How to Capture the Power and Wonder of Aha Moments
If each of us took a moment to reflect on the highlights of this chaotic past year, I’m sure we would compile a diverse list. Perhaps it would start with something tactile – a promotion at work, for example, or another business accomplishment. Maybe something personal would make the list -- a marriage, a significant birthday, or being with a loved one. Something less tangible – perhaps a first viewing of the Grand Canyon, which can be a profoundly moving experience – also might find its way onto the highlights list.
These less tangible, often unplanned moments, frequently surprise us and resonate within us in ways we can’t explain. They are aha moments, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension.”
Judah experiences such a moment in Parashat Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion. As the portion opens, Judah draws near (vayigash) to one of the most powerful men in Egypt to beg for his brother’s freedom. Unbeknownst to him, that powerful man is his long-lost brother, Joseph, the brother he himself had sold into slavery. This powerful man has demanded that Judah and his brother leave their youngest brother, Benjamin, there as a slave. Judah’s aha moment comes as he realizes that if he leaves his brother there, his father will surely die of grief. Faced with this prospect, Judah offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin. This is surely a life-changing moment for Judah, regardless of the outcome.
This past year was quite a momentous one for me, with several milestone moments including celebrating my 21st anniversary as cantor and co-spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El, in Plantation, FL; completing a three-year term as president of the American Conference of Cantors; and marrying my love of the past 20 years. And yet, my aha moment did not occur during any of these milestones, but during a Shabbat celebration instead.
Allow me to explain.
In 2016, I was invited – along with more than 100 LGBTQ North American Jewish leaders – to participate in a unique LGBTQ mission to Israel led by the Jewish Federation. The trip provided a unique opportunity to blend my LGBTQ community with my Jewish community. Throughout our travels, we met with members of the LGBTQ community in cities and towns all around Israel. We also met with members of the Ethiopian, Arab, and gay youth communities, as well as with people in the Israeli army. We spent an afternoon with Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel, and were invited to the home of Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, where we enjoyed a lavish dinner and celebration.
For Shabbat, we met at Mercaz Shimshon, the headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In beautiful Blaustein Hall, we celebrated with prayers, songs, and dinner, followed by traditional Shabbat dancing. As I was dancing with other Jewish members of the LGBTQ community, I realized that the people in the room represented a collection of diverse personal challenges and struggles spanning more than 50 years. My aha moment came when I recognized, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that without the God-inspired effort of every single person there, our moment of celebration would not be possible. All at once, tears and a sense of thanksgiving overwhelmed me.
As a member of two very distinct communities, I tend to compartmentalize my life. The Federation mission synthesized two parts of my very being, culminating in that extraordinary Shabbat experience.
Recalling that moment in Israel reminds me of the potential for powerful and unplanned aha moments in all our communities. We can coax them along, however, by breaking down silos and setting aside our responsibilities and busy-ness to reflect, to meditate and just to be. Social gatherings, worship, singing, memories, aligning our spiritual and personal selves, as well as spiritual cleansing and growth all can help us recognize and appreciate those wonderful aha moments when they come into our lives.
What aha moments did you experience in 2016?
With best wishes to you and your loved ones for a truly blessed and life-enhancing 2017.