Michelle and I have taken few vacations during our 10 years of dating and marriage. We have certainly gone to Australia on multiple occasions to visit Michelle’s (and now my) family and friends. The nature of those visits, inherently, is different than that of an island get-away, or some tourist excursion. When you go to visit family and friends, no matter how great a distance covered, you are visiting a place of familiarity and comfort. Vacations to new destinations are just different. We had that different experience when we went to Puerto Rico three years ago.
The beautiful little island welcomed us to an experience of comfort….well…mostly. I was still trying to juggle my homework and online classes for school which still required my mandatory attendance. Michelle was uncomfortable for other reasons…she was seven months pregnant. Hot island get-aways may sound better on paper than in pregnant reality! It really ended up being a lovely vacation, though, and I find myself praying that the beautiful restaurants and stores that we visited may still be standing after the devastation of last year’s hurricanes.
One other thing made the trip tremendously memorable. During one of the days of our stay, Michelle and I poured over the list of names that we had assembled years earlier. We originated this list when trying to name Alex, our son, and we still had written down our old list of girl’s names, as we were already aware that our soon-to-be child would be a daughter. I remember reading the etymology of the name we selected, “Talia.” Tal is the Hebrew word for “dew” and “ya” is one of God’s names. So in essence, Talia means “God’s dew.” During the summer months, as we pray the central part of our service, The Amidah, we pray for the “falling of the dew” (Morid HaTal). This dew is so very important during the summer. During the winter we instead pray for the rains to fall.
See, in Israel, the winter is the rainy season, which provides the needed moisture to sustain the lands through the summer. There is no rain in the Israeli summer. However, there is dew. Those tiny morning droplets of water that form on leaves, on grasses…those often-unseen droplets provide the necessary moisture for plants to survive in the summer heat. Even though they are unseen (unless we look for them), those droplets provide a life source for us. The Jewish mystics say that God is exactly the same. We rarely may notice God’s presence (unless we look for it), but it provides us a life source, just the same. Talia…God’s dew…a reminder of our good fortune of life and all that we have been given. That worked for us, and so it was to be the name for our daughter…well it was to be that or Addison, but you know…I don’t have a really deep mystical explanation for that name…so Talia….Yes, Talia! (No joke, we really were in a debate about that until a moment before we introduced our daughter to our parents!)
This week, we read in our Torah from the very beginning of the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar. That is the Hebrew name for both the portion, and the entire Book of Numbers…Bamidbar. While the English term for the book’s name is “Numbers,” the Hebrew word “Bamidbar” actually means “In the desert.” In this portion, as the Jews continue their trek through the desert, hoping to eventually get to the Land of Canaan, Moses is instructed to take a census of the Israelites. Moses needs to count all the people. While there were rules as to whom was to be counted, or those to be excluded from the count, I can only imagine it was daunting. Imagine being Moses, looking out at all the people and trying to stand before them, let alone count them. How can you recognize the individual amongst those masses?
My mind pictures one of those string-art pieces where a single nail is embedded in a board. Single pieces of string are wrapped around that one nail, and then spread out to many different points on the board. All these strands either spread out from the nail, or come together at the nail, depending on your perspective. While Moses had his view of all the people, they each had their view of Moses. We hear about who Moses was from the Torah’s point of view, but I wonder what it would have been like to hear about Moses from all those varied perspectives held by the Israelites. We each have our views of the world, but it would be interesting (perhaps intimidating) to know how so many others view us, as well. I often get a glimpse of this during one of the most sacred responsibilities of my position, that of officiating at a funeral. After one these tender ceremonies, I often find myself wanting to know the person better, or get to be with them longer, just from hearing the attendees, and the Rabbi, offer such lovely recollections of the person who died. The Chespid, or euology, blesses us with little stories that make us smile, or allow us to feel the pangs of loss. That person gets to be known even more fully than before, as they are lifted up….singled out for their mark on this world….and in this way…counted.
Those moments of loss are naturally so scary for us. We may often feel alone. We may feel out in the wilderness, bearings lost…compass nowhere to be found. In those times, out in that desert, we need those little droplets of dew….that sometimes unseen source of strength and sustenance. Our community is magnificent in its support of one another. Our “Caring Community” group routinely goes out of its way to take care of our members in their times of need. They step forward to make a difference, to provide. Never is it so that they can be seen, or noticed for what they are doing. Instead, they are truly being “God’s dew”….unseen providers of life source.
I am so proud of the time that I have been a member of such a gorgeous community. This week was a tough one, with the recognition of death striking our community more broadly than in other weeks. During that time I saw so many examples of our community forming droplets. I stood on the bima, during a funeral, and saw hundreds of people come forward to be counted. They all focused their attention on one man whose passing allowed us a moment to reflect, even more fully, on the magnificence of his life well lived. The Torah tells us, at the very end, that there will never again be a man like Moses…and that very well is likely true…however, after hearing the beautiful reflections on the life of Dr. Mitchell Slotnick, I am left in wonderment of what his perspective must have looked like, as he stood in front of all those people during his lifetime. Many strands going out in many directions….powerfully connecting, and allowing him to land and impact so many different people. What a lesson in how to make a difference with our lives…and in witnessing our temple community, and the broader community’s responses…how to show up and be counted.
May we each have access to our best selves as we look to make a difference in the world. In the moments when we are not sure what to say or what to do, may we each find a path to make a small difference. It need not be huge….just be there….and in so doing, we can form the tiny droplets that make a difference in the world. We can be the Talia.
Cantor Adam Kahan