Your Life Is Not About Youby Rachel Eden July 26, 2018
Over seven decades later, Eva is interviewed, surrounded by her husband, children and grandchildren. In this new world, she has stability and security. She speculates that she has recovered from her suffering but adds that she’ll never recuperate from her loss. While we will never make sense of this tragic time in Jewish history, tragedy of any kind offers us an elevated perspective, a clarity, on what matters in life: people.
August 2018 encompasses the fascinating juxtaposition between the Jewish month of Av (when we fast and mourn for the destroyed Holy Temple) and Elul (when we prpare for the Days of Judgement and Atonement). What possible bridge lies between a time of mourning and one of adjudication? In parallel, how did Eva Schloss and so many like her transition from overwhelming grief to reestablishing love and life?
The answer emerges when we analyze the catalyst for Av’s lamentation and the strategy for Elul’s instruction. Concerning Av, the Talmud explains (with specific case studies) that the defining societal defect preceding the second Temple’s destruction was baseless hatred. The Talmud discusses Rabbi Elazar’s famous words in the section regarding the destruction of the Temple, “Come and see what is the tremendous negative impact of embarrassing someone, for G-d helped … destroy His House and burn His Palace.” So, Av, at its core, is mourning for our lost ability to care sufficiently, to truly love, someone else.
Apropos to Elul, this period is when we prepare to be judged as individuals for our deeds. Our sages advise that we exert special effort to help others and become indispensable to them. By doing so, our lives are not only judged based on our own merits but on the merits of the people who need us. In other words, the more people need us, the more valuable are our lives. Essentially, Elul reminds us that the road to a positive judgement is paved with loving other people.
Motivational speaker David Flood shared a personal story to an assembly room filled with high school students that fits well with the message of Av and Elul. It was the last hockey game of the season and David’s son, Justin, along with his teammates were losing 8-3. Three minutes were left on the clock. After a face off, one kid shot the puck to Justin, who took a soft shot. The puck rebounded off of the goalie’s pad and the goalie inexplicably stuffed it into the goal. The boys from both teams and their fans all went wild. Justin was lifted onto a teammate’s shoulders and everyone cheered except for one man: David.
David was sobbing. Justin had been diagnosed with autism as a toddler and struggled to fit in socially throughout his life. He couldn’t make eye contact, didn’t know how to interject himself into a conversation, and sat alone at lunch every day since he began school. David finally composed himself and walked over to the opposing team’s bench to shake the coach’s hand and thank him – David knew the coach had set this up. The coach looked David square in the eyes and said, “Don’t thank me. Thank the boys.”
David Flood concluded his story to the assembly, “They were 10 and 11-year-old boys. All they did was let Justin score a goal. But here’s the takeaway –They had no idea that [I] would go out and tell that story to over 100,000 kids. I don’t think you’re too young to hear this message so I say this to you: Your life is not about you. Your life is about all the people around you, all the people you can touch, all the people you can impact, all the people you can influence, all the people that you love, and all the people that love you. Live your life like that and watch your life change. It’s amazing what happens.”
The dark lesson of the month of Av and the bright message of Elul are two sides of the same coin. The healthy reaction to loss is a two-part exercise: First, to grieve and second, to rededicate our lives to valuing the people around us above all else – from worldly possessions to stress and pressure. This is the bridge between Av and Elul. We rise, wipe away our tears and replace them with a fervent conviction to love each other.