A short time ago my wife and I escaped for a week cruise to Bermuda. The ship left and returned from northern New Jersey, along the New Your City harbor. This meant that we sailed out and back into the harbor passing the Statue of Liberty. On our return, we gathered with many others as we sailed into the harbor on a crystal clear morning and watched as we passed near the Statue and near by Ellis Island. It was a special type of moment because we spoke about the fact that literally a century ago, some of our ancestors were doing the same thing but in such radically different circumstances. Guaranteed that their ship did not have decks of restaurants, bars and theaters, pools and lounges and balconied suites. They came with almost nothing but a dream, managing a long and challenging journey hoping to provide a legacy for us and for those who come after us. When you think of this, it reminds us of the powerful responsibility that we have to carry on that legacy of making the journey of our life count for something.
Again, our tradition underscores this image of the journey. In “Parasha Eikev” (August 13 Torah) we are reminded in the text that instead of taking a direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Israelites were driven to take a more elongated route. The reason, says the text (Deuteronomy 8:2) was so that God could “test” the people’s adherence to God’s ways. Of course, many of us have heard similar thoughts from parents as we grew up in the form of being reminded that the “easy” way is not always the right way and if things come to easy for us, how will we learn to appreciate or understand when things do not go as we wish. After all, we were told: “who said life is fair?”. I have no doubt that every person reading this can recite or reflect upon moments in our life journey when we wished for that easy path. Growing older does give us the benefit of life experience and the ability to see the meaning and lessons in the struggles that we may have had to deal with in our own journey.
Yet, as we reflect on our own journey, we often wish to find that sense of meaning, asking “what was it for?” That is why that moment sailing into New York harbor seemed so important. He we were, a hundred years after our family members came. They came with a sense of hope and purpose, knowing that their journey was, they hoped, just the beginning of a larger journey for their family. In some way, I would like to believe, they knew that they were part of something much larger than their own self. Strangers in a new land, they sought to create a foundation of hope, faith and family. The path they chose was not easy, and we reap the benefits of their journey and are tasked with carrying on their legacy. I can not imagine what thoughts were going through our ancestors minds as they sailed into that harbor a century or so ago. How could they possibly imagine what was to happen and what would be possible? As for us, how can we imagine what will be for our families years from now? Will they look back and celebrate what we left them? Each generation is tasked to carry forward the hopes and dreams of those who have come before. The path is not always easy, the journey is not always without challenge, yet, move on we must. What shall we leave behind?
Rabbi Richard F Address