The High Holy Days are a time to look back at our year, look inward at ourselves, fix that which is broken, and start anew. But where do we start? What are the questions? Where is our diagnostic? What is our test?
Our tradition teaches that we will be asked a series of questions when we arrive in heaven. These questions are our Jewish GPS, our signposts, and our benchmarks for repairing ourselves and improving our lives.
In his book, The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven, Dr. Ron Wolfson writes, "when we get to heaven, we’ll be asked questions that aren’t like the ones we’ve been asked in a job interview or to get into college. We won’t be asked about our strengths and our weaknesses. We won’t be asked about our skills or hobbies. We’ll be asked the questions in heaven that reveal how we lived our lives on earth. We will be asked the questions that go to the very heart of a life that matters."
Just as Rabbi Hillel boiled the entire Torah down to one commandment, the golden rule, Dr. Wolfson’s 7 questions can be absorbed into 1: What is your legacy?
On these High Holy Days, we recite the Unetaneh Tokef, the chilling words about who will live and who will die… and how our spiritual life, our repentance, and righteousness mitigate the decree... Who will live and who will die?
It’s Us! We will!… It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when... If you didn’t have a tomorrow could you honestly say that yours was a life to be admired, proud of, or emulated?
This is at the heart of the final few Torah portions that we read in Deuteronomy, including our portion this week, Vayelech. Moses knows that his days are over and the Israelites are continuing on without him. Did he do all that could to prepare them and provide for them?
A very familiar story from our tradition teaches of a young man named Honi, who came across an elderly man planting a carob tree. Honi asked ―how long will it take for this carob tree to yield fruit? The elderly man responded, “It‘ll take 70 years.”
"70 years?!" said Honi, "but you won‘t be around to enjoy the fruit."
The elderly man chuckled, "I‘m not planting this for myself; I‘m planting it for my children and their children." (Ta‘anit 23a)
What are we providing for future generations? How will each of us be remembered?
I think about this question all the time, what will my legacy be?…at every funeral, every baby naming, every wedding, every shiva, every bar and bat mitzvah, every hospital visit… But I ask the question of myself, a little differently.
I ask, “What would my children, Isabel and Eli think of me?” Am I a good father? Am I a loving husband? Am I a kind human being? Am I living a moral and ethical life worthy of the admiration of my children? All that I am and all that I do, will they be proud of me?
Every decision I make, every action I take is guided and defined by this intention… sometimes when I am driving back to the temple from Cedars after a painful visit or back from Hillside after a dark funeral, I stop at home to give my family kisses, hug them, hold them, tell them I love you… I tell myself tomorrow will be better… tomorrow I will be better… I promise...
But as the words of the High Holy Days teach us, we cannot wait until tomorrow, tomorrow I will start...
We start now... now is the time, this is our time. We look at ourselves and fix that which is broken.
We have the question: What is my legacy? In this new year, let’s create an answer we all can be proud of.
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova.