44 Years a Mensch?

2017-09-18 – I had a very weird dream last night. I don’t know if I dream much. I certainly don’t sleep much. They say that your mental balance could be in question if you don’t dream. And I either don’t dream—or I don’t remember my dreams. But last night I dreamt and I remembered the dream.

The dream started off in a second-hand store. I was dressed to go to shul (synagogue). I was even wearing a tallis (prayer shawl). But I was rummaging through the merchandise looking for a pad of paper. I was looking for the pad of paper to write a sermon I was going to deliver to the congregation . . . as soon as I managed to write it.

All of the pads in the second-hand store were already written in. Legal pads, spiral notebooks, even receipt books. They were all written in. But then I got an idea: I would write my sermon on the backs of the sheets. I grabbed a receipt book and started writing.

The subject of my sermon was “How I Became a Rabbi.” The congregation was going to honor me for reaching some anniversary in my career and I was supposed to speak in accepting the honor. The only problem is: I’m not a rabbi and I never became one.

The sermon started at the logical point: my bar mitzvah. It then briefly touched on my high school years and then my decision to go to the yeshiva (seminary). So far, all that was true. I did have a bar mitzvah. I did go to high school. I did go to a yeshiva (in Israel).

But that’s when the journey ended—44 years ago (really 43.5 years ago—sometime around Purim in 1974—but I’m saying 44 because I like to compare the passage of time to keys on the piano. 88 keys on the keyboard. 44 years is half a keyboard ago. Told you my mental balance is in questions).

My yeshiva experience did not inspire me. On the contrary, I left the yeshiva kinda lost. Eventually I went to law school. But there was one rabbi there who left a lasting impression.

One day in class, he said, “I don’t care if any of you become rabbis. What I care about is that you become a mensch.”

I don’t think he meant that to be an either-or choice. I’m sure that he would have been happy if I would have become both a rabbi and a mensch. But, to him, becoming a mensch was the more important of the two.

I wish other religious leaders thought this way.

Being a mensch means living a life of integrity and kindness. This Thursday is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This begins a 10-day period that ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time in which Jews reflect on their sins of the past year. The public confessional Al Chet helps in that reflection by listing many sins. Here is a link to the text of that confession. Notice how many sins involve violations of integrity and kindness.

I don’t make the public confession anymore. I haven’t been in a synagogue for years. But at this time of year, I do look at the words and wonder if I measure up, wonder if I can do better.

Don’t know if I am dreaming or if I’m woke.

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