On my first day as a rabbi at Temple, I found a number of objects in my office to help welcome me to my new home. There was a big and festive “Welcome” sign on my door. There was a rather large “scarlet” colored bag on my desk with some Ohio State goodies and something extra to help celebrate the many upcoming Buckeye victories. There were some new office supplies and personalized stationary to help me get started. But, above all, the one object that stuck out to me the most was a big, shiny, gold-plated plaque outside of my office that reads, “Rabbi Matthew D. Cohen.” When I look at that shiny plaque, it amazes me to think of the nearly 36 years of my life’s experiences that put my name there.
That shiny new plaque outside of my office reminds me of my wedding ring on my wedding day. On October 26, 2003, that ring was sparkling and flawless. There were no dents or scratches, no wear and tear. Now, however, it is unmistakable that I have worn that ring for some time. The shininess of the gold has dulled quite a bit and it no longer stands out as something “new and fresh.” Just like my ring on my wedding day, right now the plaque with my name on it is flawless. It shines brightly outside of my door and there is no dust build-up or dents. Soon enough, that plaque outside of my office will begin to lose its shine and collect dust (God willing!). At this time in my career, that shiny plaque not only represents everything that has led me to become, Rabbi Matthew D. Cohen, but, so, too, it represents the rare blessing of a fresh start – a clean slate.
We have entered into the month of Elul, the Hebrew month that will lead us into the High Holy Days. The month of Elul is a time for deep reflection and introspection on the past year(s) and our preparation for all that is yet to come. During the High Holy Day season we are obliged to evaluate how we have been living our lives and carefully decide upon what we are doing well and what we need to improve upon. It is a time to refocus our aim at the mark. As we reflect and evaluate over this most holy time of the Jewish year, let us remember the most essential object to shine and dust – our names.
The Mishna teaches, “There are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. And the crown of a good name is superior to them all” (Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 4:17). As we enter into the Jewish new year of 5773, let us proudly carry our names with renewed strength and energy. May it be God’s will that we embrace our life’s experiences that have shaped who we have become and continue to look towards all that is yet to be, which will ultimately help adorn our lives with the most important object – a shiny plaque with our good name on it.
L’Shanah Tova U’metukah! To a good and sweet new year!