Last night, I spoke about the importance of symbolically signing the Book of Life and leaving a permanent mark on this world. I urged us all to actually sign our own Book of Life that is in the hallway – and I invite those who haven’t yet done so, to please add your signature! Today, I want to share with you one way that I am working to move beyond symbolism to insure that I am more than just a signature in the Book of Life; to insure that the life that I am leading is worthy of being inscribed in the Book; to insure that my life will create a meaningful mark on this world.
Over the past few weeks, I have worked to prepare a personal Statement of Values – a document that, as I explained in an email earlier this week (Please see comments below which contains email I sent out; you can find questions that will help you prepare your own Statement of Values in this email), expresses key principals and beliefs that are important to me. Since the time of the Torah, our ancestors have created and shared such statements. Jacob and Moses both express their core principals in the Torah, teaching us the importance of being able to clarify who we are, what we stand for and what we hope to share with those in our lives.
Preparing my Statement of Values has not been easy. There is a lot to think about. I have rewritten my statement many times and know that I will do so again in the near future. This being said, writing this statement has been extremely rewarding. It has helped me figure out what my signature in the Book of Life stands for. It has given me a better sense of who I am and what I find to be important and meaningful. It has also given me a better sense of the lessons I want to share with the people in my life. And, preparing my Statement of Values has encouraged me to think about the legacy I would like to leave, hopefully, a long, long, long time from now.
Most importantly, writing my Statement of Values has taught me that despite the unpredictable nature of life that Yom Kippur has us face, I do have the ability to control what my life stands for. I can be certain that when I sign the Book of Life, my signature means something – not just to me, but to the people who know me. In this world that is filled with so much uncertainty, creating my Statement of Values has filled me with great hope – hope that my life is filled with meaning, meaning that will make a difference, meaning that, I hope, will transcend my lifetime.
As I put together my Statement of Values, I found myself being driven by the words of the Vahavtah: “v’shinantam l’vanecha/ teach them (morals, ethics, values) intently to your children.” While I have many roles in my life, one of course being the lucky rabbi of this community, I found that as I put together my values and wrote them down, I was inspired to do so not as a rabbi, but as a father. And so, my Statement of Values that I share with you today is written to my children, Abigail and Jonah. This being said, the values I share with my children are values which, I hope permeate all aspects of my life – particularly my role as your rabbi.
STATEMENT OF VALUES – 5775
Prepared by Rabbi Andrew Jacobs
Abigail and Jonah,
This Statement of Values that I have prepared as I begin the Jewish year 5775 will serve as my signature in the Book of Life. While I am far from perfect and make many mistakes, I hope that through my words, deeds and actions, I share my values with you in ways that have encouraged you to lead more meaningful lives. I hope that nothing I share in this document surprises you, as it has been my intention to live the values I share below. If there is a surprise or two, I apologize for not doing what I should have done to share all of my values with you. Please know that I consider myself truly blessed to be your father and I am honored by the fact that you trust me to be one of your teachers. Also know that the lessons you have shared with me have made me a better person. I thank you for listening to this document, as it affirms my signature in this year’s Book of Life. While I sincerely hope that you will embrace the values I share in this statement, I respect that you will make your own choices. I ask that you formulate your own values and act on these values as you journey through life. Don’t be impulsive. Think things through. And think about the consequences. What will your actions say about you?
Let me begin by saying: There is nothing more important than family. It is your rock. Abigail and Jonah, you and your mother are the center of my life. While I am not always successful at balancing my family life and my professional responsibilities, I do believe that nothing should ever come before family.
As family, our bonds of love are deep – but we must never forget that these bonds still require that we treat each other with the utmost respect and honor. It is by uniting our love for each other with our respect for each other that we achieve the Jewish concept of Shalom Bayit – peace in the house/family.
You both know that I have spent many years researching our family tree. It is a huge, magnificent tree. Yes, like most family trees, there are branches that do not speak to other branches. Despite this, know that you are blessed to have a 99-year old great-grandmother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Please do your part to nurture these relationships as you grow. In doing so, you honor the memories of those no longer here with us physically who gave up so much to insure that their family could have what you have.
Abigail and Jonah, I pray that you fall madly in love one day and marry your best friend. However, I want you to remember that love alone does not make a marriage. A great Jewish sage teaches that we should treat our spouse “like a left hand protecting the right hand and not an independent limb.” You must truly become one with your spouse. This takes a lot of work. You must listen to each other. Honesty, openness and communication will be required to learn how to act together to build a home. Shared values are required to raise children. Common goals are what will propel you forward as partners.
