Rummaging through your basement is like going to the Museum of You. You can browse through artifacts from the different eras of your life, and see how you have evolved from a homo dependent, to a homo adolescent, (the stage at which you are still totally dependent, but think that you are independent) all the way to your current form of homo adultus.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting my museum where, among other items, I found a painted seashell I bought on the Greek island of Mykonos, a poem I wrote on a paper towel in an eleventh grade class describing my incredible boredom, and a shirt with a drill-hole in it, reminding me of the days when I was too macho or too dumb to back away from a drill wielding classmate.
I also happened to find a scrap of paper with a name, address, and telephone number on it. It read: Leibel and Elisheva Morrison, 27 South Lake Ave., Troy, NY 12180.The address was followed by a phone number. This particular scrap brought me back to a snowboarding trip ten years ago. A friend and I spent Thanksgiving weekend riding up and down the icy slopes of Killington, Vermont, and were looking for a place to spend Shabbos. (Remind me to tell you about the smoked turkey drumstick I carried in my left glove while snowboarding down the mountain on Thanksgiving, and the dog that almost got it!) The only place we could find within a 60 mile radius was the Chabad of Troy, and R’ Leibel Morrison welcomed us graciously.
It was one of those Shabbatot that goes down in the books. We arrived in Troy after a few days of intense snowboarding, and were quite ready to melt into a Shabbos full of warmth, singing, a stream of Chaims, and great food. Leibel Morrison is one of the funniest people I have ever met, and at every meal he literally had me doubled over in pain from laughing so hard.
But I also learned some important lessons from Leibel. Every time he made Kiddush, he let the wine spill over the top generously saying that our cup of blessings should always run over. (He placed my Kiddush cup in a bowl, and spilled so much that I had a 3 centimeter pool of wine in the bowl. He really wanted me to have lots of blessing!) This was just an indication of his approach to Judaism, which was one of expansiveness and joy. We also had great conversations during our 45 minute walks to the synagogue (in -10 degree weather), when I was able to see the more serious side of his Judaism, one still enthused with the same joy he displayed at the Shabbos table I also appreciated the sacrifice his family made daily, living far from any sizeable Jewish community for the sake of keeping the Jewish flame alive for the few Jews living in that area.
To this day, every time I make Kiddush, I let the wine spill generously over the top, in the hope that my cup of blessing overflow. A lot of what Leibel and I spoke about on that Shabbos remained with me, and is found in the way I live my Judaism today. And now, after having entirely lost contact with him, I found his number in my museum. I immediately called his house, and even though he wasn’t home, I told his wife how much that Shabbos had meant to me. I then called him on his cell phone and repeated everything. Both times, I got a surprised but very warm response. I then sent them a donation. I recently got a thank you card from them, in which Leibel wrote that my phone call gave him a lot of strength.
I wonder what it must be like to be on the receiving end of a phone call like that. Someone you barely knew and can hardly remember, calls you out of the blue, and tells you that you really made a positive difference in their lives, through an action that seemed most natural to you. Unfortunately, the closest I can come to knowing what that feels like is from the opposite perspective.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine called with information he felt I should know so I could rectify a mistake I had made. He was talking with a friend of his and my name came up in conversation. The person blurted out angrily, “Leiby has no feelings for others!” My friend was surprised, and asked his friend why he thought that. His friend then related that about twelve years ago he approached me at a simcha. He came over, and after introducing himself, reminded me that we had been together in camp many years before. Evidently, there were a lot of people that I knew at the simcha, and someone else came over and started talking to me, and I left this person hanging. I never came back to finish our conversation, and he was hurt that I had forgotten about him.
When I heard this I was blown away. Since that event twelve years ago, I have had numerous conversations with this person, and never would have dreamed that he was carrying around a pain from something careless I had done over a decade ago. But he was, and I would have never found about it, if not for a simple conversation years later. I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a negative blast from the past, one based on an unremarkable event that I had entirely forgotten, and it isn’t good.
We are approaching Rosh Hashanah, with its lengthy Mussaf service, one that we often have difficulty connecting with. The central aspect of the service is three topics mentioned in the amida; Kingship, Remembrances, and Shofarot. In the prayer related to Remembrances we mention a number of times that G-d remembers everything, small or big, today and throughout all of history.
It is understandable that on the Day of Judgment we would mention that G-d knows what we have done, but why is there so much emphasis on the fact that G-d remembers everything small and large, spanning the entire history of the world? This shows us that God cares about us, and values everything we do. Regrettably, we sometimes don’t value everything we do. We don’t realize that with the smallest of our actions we can make a significant difference in our lives, or in the lives of those around us. The two stories from above highlight just how great an effect an action we think nothing of can have. Rosh Hashanah is a time where we can reflect on the idea that if G-d cares about each and every one of our actions, unremarkable as it may seem, so should we.
Evidently, unremarkable is a term that doesn’t apply to any actions of the homo adultus.
Leiby Burnham, LMSW, is a rabbi, psychotherapist, and writer. He lives in Detroit with his wife, an ICU nurse, who is on strict orders to “leave her patients at work” and their two daughters, Orah and Shifra. Rabbi Burnham works for the Jean and Theodore Weiss Partners in Torah program of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, where he does community outreach, and runs a Jewish educational programs at University of Michigan, Wayne State, and Oakland University. He taught learning-disabled high school students for eight years in NYC, while receiving Rabbinical training at Shor Yoshuv Institute, and obtaining his Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.