There was a story Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi told me that I wasn’t able to include in The December Project. It’s about Maimonides, the venerated rabbi, physician, astronomer and philosopher of the 13th century who’s considered one of the key Torah scholars in Jewish history.
Reb Zalman first learned about Maimonides at 14, when he’d just escaped from the Nazis with his family, stealing over the border to Belgium. After the horrors he’d witnessed, he thought that the God he’d been taught to believe in at his yeshiva had “finked out.” Zalman could no longer accept that there was a “world to come,” when the Messiah would resurrect the dead, the rivers would flow with wine, and bagels would grow on trees.
He was angry and wanted to fight, and since he couldn’t fight God, he was looking for a stand-in. He visited a Torah class and called out, “Do you really believe that when the Messiah comes, the dead will crawl out from their graves to be resurrected? This is stupid! Opiate of the masses. Rob the people in this world but promise they’ll get something in the next.”
My daughter Rachel’s wedding was nothing like the weddings my friends and I had back in the daze. It was a four-day celebration on a farm in Kansas and other sites in Missouri, and it was the most meaningful and ecstatic ceremony I’ve witnessed. What made it powerful for everyone attending was the sense that these two young people are truly soul mates.
I’d been thrilled when they announced their engagement, but four days before the wedding, I woke up with tears running from my eyes. Rachel is 26, a certified music therapist, and her husband, Jay, 29, is an MD doing his residency in pediatrics. They share a passion for healing, for laughter, adventure and each other. Both speak Spanish and want to do service in Latin America. They balance each other in almost every way, so why was I in tears?
I cried at the hair salon, cried at the cleaners. I was a jumble of emotions: time passing, my baby grown, my own life closer to the end than the beginning, my own marriage and how it didn’t work and yet produced two beautiful beings, my son, Andrew, and Rachel. Fortunately, by the time I got on the plane for Kansas City, I was cried out, because what I experienced in the following days was as close as humans come to unmitigated joy.