My niece Zoe just turned eight.
For her birthday, all she wanted was to come and visit “Aunt Sharon in Chicago.”
So, my brother, Ari, and sister-in-law, Christina, decided to surprise her and her four-year-old brother, Max and make her birthday wish come true.
The day of her birthday she woke up in Pittsburgh (where they live). She had a fabulous birthday breakfast with her family and one of my other nieces Sarah and Sarah’s mother, Marilyn, who were visiting from Tampa.
Christina secretly packed their suitcases and just as they were getting ready to go to the airport, they told Zoe and Max that they were heading to Chicago. They couldn’t have been more excited!
When I met them at the airport, after we hugged and kissed, Zoe informed me about what she was most looking forward to seeing on this trip: “I can’t wait to see your synagogue, Aunt Sharon!” “Me too!” Max replied.
Zoe and Max were so thrilled to be with me, we could have done anything. We had a lovely birthday dinner. We went to the Children’s Museum on Navy Pier. We went to the beach on Lake Michigan. We spent time at my synagogue, where they displayed “audacious hospitality” by welcoming everyone who came in the door: “Welcome! I’m Zoe, Rabbi Sharon’s niece.” “Welcome! I’m Max, Rabbi Sharon’s nephew.” (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could be welcomed like that when they walked in the doors of our synagogues?)
They made me laugh and smile. And I was able to see first-hand how they are mature beyond their years.
When they returned home, Christina shared a conversation Max and Zoe had with each other:
Max: Hey, Zoe, everybody has powers, right? (Max does love his Superheroes).
Zoe: Yeah, they’ve just got to unlock them.
Little do Max and Zoe realize that they were discussing a very Jewish concept, this idea of “everybody has powers”. Everyone has special and unique gifts. Each of us must find a way to “unlock our powers” – or “unlock our potential”. Each of us must find a way to discover what makes us special and how we can share our gifts with others to make our world a better place.
Max and Zoe DO understand that each and everyone of us is unique. Throughout our time together, they found a way to tell people “you are beautiful,” “you are special.” Max would compliment waitresses in restaurants and make them feel good (who wouldn’t smile when a handsome, adorable four-year-old tells them they are beautiful?!)
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that each one of us is made in the image of God, b’tzelem Elohim. And, no two people are created the same.
As the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chasidic movement) said:
Every one should know that since creation each human being has been unique. We all are called on to perfect our unique qualities. And it is our failure to heed this call that delays the Messiah.
When I spend time with Zoe and Max, I know that their unique gifts will leave a positive imprint on our world. Each of us has the ability to do the same.