It was a while back when I was listening to the radio in my car (back when we were actually going places). I was flipping through the radio stations and there was a talk radio host who was saying to his caller; “you’re either a builder or a destroyer it’s that simple.” I’ve given a lot of thought to that paradigm since. I’m still not convinced that life is as black and white as the radio host suggested, but there is some truth in the words he quickly uttered. So often in our lives; we take one of two paths: We build or we destroy. We’re either builders or destroyers.
This week, I was thinking about this idea because I had the privilege of gathering together two groups of people; one group of children ages 5-11 and the other a group of adults 18-92 years old. The two groups gathered distinctly, but both lifted my spirits and nearly took my breath away because of what I witnessed.
The first group was the kids; we were having a conversation about why it’s hard to say sorry, and about forgiveness, and about what gets in the way of admitting that we did something wrong. A pre-Yom Kippur conversation. The kids had the most beautiful ideas, they shared their stories, their experiences and their vulnerability with one another.
One of the moments that took my breath away though happened in between the sharing: There was a point when I asked a question and two of the boys Jacob (who is 5 1/2) and Izzy (who’s 11) both raised their hands to answer. I called on Jacob which meant that he had the zoom mic (that green square that made him the speaker of the moment) but instead of answering the question, Jacob said, “I think Izzy also had something to say. Izzy can speak first and then I’ll share.” It was exquisite. I’ve spent an outrageous amount of hours on zoom over the past 6 months and I haven’t yet witnessed such a simple extension of generosity.
Later that night, I met with the adults. We spoke about how their relationships with Gd and ideas about Gd have changed or evolved over the course of this year. We spoke about what they’ve grown to miss over the course of this year. We spoke about what they thought the shofar needs to awaken us to this year. Their answers, too, were magnificent. After an hour long conversation, I was actually speechless. To the point where the only thing I could do, the only thing that felt “right” was to sing a niggun, a wordless song, together. And so we did, feeling grateful and blessed by the experience and opportunity.
In reflecting on this gathering, I realized that it wasn’t only what everyone shared that was beautiful, it was also the interactions between them. Again. You see, every time someone spoke or answered a question, the others listened wholeheartedly, acknowledged, affirmed and lifted up the other person’s ideas beliefs and thoughts – it was extraordinary!
In this month of Elul, leading up to the holidays….maybe it’s not a bad idea to think about our words and our actions in the way that the radio host presented them. Perhaps we ask ourselves, will my words build up the confidence, self worth and esteem of the person before me? Will my words validate and affirm? Or…will my words make someone else feel inadequate, less than, insecure or diminished. Will my actions build the world that I wish to live in or will it destroy the world that is?
And remember…. It’s never too late to become the person we aspire to be.
Wishing you a Shavuah tov, a healthy and good week ahead!
Rabbi Dana Saroken