there is!

What I found fascinating in class was when our teacher told us that unlike most other verbs, “Yesh is always in the present tense.” I thought about that and felt what a challenge it is to live up to my name—for me to always be in the present tense.

At milestone birthdays, such as sixty-five, it would be easy to look back with regret or condemnation at some of the things I have done or not done, or at the terrible things that I may feel have happened to me. It is also tempting to become fearful or anxious about what lies ahead that might be painful or disappointing. The challenge is to always be present. In this specific moment I have only to appreciate that I am healthy, living in peace, standing among an extraordinary community in a magnificent synagogue, and most of all blessed with a loving family—this is true abundance for which I am very grateful.

This is what we call a Shehecheyanu moment. Approaching this birthday I looked at the Shehecheyanu prayer and wondered about the fact that it’s only recited with first person plural words—thanking God for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this moment. I couldn’t find an explanation of this. While a person may speak the Shehecheyanu alone, the fact that it’s written as a plural brings awareness that when it comes to our birth and our sustenance, none of us can do it alone, nor I suspect would want to. So it’s with full appreciation of all of you that I ask you to join me in this prayer.

Baruch atta Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam she-hecheyanu ve'qi'eh'manu va'higiy'anu laz'man hazeh.

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