Despite what the Torah teaches us about the obligation to respect our parents, I don’t believe that it is simply the title of “parent” that requires our children to respect and honor us. Respect and honor are achieved through the excruciatingly hard work of parenthood. Abigail and Jonah, your mother and I are not here to be your best friends. We are here to help lead you down a meaningful life path with the hope and expectation that you will be capable of navigating this path on your own in the future. I pray that, one day, you get the privilege of leading your own children down this path, continuing the journey your mother and I began with you – and living the words “l’dor v’dor/from generation to generation”. And, I pray that by giving you the tools needed to travel down the path of life, your mother and I earn your respect.
Your Judaism is a gift. Your mother and I are anomalies in our respective families. On my side of the family, your 99-year old great-grandmother has 9 great-grandchildren. You two are the only ones who have embraced Judaism. On your mother’s side of the family, your grandmother has 6 grandchildren. You two are the only ones who have embraced Judaism. Making Judaism an integral part of your lives, insuring that the words “l’dor v’dor” actually meant something, and honoring the legacy that was left to us by the generations that came before us, were our dreams as your mother and I began this journey of parenthood. Not that long ago, millions of Jews were wiped off the face of the earth simply because they were Jewish. It brings me such joy that today, my two children openly love their Judaism, are strong supporters of Israel and know their way around a siddur, a Haggadah and a Torah scroll. Thank you. As you grow into adults, I sincerely hope that Judaism remains a significantly meaningful part of your lives. In the world you are growing up in, I know that this won’t be easy. However, I hope that by honoring and respecting the bonds of family and filling your lives with those who share your values, you will indeed pass Judaism on to the next generation.
I do not expect, nor do I want you to only surround yourselves with Jewish people. The world we live in is filled with many diverse, incredible people who can bring great meaning into your lives. Open yourselves up to the lessons that the world can teach you. Respect those who are different from you. They have much to share. Do not be afraid to be challenged by other viewpoints. Engage in healthy, respectful debate. I trust that as you get older you will make meaningful choices that will allow you to thrive. This being said, please remember that: “kol yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh/all Jews are responsible for each other.” Please, take care of your fellow Jews. Do everything in your power to strengthen the Jewish community. Support and stand with Israel. If you don’t, who will?
As you journey down the path of life, there will be obstacles to overcome. As Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav teaches us, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge; the essential thing is to have no fear at all.” Never take for granted the bonds of family, for within these bonds you will discover the antidote to fear and the skills necessary to cross that narrow bridge.
Pirke Avot teaches us to “acquire a friend.” In addition to your family, I want you to have close friends. People you can truly trust. People you can confide in, laugh with and cry with. People who will travel down the path of life with you. Family is so important. But so are friendships. They are what make us part of a community. Rabbi Hillel teaches us: “do not separate yourself from the community!” I do expect you to live by these words. Whether it be a synagogue, a team, a social group, or a professional group, surround yourself with good people who can challenge you to be your best, support you when you stumble and lift you higher when you celebrate.
Pirke Avot also teaches us to acquire a teacher. Fill your life with teachers. Educate yourself. Whether it be traditional classroom learning, traveling, reading or mentoring, I want you to constantly be learning and expanding your mind. Every time I present a bar/bat mitzvah student with a Torah I say: “Hafoch ba, hafoch ba, de’kula ba – Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” Treat life the same way. Turn it and turn it and get as much out of it. There is so much to learn out there.
As you think about your future and what school you will go to and what you will do professionally, know that all I want is for you to be happy. To me, being happy means to live a life filled with meaning. Your family, friends and Judaism will help you discover meaning by providing you with a strong sense of belonging. Being grateful for all that you do have and remembering the obligation we have to perform tikun olam/healing the world by balancing the scales and giving of ourselves to help those in need will also enable you to discover meaning. Gratitude will allow you to look to tomorrow with optimism and hope and this is this is a recipe for a happy life. I want you to find meaning in your everyday actions and I want you to do everything in your power to make this world a better place. In doing so, you not only guarantee your own happiness, but the happiness of others.
