By Richard Rocklin
First, I’d like to thank Rabbi Scheiner for allowing me to give this short message. This is a real active friendship on your part, and I am very grateful! Today is a very special day in my life. I won’t tell you how old I am, but I’ll give you a hint. Today is the 70th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. You may think this is a second Bar Mitzvah or just a simple birthday, it makes no difference. I received a birthday card this week that said the three scariest things in the world are: an appointment with the IRS, an appointment for an MRI and the arrival of another birthday. By the way, they took an MRI of my brain and they found nothing there. The truth is that birthdays should be joyous. So, I want to tell you three very simple things and then I want to tell you a story.
First, I want to count some of the ways in which the world has changed since I was born. And I want to share with you some of the way the world has not changed. I want to share with you one word of the Torah that constitutes my goal for the coming year.
Things have changed: When I was young, we all wanted to have long hair. Today most of us would be satisfied if we just had some. When I was young, a chip was a piece of wood. When I was young, kids who helped in the school office, or who volunteered in the hospital, were called aides. When I was young, hard as it may be for children to believe, television has just been invented. When I was young, milk was delivered to the door by the milk man. When I was young, there were no professional caterers. The only person who was expected to cater to the entire congregation was the Rabbi. When I was young, I know this is hard to believe, but people got married first, and then they lived together. As you can see from this brief list, the world is different.
Now I’d like to point out things that have not changed. G-d hasn’t changed. The mitzvot haven’t changed. The importance of living a good and moral life is just as great today as it ever was. Sunrise and sunset, love and kindness, good and faith, still mean the same as they always did. These values we will hold as long as human life continues.
So now, let me tell you about my resolution for this new year of my life. It comes from one word in the Torah, it’s a word that fascinates me. The Torah teaches the Israelites heard the Ten commandments of Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to bring back the two tablets of stone. While he is away the people violate the Torah by building a golden calf. When Moses comes down and sees what they have done, he is so angry that he smashed the tablets. If they don’t want to live by the ten commandments, they don’t deserve to have them. Then the line that fascinates me: Moses smashed the tablets “vayitablu” they mourned for the Tablets that they had lost. Mourning is usually used for when you lose a person, a dear one, a loved one. But here the people mourn over the loss of the Tablets. Think of it. They violate what’s written on the tablets, they build a golden calf and the next day they mourn. They cry. And the tablets are smashed. They didn’t appreciate them when they had them. They mourn, they wept as deeply as they would have if they lost a loved one. When I read this passage, I realized when we have something, whether it’s our health, our wealth, our spouse, our job. Whatever we have, we may take it for granted. We think that we will have it forever and then when we lose it, we mourn or it. We realize how precious it was.
My wish for this new year of my life is simply this: May I not take my blessings for granted, instead may I appreciate what I have while I have it. May I appreciate all the blessings that I have now and not just later. I remember reading some years ago that the Mona Lisa was once stolen and then after a few years, it was recovered and put back in its place. During the period when it was missing, more people came to the Louvre to stare at the place where it once was than came to see it when it was there. I wish that I may not be so foolish. My wish is not that I acquire more things during this coming year, because Baruch Hashem, I already have more things that I know what to do with. My wish for this new year is that I be wise enough, smart enough, to appreciate what I have while I have it. This is my wish for me, for you, and for all those whom we love. May we be wise enough to appreciate what we have while we have it and not afterwards.
I remember a story that I heard from a wonderful Rabbi from Florida. He said that when he was a child, his mother took him to the Rebbe to get a blessing from him. The Rebbe said to his mother, “How is your gezunt, Your health?” She said, “Baruch Hashem. Thank G-d my health is fine.” The Rebbe said “How is your Parnossa, your livelihood?” And his mother said, “Baruch Hashem, Thank G-d, our livelihood is fine.” The Rebbe then said, “And how are your children?” And his mother said, again, “Baruch Hashem, Thank G-d our children are fine.” The Rebbe said, “If your health is good, your livelihood is good and your children are good, then what do you want from me? May it never get worse than it is right now.” That’s the way I feel!
Today my health is good, my children are beautiful, my grandchildren are wonderful, my family and friends are outstanding. It should only never be any worse. And so my wish for me and for you, and for all those whom we love, is simple this during this coming year. May I appreciate what I have, when I have it. May it never get any worse. This is my wish for me, this is my wish for you, this is my wish for all those whom I dearly love. I say to all of you, thank you for being here, thank you for listening, thank you for being present at this the beginning of my 84th year of life. To all of you, to every one of you, I love you! Amen!