There are so many beautiful areas within the Old City of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, because I am so busy at Aish, I don’t always find the time to see them. So I was grateful to have been invited to the wedding of Aish close friends Ivan and Suzanna Kaufman at the Tower of David which is located across from the Jaffa Gate. It was absolutely stunning.
The ceremony took place on top of the walls of the Old City. It was breathtaking to hear world renowned singer Shulem Lemmer sing “If I forget thee Jerusalem” while overlooking the entire Old City. We were honored to host the first Sheva Brachot (celebration meal with seven blessings) on the roof of Aish on Friday night as well as a Torah dedication right before Shabbat. I was honored to speak to the group about why it was so important and symbolic to write a Torah for this occasion. The highlight of the night was when I brought Suzanna down to say a few words to our EFG@Aish seminary girls. They broke into spontaneous dancing and singing with her. Truly moving.
At the same time as the wedding was taking place, we had a dedication ceremony for the new Spanish Beis Medrash. I was thankful that they were within “sprinting“ distance of each other. It was so meaningful to address the students (in my black tie!) in the first new educational facility in the Old City for Aish in many years. One cannot overestimate how important our Spanish Yeshiva program is for the Jews of Latin America. It was a moving night where we were able to sing and dance at the two simultaneous joyous celebrations in the Old City!
Tonight the entire Jewish Nation will gather to celebrate Rosh HaShana, the start of the Jewish New Year. In many ways it is a celebration of our accomplishments over the past year. There is one caveat. The Almighty will judge us for those actions. He will determine if we could have done better. He will decide if perhaps we crossed the line a bit too much towards deeds that were unsavory. It is the ultimate accounting for our personal behavior.
Many people over the years have been cynical about this circumstance. They view G-d as a judgmental, wrathful deity waiting to punish us for a step out of line. I view our relationship with the Almighty differently. I view it as a “Dance of Love.” If I truly love the Almighty with all my heart and I believe that He truly loves me unconditionally, then I want to do the things that will please Him. In addition, walking a “G-dly Path” benefits the world and ultimately me. In essence, joining with G-d to do good in the world is a partnership more precious than any other. Yet this is not as easy as it sounds.
This past week I found myself in a challenging circumstance. Someone was upset after a meeting at Aish and wrote an email to a group of people basically accusing me of not being open to them working with Aish. As proof, they included an email I had written to them over three and a half years ago. To be open and transparent, the email I had written then was harsh, as it was at the height of a dispute and I was questioning the recipient’s behavior. It was a private email, addressed only to that person so as not to embarrass them publicly, yet my wording was not as appropriate as it should have been. It was clear that this person was now trying to strike back by publicizing my email in front of a larger group.
I had a choice. Obviously, a person’s first inclination is to push back hard in their own defense. I thought about it and realized that to continue a dispute doesn’t usually serve the betterment of the Jewish people. I therefore wrote back to the group that I was surprised at the accusation made that this email had affected this individual’s participation at Aish, especially since we had a pleasant interaction over a minor question that arose just this past week. Yet, I reread my email and realized I had let my emotions get the better of me instead of just sticking to the issues.
In the spirit of Rosh HaShana, I publicly apologized to this person as I realized my words had obviously caused him pain. This interaction seems simple yet it wasn’t. Letting go of grudges or working through embarrassing situations is the definition of the complexities of human emotion. Admittedly, my first reaction was not to apologize, yet, as a son of the Almighty, I realized it was the right thing to do.
My friends, we walk around with too much baggage. We hold too many grudges. We feel that being right is more important than peace among our family and friends. Having worked closely with our Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits, Shlit’a, for these past few years I have realized that his dedication towards how we treat our fellow Jews is second to none. He has an entire curriculum dedicated to how we treat each other. He is a shining example of this principle.
Last week I wrote an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post saying that disunity among the Jewish Nation was a bigger threat than antisemitism. I believe that to be true with all of my heart and soul. If the Jewish Nation is unified the Almighty will deal with the antisemites of the world. Yet unity starts with each one of us. We must seize the next ten days leading up to Yom Kippur to patch up broken relationships. Families must come together. Friends must come together. The Jewish Nation must come together.
I want to wish all of you, my Aish family, the most wonderful New Year. May the coming year be one filled with laughter, passion, inspiration, joy and fulfillment. May the Almighty bless us all with a closeness to Him and each other. May we merit to reunite with Him in His holy palace in Jerusalem. Much love to each and every one of you from the depths of my heart.