I want you to find a career that brings great meaning to your life. While I have no expectations as to what you will do professionally, I hope that you will not work just to make money. I want you to build a life that has a purpose and allows you to leave a lasting mark on this world. I hope that your career will be a part of this mark. Don’t get me wrong, I want you to be financially independent and comfortable. Judaism has no problem with financially successful people. This being said, I never want you to think that you are too good to get your hands dirty working hard or that anyone owes you something. The Book of Proverbs teaches us that “He who puts in the effort and tills his soil will have bread, but he who puts in no real effort, he has nothing.” I want you to put in a lot of effort. I want you to work hard – really hard. I want you to understand the value of a dollar and appreciate the rewards of a hard day’s work. I want you to respect the money you make and learn how to save it and invest it. Remember the words of Ben Zoma: “Who is wealthy? The one who is happy with what he has.” Don’t define yourself by material possessions, but make certain that you can purchase what you need and, yes, some things that you want. Live within your means. Stay away from credit cards. Learn about the stock market. Put money away for the future. And, please, allow your financial success to benefit others by supporting a synagogue and other causes that are meaningful to you.
Be a rebel. Think outside of the box. Don’t be afraid of change. The Jewish people have survived because of their ability to evolve with the times. Remember, if it were not for the invention of the synagogue 2000 years ago, there would be no Judaism today. The synagogue was a radical concept. Some didn’t like it, It was different, scary. But it worked. Believe that you have the ability to bring about radical change that will make the world a better place. At the same time, surround yourself with people you trust and listen to them. If they suggest you are off course, step back and think about what they are saying. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them – but hear them out.
Apologize. You will screw up. Embrace the lessons of our new year rituals and genuinely say “I am sorry” when you hurt someone. Forgive those who hurt you. Forgive yourself. Carrying a grudge and seeking vengeance drag us down and surround us with negativity. Let it go. At the same time, do not be foolish. Judaism teaches us to “Zachor/Remember” the wrongs that have been done to us by others so that we don’t become a victim twice. So, yes, forgive, but learn from the hurt.
Don’t ever compromise on what you believe in. Rabbi Hillel teaches us: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Stand up for yourself. You deserve to live your life the way you want to. The Torah teaches us to “Choose life!” Never forget that you are in control of your life– don’t let others choose your life for you. If someone does not respect who you are, let them go. They do not deserve you in their life. Believe the words of Anne Frank: “people are really good at heart” but never overlook the fact that evil is real. Keep your eyes open. Be cautious – not paranoid. Do your homework, ask a lot of questions and protect yourself.
Choosing life will also require you to take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Eat well. Exercise. Treat your body like the holy vessel that it is. Go to the doctor. Never be afraid or too proud to seek and ask for help when life is overwhelming. We all need help at times. Continue to develop your relationship with God. And surround yourself with good people. Don’t ever be afraid to be who you really are and know that if you genuinely and honestly choose life with all your heart, mind and soul, you will make the right decisions, you will make a great name for yourself and you will make your mother and me very proud.
Realize that you will make mistakes. We all do. When you do, remember that first Torah that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai, the one he smashed in anger after he found the people worshipping the Golden Calf, all of its broken pieces were placed in the sacred ark, along with the whole second Torah that Moses received from God. This story teaches us that both our broken and whole pieces are holy. They define who we are. While we take great pride in our accomplishments, appreciate that some of our greatest blessing are taught to us by our mistakes. Perfection does not give us the scars that make life meaningful. Our mistakes expand our horizons and force us to grow. Embrace your mistakes. Learn from them and never forget that they are holy.
Your mother and I will hopefully continue to earn your respect and remain integral parts of your lives. Know that we, as your parents, will continue to suggest, advise and nudge you. If we overstep our bounds, we want to be told, as the Shalom Bayit we work to create in the house requires that we all feel respected.
In closing, I want you to be open to all the gifts the world can and will give you if you live with your eyes wide open. I also expect you give back as much as you receive. Share your gifts with the world. Finally, please find the time to laugh so hard you cry tears of joy. Don’t allow the intensity of life to keep you from discovering the deep wells of joy that are out there. Smile and know that a happy you will be my best legacy.
I love you forever,
This year, as you know, I have encouraged us all to prepare Statements of Values. It is not enough to sign ourselves into the Book of Life. We have to live meaningful lives in order to insure that our signature stands for something. I encourage you to work on putting into words what you stand for. It will give a voice to your hopes. It will capture your faith. It will clarify your goals and expectations. And it will serve as the foundation of the legacy you want to leave. I’ve prepared some questions that will help you get started on your Statement. You can find them in your email or on my blog. Try to answer them. Share your answers with the people you love. And realize that as you do this, you’re helping to leave a beautiful and indelible mark on this world. Don’t put it off. As Rabbi Hillel asks us, “If not now, when?”