What's Next for Me? by Rabbi Judy Chessin
Graduation is the season of commencement addresses. As we look inside this newsletter at our many Temple Beth Or graduates, imagine how many of our members listened to sentiments of “Carpe Diem, seize the day” this past month. I will al-ways remember Jill Abramson’s graduation address to my son Brett’s 2014 law school class at Wake For-est. Only days before, she had been fired as the executive editor of the New York Times. She said to the graduates. “What’s next for me? I don’t know. So I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you.” To me this was far more inspiring than the typical, cliché commencement speech. It resonated with the realities and insecurities of our modern era.
Moses, too, gave a commencement address to the children of Israel as they graduated from being a wandering tribe to a settled people. Moses began “I am one hundred and twenty years old today.” (Deut. 31:2) Why “today” – was it his birthday? “No,” conclude our Rabbis, “this was rather to suggest that Moses lived out every one of those days to the day.” There were days when he was a bold and decisive leader, such as when he freed his people, received the Torah or adjudicated God’s law. Yet Moses also experienced days of insecurity and indecision when he experienced God’s silences, his people’s intransigence and felt a lack of direction. Yet, our Rabbis state, every (to) day Moses remained true to the values of his faith and his God given mission.
Likewise, Judaism teaches us to squeeze every possible blessing out of our time—our “todays”—on Earth. Even in times of uncertainty, we can still find moments of grace, bestowing compassion and care upon other human beings in even greater straits than are we. By providing simple acts of caring for those around us, serving those who lack food or economic security, caring for the neighbors who are in the same boat, fighting the bigotry, hatred and enmity so rampant in our world, we anchor ourselves in time and space. Simple acts can imbue our days with meaning no matter state of life.
The meaning of time was well summed up by French novelist Marc Levy in If only it were True:
If you want to know the values of one year, just ask a student who failed a course.
If you want to know the value of a month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
If you want to know the value of one hour, ask the lovers waiting to meet
If you want to know the value of one minute, ask the person who just missed the bus.
If you want to know the value of one second, ask the person who just escaped death in a car accident.
And if you want to know the value of one hundredth of a second, ask the athlete who won a silver medal in the Olympics.
No matter what twists and turns beset our graduates (and ourselves) we pray that they too will live to 120 and imbue their days with meaning. No matter what life brings them we pray that they will make their lives matter.