On Yom Kippur, three Congregation Or Ami members shared sermonettes throughout the service on Lessons They Learned Living Through Hardship. These Jewish TED Talk/Yom Kippur Social Sermons were each moving individually and very inspiring as a whole. Read about How a Whole Congregation Wrote its Rabbi’s Yom Kippur Sermon.
The Unetaneh Tokef prayer talks about the struggles of life. As Rabbi Kipnes calls it, it is the “stuff happens” prayer. This is the part of Yom Kippur that I really enjoy if that’s ok to say … it’s the time to really reflect on yourself, your beliefs, and your actions.
As I reflect on this, I have realized for quite some time that it is not one’s ability to thrive during good times that make the person, but one’s ability to survive — and learn from — life’s toughest moments. Furthermore, one never knows what’s really the good and what’s really the bad. Do you think that Bill Gates’ parents were excited when 20-year old Bill told them that he was dropping out of Harvard to start his own company? Two similar phrases — “We’ll see” and “More shall be revealed” — have guided my reactions to life’s events — both good and bad — for a number of years now.
Because of some business and material success, I have heard some people say that I have a charmed life. What they may not be aware of are the many life’s challenges – hard times – that I have endured to learn the life’s lessons that have allowed me to have this so-called charmed life. It is, in fact, the challenging times that I think of first when I think about what has allowed me to be the man that I am.
As a child, I grew up without much money. I recall my parents actually alternating nights that they ate dinner, as there wasn’t enough money for adequate food. I recall one Chanukah with my mother crying because she couldn’t even buy small gifts for us that year.
We’ve experienced several serious health situations over the years, each quite scary, but from which we recovered. I wish I could share them with you, but they are just too private for this broad an audience.
While I’ve experienced some business success, I’ve also failed in four businesses. For one of the earlier businesses, I had borrowed a large amount of money. When it failed, I was devastated, having no idea how I would repay the money that I borrowed or properly provide for my family.
While I was going through one of these particularly tough times, a new friend said to me, “You know, Dave, this is actually a gift.” At the time, I couldn’t fathom what he was saying. But since, I’ve come to understand completely.
I have learned that each of life’s challenges – hardships as might be a more direct way of putting it – give us an opportunity to learn things that we otherwise wouldn’t learn, develop new skills, and, most of all, appreciate life for all that it is. As a result of the hardships that life has given me, I’ve developed traits and skills that I probably never would have developed without these very tough experiences — tenacity, resilience, better interpersonal skills, better leadership skills, a better ability to negotiate and compromise, a keen ability to problem solve, a more true understanding of love, and an abundance of gratitude.
Life is great. But it is fragile. And it must be cherished. As the Unetaneh Tokef prayer teaches us, we will all be faced with challenging times and joyful times. Some of the challenging times seem so unfair … whether it’s dealing with life threatening cancer, a teen’s life threatening battle with drugs and alcohol, a long period of time out of work … you get the idea … we must learn to take it all in, recognizing that this is, in fact, a gift of life’s lessons – hard as they are – that, ultimately, teach us what we need to learn and take us to the life that we all deserve.
G’mar Chatimah Tova. May you be sealed for a blessing in the Book of Life.
Listen to David Sackman’s Sermonette (at 00:22:09).