A few months back, I had an e-mail exchange with a dean of the American rabbinate, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, in which he wished me “b’shaah tovah umutzlachas” on my new book. He explained that he used this term because writing a book has “similar birth pangs.” Well, we have reached “full term,” as my book is now in a bookstore near you.
As is true of many things in life, I kind of “fell into” writing a book, never imagining how arduous and frustrating a process it would be. As a mentor once said to me about the rabbinate (and I’d extrapolate it to other contexts as well), “If you knew or fully appreciated what you were getting into, you would never pursue it.”
Interestingly, that thought is applicable to life itself, as the Talmud teaches that we are placed in this world “against our will,” but once put here, we must make the most of it and explore our actions and motives.
When one is anticipating or pursuing a certain milestone, it requires patience, perseverance, and purpose. Most meaningful accomplishments don’t just happen overnight. They require enormous investment and effort. The Midrash comments that the final redemption evolves “kima, kima,” little by little, or as my grandfather, Rabbi Meir Felman, z’l, used to say in his indomitably clever way, “Yiddel by Yiddel.”
One of my favorite aphorisms is “Hachaim zeh lo piknik – Life isn’t a walk in the park.” This is the quintessential understatement. I write these words having just read of another stabbing in Israel. The incitement and treachery knows no bounds; hundreds of innocents were slaughtered or wounded in the streets of Paris only a few months ago and dozens were killed or injured in California on our American soil.
We are taught in particular that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering. There is little doubt, as we can see in the spate of daily attacks on Jewish soldiers and civilians, that Chazal knew of what they spoke.
For most of us, life isn’t easy. Even for those who appear to have a smoother path – nachas from children, physical comforts, etc. – there are many behind-the-scenes pitfalls or potential obstacles lurking. The challenge is one of patience and faith. Patience when things don’t happen according to our schedule and faith that God not only has a plan for us but also has the timing of that plan worked out down to the millisecond.
Letting go of our dreams and ambitions and submitting to a higher authority is one of the most difficult things for the human ego. To admit we’re not in control is not easy to do. It makes us feel vulnerable, and that’s a place many don’t want to visit.
I speak from experience about these issues. I married in my early thirties and my first child was born with special needs. Professionally, I had big dreams and large ambitions that have not always come to fruition. I waited, not so patiently, sharing a pulpit until my predecessor was finally ready to relinquish his position of sixty years. When he finally did, the resources weren’t there for me to move forward in that position. That being said, I try my best to keep my head down and move forward. I try to be resilient as best I can.
These personal experiences are what kept me motivated through the long process of producing a book that could “withstand the test of time.” My new offering will hopefully provide readers insight into the journey called lifewe each traverse in our own varied ways. We are taught that this world is the Olam Hanisayon, a world full of challenges, and I try to orient others as to how to optimally handle both personal and communal obstacles.
I recently heard a great concept from Rabbi Paysach Krohn, the renowned mohel and maggid. He said there is a fundraising mantra or formula known as SW to the 3rd power/N. It represents “Some Will, Some Won’t, So What? Next!!”
A successful baseball player gets a hit 3 out of 10 times at the plate. Perseverance and Resilience is so critical in spiritual pursuits and life in general. We must remember the adage that “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” and therefore we have to keep moving on to whatever comes next.
My wife trained to be a professional doula or labor coach and is now in the Frontier graduate program for midwifery. In that process she came across the following mantra: “Hold the Vision, Trust the Process.” In the birthing context, it means the yearning for a natural birth story shouldn’t be lost sight of, certainly not in the difficult moments when one is tempted by an epidural. One must cling to that vision while trusting a process that involves pain and disappointment. The pain is a signal that the body is opening and doing what it needs to. This unpleasant process will ultimately lead to that much anticipated birth.
When we occasionally travel in a rental car with our four children (we live in Manhattan and often avail ourselves of public transport or Uber), they always ask me, “How much longer?” or “Are we there yet?” I snicker to myself when they do, as they have no firm grasp of time and my answer wouldn’t be meaningful to them as a barometer. They are just expressing impatience or maybe even discomfort.
Children live in the moment and they want things on their schedule. When that isn’t provided, they tend to let you know they are dissatisfied.
No matter our age, we all have childlike tendencies. In many situations we ask ourselves or even others, “Why aren’t we there yet?” Especially when logic dictates that we already should have arrived. At times we continue to wait and sometimes we realize we will never arrive in the way we had hoped. That’s when we need to gird for battle and ensure we aren’t crushed for good. There will be other fields of play and other meaningful opportunities if we can allow ourselves to wipe off the dust and get off the mat.
For the past two years I have been focused on writing a book that explores areas of interest relating to Jewish life in particular and living in general. It gleans lessons from my own personal challenges as well as my observations about how others have handled their own.
My primary message is that we are all still “in process” – unfinished products, if you will. I know this because we are all still here, which means God still has work for us to do and places for us to go. My hope is maybe, just maybe, the reader will discover something life-altering.
The question is, why exactly are we are in such a hurry in the first place? Maybe we can reorient, live in the moment, and begin to enjoy the ride or the process just a little bit more. If we can do that, we will ultimately realize that we are all much closer than we think or feel at any given moment of time; in fact, to borrow the title of my book, We’re Almost There.