April 14, 2006

A letter of thanks

I wrote, this morning, a long letter of thanks to a friend, a Hasidic Jew who gave me a gift this year and a gift several years earlier. With some minor changes, I realized upon re-reading, it would make an excellent blog entry. And so:

Dear Friend,

Please excuse the fact that I am writing to you on my computer as opposed to by hand. I want you to be able to read my note, you see, and my handwriting would make that much more challenging than strictly necessary.

This is a long overdue note but, just the same, I write to thank you for the gift you made me of the _______ Haggadah some several years ago and for the gift you gave me of the matzah, this year.

As you may know, I now have three children: The Girl Child, age 5; The Boy Child, age 3; and, The New Addition some 10 days old now. I send the Girl Child and the Boy Child to preschool at the _____ Synagogue of ____ where, along with playground time, they receive the beginnings of a formal Jewish education. Frankly, their education is already probably better than what I was open to receiving. Indeed, I wish you could have heard the Girl Child sing the four questions at the Seder on Wednesday night in Hebrew. It was lovely and better than I could have.

As we were coming home from the Seder, the Girl Child told me that she did not want to have a second Seder on Thursday night. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to push Jewish life on her. My view is that it needs to be a part of her life because she has been led to want it as a part of her life not because I have forced her into it. It may not be the right decision, at the end of the day, but I am doing the best I can. So, I acquiesced and told her that that would be fine and we could skip the second Seder.

Then I got home last night and, I am happy to report, was confronted with an angry and disappointed young lady who demanded to know why we were not having a second Seder. I explained to her that if she had wanted one, we would have been able to have one but that I had to prepare and would have had to have come home much earlier than I did. Her mother promised her that, with the seven days left to us, we would have a second Seder. She was mollified.

And so, I went to the bookshelves in my den. I knew that I would find there the only Haggadah I owned: The _____ Haggadah you had given to me. I took it from the shelf and put it in my bag to bring with me on the train for my commute so I could review it and make some appropriate selections from it for our second Seder. I had never, I must confess, looked at it beyond a sort of cursory fashion before but, I thought, it is a Haggadah and a Haggadah is exactly what I need.

I read through the first half of it this morning and, in one sitting, feel as if I have acquired a vastly different understanding of the Passover holiday, of the miracle of the Exodus, of the importance of it all to me as a Jew. It is a wonderful book, my friend, and, I am almost ashamed to say, I have already learned so much from it.

I did not realize that “the Children of Israel ‘were naked and bare’ -- they did not perform mitzvot in Egypt [and] [e]ven the mitzvah of circumcision was forgotten. When the time for the redemption finally arrived, G-d gave the Jews to mitzvot to perform: the Paschal Lamb and circumcision . . .” (citation omitted). I did not realize that it was, among other things, due to the performance of these two mitzvot that G-d redeemed our people from slavery in Egypt. This affected me greatly and I want to share with you why.

My newest son, the New Addition, named in blessed memory of my grandfather, _______ who died in December 2005, was born on April 5, 2006. We held my son’s bris on Wednesday, April 12, the morning of the first Seder. His circumcision was held the morning of the day on which we gathered to thank G-d for his redemption, just as the Haggadah recounts that our people were circumcised those thousands of years ago. With that beautiful ceremony, we were all privileged to share a connection with our fore-fathers as they too were circumcised and waited to be freed from slavery. I, obviously, did not realize the significance of the timing of the New Addition’s bris until I read the book you gave me. My grandfather would have known, I bet.

I was terribly moved by this wonderful occurrence and felt, as I felt when my wife was spared the devastation of September 11, 2001 because we were all at the mikvah for the conversion to Judaism ceremony for the Girl Child, that somehow G-d has welcomed my children into the covenant of his people, despite the fact that I married, for love, outside my faith.

Reading this Hagaddah that you gave me has given me greater insight into the holiday and spurred me on to want to know more and to study and to acquire more knowledge. And so, I write to thank you and to tell you that, in my view, you have performed a mitzvah. You have allowed me to learn and kindled within me the desire to learn more. You have made my Passover more significant, more meaningful and more important, less rote and more feeling and intellect. In short, maybe, you have helped me with your gift become a better Jew and a better guide to my children as they learn what it is to be a Jew. I will, I suspect, always think of you at Passover from now on.

While you gave me this gift several years back now, I think that it was only with this Passover that I actually received it. Thank you, my friend.

And while I thank you, thank you also for the wonderful matzah you gave my family and me. We will have it and eat it, in fulfillment of the laws of our people, at this second Seder that my daughter has now demanded that we hold.

With the fondest of thanks,

Posted by Random Penseur at April 14, 2006 10:57 AM | TrackBack

How very interesting that you post this. I have never been very religious, myself, for a lot of reasons in my past that will stay there - where they belong. In fact, I will go so far as to say I considered myself agnostic.

And then God gifted me with my Peanut.

I cannot tell you how differently I feel now. All because of that little baby. I say that he is proof that God loves me and wants me to be happy. And I smile like I'm joking - but I'm earnestly serious.

I think your coincidence is anything BUT and that we only grow wise in the raising of our children.


Posted by: Margi at April 14, 2006 11:08 AM

Dan and I have always said that if we were ever to embrace a formal religion, it would be Judaism. There is something about it that appeals to us both. No intermediary between oneself and God. The tight focus on family and tradition. Celebrating the ancient rituals which brings everyone closer together. It's wonderful reading about your beautiful religion through your eyes. :-)

Happy Passover to you and yours, RP. *smiles*

Posted by: Amber at April 14, 2006 11:28 AM

Yours is such a beautiful soul, sometimes it makes me weep with grace.

Posted by: Jennifer at April 14, 2006 01:34 PM

Now I want a copy of that haggadah!

Posted by: Andrew Cusack at April 15, 2006 04:20 AM

Beautifully expressed, my friend.

You are certainly one of God's gifts to us all.

Posted by: Christina at April 15, 2006 02:40 PM

Once I persuaded my husband to sit down and read this wonderful letter, he was very moved by it...and you know how sentimental litigators are, RP. :-)

It actually tied in rather neatly to the discussion we had at our Seder the night before about Nature vs. Nuture and thinking for oneself in matters of spirituality.

Happy Passover and thanks so much for sharing that beautiful letter.

Posted by: Jocelyn at April 15, 2006 02:56 PM

I've read this a few times now and it gets better with each read. It's like finding something you didn't even know you were looking for. Thank you for sharing the letter with us.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at April 16, 2006 04:41 PM
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