On my way down to the Western Wall one Friday night, I had trekked through the Old City of Jerusalem and down most of the stairs, when I encountered a young boy who seemed to be lost. I knew he had to be almost three years old because he had the long hair that customarily had not been cut prior to his third birthday, but he was already wearing a kippah.
I approached the boy and asked him in English if he was lost. He ignored me, so I tried again in Hebrew. He turned his back to me and began to walk up the stairs. Seeing there was no one with this little fellow, I began to trail him as he defiantly made his way through the Jewish Quarter, through crowds of people, in and out of little alleyways.
After a while, I began to get worried -- where was he leading us? Did he know where he was going? I was following a toddler blindly through the maze of the Old City, and didn't even get a word out of him!
Finally, I stopped him and told him he must speak to me and tell me who he is and how I can help him get home. Big mistake! The boy burst into tears and still refused to say a word to me. He continued his march forward, and with the guilt of causing the tears streaming down his face, I quietly followed along.
Eventually he walked right into his own home, and I followed him in to the welcome of his very worried and thankful family.
Even though he was just a young boy, scared and lost, he knew his way home.
Although I had already been living in the Old City for a year, I had never been to the block where this little boy lived. I didn't even know it existed. I never would have believed that such a small child could have led me through all those twists and turns it took to get us there. Even though he was just a young boy, scared and lost, he knew his way home.
I thought to myself, if he can find his way home, then so can I!
Although I've made choices in my life which take me away from my true essence, the person I want to be, I always have the option of doing teshuva, repentance, which essentially allows me to find my way home.
During the "ten days of repentance" between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, there are many ways of finding your way home. The sages say that there are three primary ways to work with the Almighty in making your upcoming year a great one: prayer, making changes in behavior and action, and giving charity.
Prayer is the first thing I look forward to at this time. In addition to using the Siddur, the traditional prayer book, I also take many opportunities throughout the day to talk to God in my own words. (First I make sure no one is around to hear me and think I've completely lost it!) Then I just speak to Him, saying whatever is on my mind.
One day, I found myself yelling at God, asking why I don't have everything I've asked for so many times, why the answer He keeps giving me seems to be "no". And I became worried, am I going to be struck by lightening? So I called and asked my rabbi about it. He told me there's no problem with communicating my feelings to God -- even if at that moment there may be some anger. Because this shows that I know that even the hard times in life come to me directly from God. I won't be blaming "my bad luck" or other people for my problems, but I look straight to the source and ask Him directly why it's happening to me (or NOT happening!)
At that point I have the opportunity to look at my life and wonder what I can do to manifest my prayers into reality. What is it that I can change in my behavior and action, in order for the blessing of health, success, relationships, etc -- to come into my life?
Although I want God to listen to me and hear what I have to say, I also need to be open to hearing what He has to say. I believe that by looking at the events in my life, the people around me, and the behavior patterns I have chosen, I can gain a lot of insight. I can sometimes even figure out the messages hidden amongst the day-to-day "chance occurrences" that give me hints as to what I can do to make my life better.
I don't sit back and wait for the good times to come. I actively try to take a part in my own destiny, by making changes as needed throughout my life. When I see that my choices haven't worked for me in the past, and that the way of life I was living didn't yield the results for which I prayed, I try to ask myself: what can I do to actively take part in making my dreams come true?
Each little change in my behavior and personal interactions will be another opportunity to make my life a better one, and improve the lives of those around me. And even if my "sign-reading" skills are not perfect, and I didn't get the message that was there, I am never worried. Because any change for the better ends up improving my life and moving me forward, closer to my goals.
Gosh, I can't say I have such an abundance of extra cash flow lying around at any time to begin dishing out, so what do I do? Little by little, I am able to save up for a donation to my favorite charity by putting aside money each time I get paid. If I even earn a dollar, I can just place a dime in a cup and put it aside until I have a larger amount to give.
But charity is not only about money. It's also about time. I have places where I go to volunteer and donate my time and energy, in order to help others. It's the idea of getting into the mode of giving. And boy, am I thankful I don't have to be on the other end of this one! I'd much rather know I am the one who has a plethora of what to give, whether it's money, time, energy, or even a smile, rather than needing to be on the receiving end.
Just like the little boy who knew his way home, through his fear and his tears, in and out of little alleyways, all the way home, I also know my way home. It may be a windy road, but it's worth every minute.