Beresheet: Creating a new beginning
Five years ago, I got divorced. I remember the day I received my “get” – Jewish divorce decree – from my ex-husband. I was crying so hard that I could barely breathe. I had wanted and even needed this divorce, but the get made everything so final that I felt like the ground was crumbling beneath my feet and there would be no way that I could take another step, let alone ever run again.
I crawled out of that small room in some off-the-beaten-path building in downtown Kansas City, where they had to “rent a rabbi” from out-of-state to perform the ceremony so the get would be recognized in Israel. I went to my car, drove until I found a park, pulled over and stopped. With the windows rolled up, I allowed myself to emote.
When I was finally able to pull myself together, I drove home to my children.
After our divorce, despite an agreement that we had joint custody, my then four children between the ages of 10 and 18 months lived with and relied only on me. So, during my breakdown, I came to the conclusion that I would never let them know how hard this was for me – that I would hold it together for them.
I would put on my happy face, go to work and work harder to make up for any lost income so that their lives would not change. I decided that no matter what I was going through, no matter how broken I was, I would keep those children whole.
There were many nights that I would climb into bed with my sleeping son, smell his freshly bathed hair and cry myself to sleep silently.
Once my ex-husband started taking the kids for Shabbats – when they would all agree to go – and I was alone on Shabbat, often I would pick up a long novel at the local library and start it as I lit the candles on Friday night. I would fall asleep with that book in my arms and wake up with it to continue reading until the end. Lost in someone else’s world, I would not have to face my own or contemplate in the quiet of a kid-free house.
I used to joke that I had become a robot: working, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, doing homework, taking them to their activities or out for Sunday Slurpees.
I didn’t let anything fall through the cracks and I didn’t let anything crack me. I started CrossFit and weight lifting. And I ran farther – after all, the best robots are made of steel.
Somewhere in the mess of all of this, I reconnected with a long-time colleague and friend (who ultimately became my husband). Our early morning Skype calls, on which we talked about politics and children and life and love, slowly broke through the steel – without me knowing it.
However, the truth is that to connect with someone else completely, you have to accept your own faults and commit to working on them. Otherwise, you will always fall short. So, as our relationship began to grow, I decided I wanted to take off the suit of armor and instead focus on what was behind it. Only then would we be able to build a life together.
Growing is best done up. Each day, no matter what happened the day before, we start again, take another step. It’s glorious on the top of the mountain.
THIS WEEK, I had the privilege of interviewing Aryeh Green, author of My Israel Trail: Finding Peace in the Promised Land.
“My Israel Trail is the story of my hike on the Israel National Trail following my divorce,” Green explains in the introduction to his book. “I meditated on mountain tops and cried in dry creek beds; I wrote anguished journal entries and composed songs to lift my spirits. I looked back, and inward, and up to the night sky, and over the valley to the next mountain range, and down at the ants in the dirt, and back along the Trail to see how far I’d come.”
In the 300-page book, Green identifies five lessons he learned from the trail – personality characteristics that he says are key to a happy life: Humility, acceptance, gratitude, forgiveness and a sense of purpose.
He told me the story of how one day on his journey, he was hiking up an extraordinarily steep hill. About halfway up, he stopped.
“I was exhausted and hot and I could not believe what I was doing,” he recalled.
Green had a 50-pound pack on his back and he nearly called the hikers’ emergency rescue line “to rescue me off the side of the mountain.
“In the end, I said, ‘This is your doing. No one is going to come and save you from it. You are on the side of a mountain. You have to accept that. This is your reality,’” he continued. “Later than night, I wrote in my journal that accepting reality enables you to move forward.”
Green said that just as he had to accept that he was on the side of a mountain and would need to make a proactive decision about how to get off that mountain, so too, “You are divorced. You never expected to find yourself divorced. This is your reality. You have to accept it and move forward with life.”
But it was not a smooth path.
A musician, Green wrote many poems and songs as he hiked. In one, he begs God, “Give me the strength for every new step, send a warm desert wind to dry my tears when I’ve wept, a bush with some shade for relief from the heat, an afternoon breeze at my back to take the weight off my feet, show me you love me... Give me the wisdom to accept what I must.”
Ultimately, however, he completes the journey.
“I knew I had achieved something miraculous, had accomplished more than what I had set out to,” he writes. “I had hiked the [Israel Trail], yes, but I had learned so much also, about myself, about my people, about my country, about humanity.
“I walked the Trail but I also found peace in this Promised Land of ours, and my coming home was not an end but a beginning,” he concluded.
THE JEWISH New Year begins on Sunday night, ushering in what Jews call the High Holidays. By the time we reach Simchat Torah, the final celebration of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, we complete the annual Torah reading cycle with the portion known as “V’Zot Habracha.”
In that Torah portion, Moses blesses each of the tribes.
What is the blessing?
The answer is the parsha that we read immediately thereafter: Beresheet.
A new beginning. Starting over. When Green returned home, he said he was thinking about all the incredible possibilities that were now open to him – and to which he was now open.
“Whether after divorce, you find love again, which I did, or you focus on career or children or volunteer work to make the world a better place – the most substantial contribution to our ability to look forward and ahead is having a sense of purpose and goals,” he said.
That’s Beresheet. It’s understanding there is always a new beginning, even if it comes after an end.
QUOTE OF THE MONTH “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” – Meister Eckhart
‘LOST IN someone else’s world, I would not have to face my own or contemplate in the quiet of a kid-free house.’