Birthday Musings on the Occasion of my 66th
By Ariella Bracha Waldinger
On my brothers 40th birthday, he gave my mother 40 long stem red roses of exquisite fragrance. He wrote a moving, beautifully worded thank you note for bringing him into the world and being such a wonderful mother. Little did he know at the time he wrote the note that in four short years, he would die from leukemia. My brother was the only boy in a family of seven sisters and he and my mother had a very special relationship.
My mother humbly received his exquisite gift of flowers and his words of praise and savored the act of gratitude and kindness, along with the vibrant red flowers, as one of her most treasured gifts. My mother was a reflective woman and his loving gesture of gratitude deeply touched her.
Reflecting on the beautiful memory of my brother’s tender gift, I asked myself what gift I could give to myself and what could I give to G-d on my birthday. After all, I couldn’t send G-d 66 long stem red roses! I wanted to arrive at a gift that would be beneficial to both of us. What could give the most meaning to my celebration of the day my soul emerged into the garden of life? That was the question I asked myself. A resounding inner voice, as if long silenced, bellowed out: QUALITY TIME AND ATTENTION! When was the last time I gave my soul, my true essence, the time and attention and quiet it longed for? My decision was made! I was just going to BE on my birthday. I would give G-d: who created and sustains me, and my soul: the spark of G-d within me, some real soul food. I was joyous! I was taught on my 50th birthday that our birthdays are really about the gifts we give ourselves: both physical gifts and spiritual gifts with the main emphasis on spiritual.
The prospect of just being present and talking to G-d and listening to my soul musings excited me. Coincidentally, our house phone was not working all day until early evening, as if G-d had done it intentionally to help me fulfill my deepest longing for quiet and reflection. I got excited at the thought of giving pleasure to G-d through my soul relating. I had the house to myself and the quiet pervaded every cell of my body. It was one of those soul nourishing silences without any sounds but the beating of your heart. I said my morning prayers from a place of deep connectivity and joy. I took time to savor the teachings embedded in the words of the prayer book, and I read from the Psalms of King David. Then I just sat and reflected upon the mystery and majesty of my life especially now that my soul resides in the Land of The Living: THE HOLY LAND!
Can you imagine sitting alone in your home feeling no need to do anything other than reflect on your life and blessings? What demon compels us to be aggressively active to the point of exhaustion? What demon teaches us the lie that unless I have visible evidence that I have accomplished something, I have no worth. The truth is many Rabbis instruct us to find a quiet time each day to meditate and connect to our soul. They go so far as to say that a person who cannot make time for himself is enslaved.
And so, I sat and reflected on life, family, friends, the month of Nisan and mostly Pesach. I took an amazing journey through the various portals of my life experiences, smiling inside at some of the funny experiences, being awestruck at some of the obstacles I have overcome and being thoroughly overwhelmed with gratitude for the events that led my beloved husband and me to return to our ancient Jewish homeland. I felt uplifted to dizzying heights of awe as I saw the Hand of G-d so revealed in my life. Often times, it takes both growing older and distance to enable you to see more clearly the divine providence in your life as you reflect back.
And so, I sat and reflected, learned Torah and read from one of the most riveting books I have ever owned. It is entitled, Unbroken Spirit By Yosef Mendelevich (a former prisoner of conscience for 12 years in the Russian Gulag). I love reading with a passion and I could spends days reading and learning but life has me doing other things right now. I thrive and come alive through books that inspire me and move me to grow and I have read a lot of them. But this particular book has become one of the most inspiring books I have ever read in my 66 years and I want you to get it and read it for yourself. I want you to learn from it, feast upon its Jewish soul power, and claim some of its beauty and light for yourself.
Yosef was 22 years old when he went to prison for 12 years, for attempting to hijack a plane, in order to leave the constriction of communist Russia and go to his beloved homeland of Israel. His inner need to live in Israel was completely a soul longing that could not be quelled. He paid dearly for his actions but conceded that he would not have had it any other way. The thought of being separated from his nation and his homeland prayed on his mind day and night until he had no peace. He said it was as if something out of his control compelled him to attempt what he did.
Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau, in his endorsement of the book wrote the following:
The biography of prisoner of Zion, Rav Yosef Mendelevich, one of the shining examples of the struggle for Soviet Jewry against Communist rule, teaches us how the power of a single individual can change the world: how the power of faith and the uncompromising determination of the spirit can subdue an enemy’s power. Unbroken Spirit tells the story of an extraordinary man whose whole life is a treatise of Kiddush HaShem (sanctification of G-ds name) and great self-sacrifice for the sake of observing the Torah and its mitzvot in all situations—in pain and crisis and also in peace and comfort.
The most striking reality of this Jew, Yosef Mendelevich, was that he did not grow up with a Jewish education or Torah teachings and yet as a teen-ager when the inner reality of his longings became manifest, he bolted like a racehorse out of a starting gate, for his divine inheritance: G-d, Torah, his Nation and His ancestral homeland. His every move began to radiate these longings until his chance to flee the confines of his Jewishly deprived life, risky though it was.
Here is an excerpt from page 169.
What lesson did years of imprisonment teach me? Sanctifying G-d’s name, perhaps? Returning to the fold and acquiring G-ds law? It is not for me to judge. Only G-d is omniscient. But perhaps the best way to put it is that my years of prison taught me how very far the world is from perfection and wholeness—myself very much included. This awareness stirred within me the desire to become whole, to live a more just life, even as I realized that the matter did not depend on me alone. I came to understand how wholeness is to be found only in clinging to G-d. I learned, in other words, the meaning of the endless quest for the ideal, the dissatisfactions of reality, and the measure of the distance between the ideal and reality.
In another powerful disclosure, he states, “in my view, one’s soul could not simultaneously be partly Russian and partly Jewish. Jewish belonging demanded total commitment.” Yosef Mendelevich discovered in the darkest time of his young life, the truth of his Jewish heritage. He decided he must adhere to the values our Holy Torah espouses for he believed without it he would perish. He personified Emunah (faith in G-d) throughout his trials and painful ordeals. This aspect of Yosef’s life and imprisonment connects us to the holiday of Pesach which is truly the festival of Emunah!
In a beautiful Arutz Sheva article on Nisan, Rosh Chodesh and Pesach, by Dr.Dodi Fishman Tobin, the author writes the following: “The late Slonimer Rebbe in his masterpiece, Netivot Shalom deems Pesach, the Rosh HaShanah of Emunah (faith in G-d) for clarity of Emunah was the ultimate objective of the Exodus from Egypt and is the spiritual objective on Seder night.”
So this is my birthday gift to you: the wisdom inherent in making time for your soul and G-d connection, getting quiet and simply being. See what it feels like and savor its truth and beauty! Additionally, if you are open to a book recommendation that will haunt you with its stark pain, undeniable truth and profound beauty, do yourself a favor and buy it. Also, please make time to prepare yourself spiritually for the spiritual nuclear explosion that can be felt, as we draw down the enormous spiritual light into our hearts and home through the rituals of the Pesach Seder.
With love and Blessings for revealed good, Ariella Bracha