Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mi Yichyeh- What will we choose for the year ahead?

With Rosh Hashana around the corner I suppose it’s normal for me to be pensive, but this year it’s particularly acute. Several recent events have me thinking about life and death to a degree that I usually don’t.

A good friend recently suffered a minor heart attack. Thank God, he is fine, but ever since he shared the news, I’ve found myself thinking about my own health. When I was a runner, I was in the best shape of my life and I was able to live with the illusion that health problems and even death were things that could happen to others, but not to me. Now, as I am unable, in some way that I can’t fully explain or even understand, to regain my health, life feels more precarious. It’s more than that however that has me thinking so deeply about the precariousness of life.

Since hearing about the news of the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez, who was a star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, and learning about who he was as a person, son, grandson (be prepared to cry) and teammate, I’ve found myself thinking about him, and how suddenly things can change, without any warning for any of us. The death of a person who seemingly had so much of life ahead of him, a person who touched and inspired so many lives on and off the field, has left feeling sad and empty.

I awoke today to the news of the passing of Shimon Peres. Unlike Fernandez, Peres lived a long and complete life. He served his people and country, and was recognized internationally as one who tried to do what was right. As perhaps the last of the surviving founding fathers of Israel, he was in many ways larger than life. It’s not his achievements however, which included being Prime Minister and President of Israel, as well as winning the Nobel Peace Prize which spoke to me so deeply. It was his ability to continue to be a dreamer, to reinvent himself later in life, and to not take himself so seriously, so that he could allow himself to do some out-of-the-box things to make people smile.

It is these latter qualities which link the passing of these two men who were different in so many ways, and who  most likely did not know about each other. For very different reasons they were looked up to, even idolized, by their respective nations. I know it sounds cliched, but both Peres and Fernandez took the challenges of their lives in stride, and managed to inspire and uplift so many people, often with warmth and humor.

It is here that I return to the upcoming Yamim Noraim. It is somewhat ironic that perhaps the most powerful part of the tefillah on these days is a prayer whose origin is shrouded in some degree of confusion. Over the years, as I’ve said U’Nesaneh Tokef, the words have hit me differently each time. I can still remember the first time I said the words “Mi yichyeh, u’mi yamus”, who will live and who will die, after the passing of my father. I struggled to utter the words, as tears poured down my face. This year, as I think about these words, I think about them differently. Yes, it is true that we do not know who will be with us at this time next year, but as we are constantly reminded, that is largely out of our control. What we can control and where we have a choice is mi yichyeh, who will live life in a way that they are truly alive. Will we inspire others, continue to dream each time life beats us down, and face life’s challenges with equanimity and whenever possible with a smile? As we head into 5777 on the Jewish calendar may we not only be sealed for life, but may we also choose to have a year of life lived well.

Ketiva V’Chatima Tova

1 comment:

  1. There was the year I tried saying "מִי יִחְיֶה וּמִי יָמוּת. מִי בְקִצּוֹ וּמִי לֹא בְקִצּוֹ ... וּמִי בָאֵשׁ, מִי בָרַעַשׁ.... מִי בַחֲנִיקָה, וּמִי בַסְּקִילָה; מִי יָנוּחַ וּמִי יָנוּעַ, מִי יִשָּׁקֵט, וּמִי יִטָּרֵף, מִי יִשָּׁלֵו. וּמִי יִתְיַסָּר..." while still charley-horse from the walk down dozens of flights of stairs, then from Battery Park to NYU Hospital to the 59th St Bridge to LSS and finally my brother's apartment on 97th St.

    I just couldn't get the words out. I sat down, I cried. But my throat was too clenched to actually say anything.