When we were kids, my father had a ritual that will stay with me forever. In the early days during his physician’s residency, he would get home from moonlighting at the hospital in the middle of the night. (My brother recounts his memory of thinking that “moonlighting” meant my dad was an actual astronaut who healed sick people on the actual moon.) Ta would wake my little brother and I up before the sun came up and he would whisper into our ears, “Come on we’re gonna go see Dawning.”
He would then drive us in his Datsun down at four o’clock in the morning right down to the pier and buy us spicy chilly for breakfast to keep the morning chill from freezing our small delicate bones. And together, we would watch the purple colored crest rise in the east. The sun would come up over the coastline and that was Dawning. Throughout the years, as my other siblings were born, he too would venture them on this Dawning outing. While on our summer breaks, it was my father who was the first one up during our family beach vacations to escort us little ones to “Dawning”.
This has by far been my sweetest childhood memory. But it has only been recent that I have discovered a greater and deeper significance and wisdom to the beauty of Ta’s Dawning.
My father lost his dad when he was nine years old. He always said that the hardest thing about losing a father at such a young age was the constant feeling that he was not like the other kids. He always said, he hated being different, and he wished he could remember his father better. Mostly, he hated the look that people gave him upon realizing they were speaking to a child without a father. The look of pity was a familiar gaze most uncomfortable to him. When he was in his thirties and began searching for purpose and spiritual meaning, he was very much attracted to Chabad Chassidus as a result of the relationship he had the privilege of having with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, also known as Rabbi Menachem Mendle Schneerson. More than anything, he was impressed with the Rebbe’s resolve and ability to overcome adversity and pain and transform it into purpose and action.
My father had told me on more than one occasion, that the Rebbe’s ability to connect with him filled the void he had had for so many years as a result of not having a dad. My father struggled to be an observant man, but he remained to his dying day a very religious person. He used to say, “The difference between an observant man and a religious man, is an observant man is afraid of going to Hell, while a religious man has been to hell and back already.”
This past June I was afforded the privilege to hear Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson retell a story that was passed down to him from his own father, of blessed memory, who was a Journalist and a personal liaison to the Lubavitcher Rebbe while he was alive. During the USSR’s iron curtain, the Rebbe had sent Rabbi Jacobson Sr. to Russia for the sake of reporting on the Jewish community’s condition.
Rabbi Jacobson Sr. spent weeks collecting stories and writing down each person’s Jewish name on his own body since recording these names on paper, could have possibly been viewed as a national felony of the state, and a highly suspicious act of spying. Upon the arrival of Rabbi Jacobson Sr. to New York, he read from his limbs each Jew’s name along with their mother’s name for the Rebbe to pray for on their behalf. Rabbi Jacobson spent all night sharing stories of the Russian Jewry but it was one story that brought tears to the Rebbe’s eyes causing him much anguish and sadness, a character trait the Rebbe rarely allowed himself to indulge in.
A small child had gone to public school one day and instead of being given the typical ration for lunch that consisted of potatoes, that day the child was offered ice cream. The child’s mother had warned him not to partake in the ice cream as a result of it not being kosher. The child with a tear in his eye, wept and innocently asked, “But mama, I get nothing to eat all day, why can’t I eat the ice cream like the other children?”
It was this story out of all the rest that got the Rebbe sobbing. His sensitivity to a child’s innocent request for a childhood treat that he was unable to revel in do to his lot in life of ending up in a country that forbade him to celebrate his Judaism freely is the very story that crushed the Rebbe’s spirit. However, as the sun came up and the Rebbe looked outside towards the creeping sunrise, he slammed his hand on the desk, dried his tear and pronounced, “It is morning no more tears.”
Kabbalists have said that sunrise is the ultimate transition of time. And it is this transition that teaches us the ability to leap into a new day and into a new existence. We have the power to transform our pain from victimized Moons who reflect the wounds of time in our darkest hour into Suns who can shine on our own, stand on our own two feet and contribute to the world using the lessons and challenges we have endured. Dawning is that bittersweet G-dly whisper telling us something very precious must leave us and seize in order to make room for something new. Dawning is the perfect expression of recovery and revival. It is the remedy to all pain. It is G-d’s answer to growth. It is G-d’s ultimate comfort.
Yesterday morning I got up from Shiva. As I woke up to the sun hitting my face, a terrible fear swelled inside me. How would I go on? How would I transition to a new day without my father physically with me? How would I live normally? I closed my eyes and remembered driving through the night with my family just 11 days earlier from Chico, California, where our father died on the 13th of Av, on Shabbat nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort. I recalled the silence of the night and the monotonous 10 hour drive. But at four a.m, I looked out the car window and watched the birth of the early morning and I called my dear brother who was driving in the car ahead of me and said, “Yaakov, look outside, it is dawning.”
“I know,” he said, “I see it too, I see it too.”