As I have said in the past, I try to keep the quotes short, but when I quote something a little longer, you know it is going to be really good. The following is an excerpt from R’ Bini Maryles’s Rosh Hashana drasha that he gave over several years ago. With his permission, I am now posting it. It is in my opinion one of the most inspirational drashas I have ever read and I therefore highly recommend you take a few minutes to read it before Yom Kippur. If you have no time to read it now, print it out and read it over Yom Kippur. It will certainly put you in the right frame of mind and help your davenning immensely. Here it is:
I don’t usually give my drashos titles
I don’t usually write out my drashos.
I don’t usually speak as personally as I will today.
The reason for those three changes is that this year is different. It is so radically different than last that it requires an entirely new approach to Rosh Hashanah for me, and by virtue of proximity, to you as well. The drasha this morning is entitled ‘If Only I Knew Then…’
In speaking this morning I invite you inside my heart and mind to see where I am at this moment. What it is that I am thinking about and what it is that my tefilos will center on this year. I can only hope that by sharing these thoughts that in some way it will move and inspire you to reach simultaneously deeper within and further out toward God. In that light it is written out and it is in a way my words to God as I stand face to face with the most powerful and meaningful prayer service of the year.
I stood right in this spot one year ago and it was entirely different. Of course I could not have known how radically changed my world would be, but You did. I shared drashos, shiurim and served as workable baal shacharis. If Only I Knew Then What I Know Now…
Allow me to open with thanks and praise, as is customary of our people and their prayers. Thank you for the blessings of this past year, and as according to halacha thank you for the non-blessings. I know and firmly believe that I am blessed even as I am concurrently chastened and humbled.
Thank You for my family, wife, kids, friends, health. They are all gifts which You have so graciously given me, for which I can only hope to repay You.
Thank you God as well for what to date has been the most difficult year of my life. You have tested my fortitude and faith in a very short period of time and I am here having gotten through it.
Thank you God for helping me through it. Sometimes by leading me directly with Your light and hand, sometimes carrying me and at other times through surrogates…friends, family, strangers. I know that I could not be here without You. You are compassionate, kind and benevolent in ways I cannot begin to understand. To know that I have You in my corner and all the more to really feel You in my life guiding and directing what at some times seems a bleak and dark film only makes me feel comforted and loved in a way that is so special and meaningful to me, I am unable to properly express in word.
Nonetheless, if I only knew then what I know now…
Hashem, let me move to the heart of the matter. One year ago all in my life seemed in perfect order. I had a nice job; we were expecting our fourth child and I had this opportunity to speak and daven on yom tov! Perfect! I prepared myself for yom tov as always, thinking about and writing down the stuff I wanted to think about and share with you during my tefilos. What was that? Health, wealth and wisdom. All fine and good. I must tell you that this year I am not thinking that way at all. I was wealthy, healthy and wise before that day I simply hadn’t realized it yet. You have shown that to me in a very stark and scary way, and I heard it and learned it well. My eyes have been open in a way that is reminiscent of Hagar as she watched her only son dying without an ability to help, and then suddenly a well appears. The truth is the well had always been there, but she didn’t see it. The blessing was right before her eyes and Hagar was missing it. Not me, at least not anymore.
This year I am wholly focused on the words of the great sage R’ Amnon, the folk author of Unesaneh Tokef. Never have his words meant more to me and never more have I thought, pondered and meditated over those words more than in the past few months.
Mi yichye u’mi yamus, mi b’kitzo u’mi lo b’kitzo…mi yei’ani u’mi yei’ashir…
Let us work in reverse order:
mi yei’ani u’mi yei’ashir
How many people do we know who have lost money in the past year? The answer to that one is almost everyone!
How many people felt secure in their financial life having done everything ‘right’ ready to really begin enjoying life?
How many people do we know that have lost their life savings?
How many people do we know who were ‘setup for life’ with investments in Merrill, Bear and Lehman?
How many retirees are returning to work with no end in sight as they watched their retirement run away from them?
How many people do we know who lost careers and jobs and now idle as never before even as they search for work?
How many people do we know collecting unemployment when one year ago they were on top of the financial world, or at least were in prestigious successful positions?
We don’t need to raise our hands, but I am guessing that everyone in the room can nod their head to most if not all of those scenarios. Me? I am one of them. I lost my job a number of months ago and I must tell you it is not enjoyable out there or in here. Opportunities appear and disappear like a desert mirage. Salary figures dwindle and then even disappear as funding dries up or the position is being reworked. It can be both disheartening and maddening at the same time. There is really no comfort in shared misery and it does not really help that there are millions like me out there, except that it reduces the embarrassment level, because the firing line is like a virus as it indiscriminately chooses its victims. As an aside I begin to appreciate the Yad Hashem in the pushing and maneuvering of people and opportunities in all sorts of directions, as others remain in their jobs as if nothing has occurred. There must be a BIGGER plan in mind. There has to be, because if there isn’t…well I cannot and do not believe that. mi yei’ani u’mi yei’ashir
mi b’kitzo u’mi lo b’kitzo
How many of us witnessed tragedy, in the loss of someone ‘too early?’
