Most of us spend our lives thinking that if we accomplish X or know Y, we will finally feel worthy and valuable. In other words, we will matter – at some time in the future.
What would it be like to believe that our worthiness is already a given by virtue of our simply being born?
When our kids were born, I bought them each the book On The Day You Were Born. I couldn’t wait until they were old enough to hear these words:
On the day you were born
the Earth turned, the Moon pulled,
the Sun flared, and then, with a push,
you slipped out of the dark quiet
Where suddenly you could hear…
…a circle of people singing
with voices familiar and clear.
…And as they held you close
they whispered into your open, curving ear,
“we are so glad you’ve come!”
When we are born, an entire universe is created that never existed before. It’s truly a miracle.
We come into this life, special and unique by the very constellation of our DNA, and we have the opportunity to make choices about how we will live the cards we have been dealt.
And in so doing, we impact not only our own legacy but potentially everyone with whom we come into contact.
You Are Already Worthy
There is a wonderful Jewish teaching from Rabbi Simcha Bunim that goes like this:
“Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into one or the other, depending on the need…In one pocket, the note says, “The world was created for me” and in the other, ”I am but dust and ashes.”
The pocket of “the world was created for me” is not about ego or self-centeredness. It’s the same sentiment expressed in the children’s book I read to my kids: You are ALREADY worthy. You have been given the gift of everything – the sun, the moon, the stars….your very breath….a brain to think, a heart to feel…”
Perhaps it’s because I have the great honor of officiating funerals and working with families to understand the impact of the person who has died — I have come to believe that celebrating the day we are born is singularly special.
When we acknowledge someone else’s birthday (and our own) we can stop for a moment and really think about how that person has impacted our life.
Sometimes another person doesn’t even KNOW how a passing comment they made changed everything for us. (While they are alive, find a way to tell them…)
When I was a really little girl, I remember thinking that all I wanted in this life was to make a difference. I had no idea how I would do that. I just knew that I wanted my life to matter.
Somehow, I had the inkling that the most important thing was what I later read in the poem When Death Comes by Mary Oliver:
“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular and real.”
On my recent birthday, I read the many birthday wishes sent to me. It was like taking a walk through my entire life. With each “Happy Birthday wish,” I recalled how we had met, what experiences we shared, and in so many cases, how my life had been influenced by our connection.
Getting acknowledged on one’s birthday is tantamount to saying: I see you. Your birth into this world matters. The world is a little bit different because you were born.
You Matter Just By Being Alive
Whether the impact is slight or great – know that when you wish someone a happy birthday you’re saying – THANK YOU FOR BEING ALIVE.
The biggest blessing of all is to make a difference — to add something into the world that was not there before. If you are super lucky, what you add will exist after you are gone.
In the very opening verses of the Hebrew Bible we read that we humans are created “in the image of the Divine” (btzelem elohim). Rabbi Joseph Telushkin comments:
“Our value is ultimately derived from the fact that we are created in God’s image. We are holy people — all of us are holy — and our worth is ultimately going to be derived from how we act.”
A blessing: May you feel worthy just as you are. May you celebrate your own holiness and value. May you find friends and companions that truly see your uniqueness and reflect that back to you. Amen.
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Alissa Ballot says
In what I must consider the universe/God speaking to me, I read The Day You Were Born just last night with my tutoring student. It was my first exposure to it. Her assignment was to classify it as fiction or non-fiction. I said it was poetry. Try defining poetry for a seven-year-old….
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman says
YOU ARE KIDDING!!!! WOW Alissa. In what context? How amazing is that? I bought that book in 1991 – and have carried it around the entire country as we moved all these years. It still brings tears to my eyes.
Alissa Ballot says
I tutor in a program for underserved kids called Chicago Lights. My 7-year-old first grader was simply doing her homework, which included reading and classifying 4 books. This was just one of the books we happened to pull out of the program’s library. I was pretty much blown away by it, but she was just confused about how to classify it. We went with non-fiction, and I came home determined to find a definition of poetry that a seven-year-old could understand…..Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman says
It’s just so amazing to me – it IS poetry — but that you randomly pulled out a book that is so special. Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine about the topic of worthiness and birthdays and SHE also mentioned the book (after I had already decided to use it in my piece) — so wonderful. Did I mention that I grew up in Skokie? I love the work you do. They are lucky to have you. Shabbat Shalom.
christina m says
Thank you so much for your newsletter. This one came to me at an especially needed time and I am ordering the book right now.
Thank you Rabbi Jill