How painful and torturous are the shiva calls and hospital visits to people who should still be here and aren’t?
How many teens and twentysomethings do we lose too soon, to drugs, alcohol, etc? we suffer, we cry bitter tears… u’mi lo b’kitzo
How many tears have we shed for little children?
In our community, one of our Rabbis lost a son to fluke flu. One shabbos morning nine year old Levi Yitzchok didn’t wake up… his father the local Chabad Rav told people not to ponder why this happened and he certainly was not interested in everyone’s ‘prophecies’ on the matter. Simply he stated, Hashem decided that his son’s time here was done. Imagine being the rebbe in the room trying to teach his friends after he passed away. How do you do that? How does one go on after that?… u’mi lo b’kitzo
In my own life, I felt this moment, still do and will never forget it. It is as much a defining moment in our lives as any that we have experienced together or apart.
March 30th 2009 was an unbelievable day. Our son Azi was born and all was so sweet and beautiful in our world. We shared our joyous news with so many people, and there was such happiness and love in our life…within hours the notion of Mi yichye u’mi yamus mi b’kitzo u’mi lo b’kitzo enveloped us in a way that I cannot shake. The utter shock and fear of what seemed to be happening to us so overwhelmed the joy of the day. I think I didn’t see the baby for about six or eight hours until all seemed to be quiet and safe. Naomi’s sudden need for emergency post-partum, literally life-saving surgery brought our world to a terrifying stop, the thought, or better nightmare, of what possible outcomes existed I cannot even put in words…let us say they included u’mi lo b’kitzo. Praise to You Hashem for You brought her back to us and now she sits here healthy and I expect at this point in tears. I cannot begin to understand why we had that event in our lives, but I can begin to appreciate the love, support and outright outpouring of chessed and goodness that we felt that we have never experienced before. It is true that if one opens themselves up and is willing to accept kindness and righteousness, there is no greater feeling of family, friends and community. There is a warmth and comfort there that is sublime. I am just not sure why that was the way we learnt our lesson. mi b’kitzo u’mi lo b’kitzo
Mi yichye u’mi yamus
How many of us sitting here today are short a loved one that was with them last year? How many found out about a friend who was perfectly healthy last Rosh Hashanah that did not make it to this Rosh Hashanah?
How many of us know of someone or heard a story about a person who stood up and walked off their death bed?
How many times have we known of a person who should be dead or was even ‘called’ and sits with us now at the table laughing and living?
How many people are gone that we did not say a proper goodbye to or I love you to that we regret and suffer for now?
My father just lost a friend two weeks ago he called his other brother, who was perfectly healthy as of a February checkup, a person who lived a great life, but too short. Six days later he lost his former partner, aged 80. That was hard too, but at 80, perhaps it is easier. The next day he commemorated the 55 yharzeit of his father. Quite a week…and we ask… Mi yichye u’mi yamus
With all on the table Hashem I say ‘If Only I Knew Then…’
If only I knew one year ago what was going to happen.
If only I knew one year ago who would not be here.
If only I knew one year ago who would be sick
If only I knew one year ago who would be out of work
If only I knew one year ago who would be suffering financially
What would I have done? What could I do? Why would I look back like that? I cannot do anything now! Why express regret for not knowing, how could you know?!?
In truth I cannot turn back the clock and I cannot speak to myself one year ago on this day…but what if I could? What if I could reach back and be face to face with myself one year ago what would I share with myself about the year that was? What would I tell myself and what would I do about it?
I would say what are you doing? Why are focusing on that stuff? Do you know that in the coming year you are going to lose your job? You are facing months of being home all the time, of rejection, depression, few prospects for work! DAVEN DAVEN DAVEN!
You could Chas V’Shalom lose your wife this year! Are really thinking about davening about anything else!! DAVEN DAVEN DAVEN!
Beg Hashem to tear up the decree! Don’t leave until God gets how important this is to you, how important she is to you! pour it out to Him!
I know full well that I can’t do that, because it is not humanly possible, at least not yet. But oh do I wish I could. I have no regrets for the way I prayed last year and I fully know that I likely could not have changed anything…but maybe I could and while I cannot do it for last year I can absolutely do it for next year!
You see that moment is right now. Right now I can close my eyes and imagine next year coming to me today, here. What would I say to myself?….