Skateboarding, reflecting, and Rosh Hashanah

A few weeks ago, on Labor Day, my family met up with a few other families for a barbeque at a park in the northern suburbs of Chicago. This park has plenty of room to run, a baseball diamond, and great climbing equipment. If that wasn’t enough, this park also had, as an added bonus,a skateboard park. I couldn’t resist bring my old skateboard with me (along with my helmet, which is a must for chinuch purposes).
After eating, I decided to bring out my old skateboard. Now, I’m not a big-time skateboarder. In high school I skated a few pools, but mostly I sticked to parking lots and the street. I mastered the ollie and a few other basic moves, but now I’m happy just pushing myself around a bit. With all this said, I proceed to skate over to the park. It wasn’t too crowded. Only half a dozen real skaters. I was, for sure, the oldest one around. I was also the only guy who brought his kids. I pushed around a little and thought about going down a steep ramp. I was all hyped up to skate. I remembered the thrill, the rush, the adrenaline of going down a ramp. I use to find it exhilarating. As I stood atop a ramp, skateboard under my feet, I stopped. I also remembered seeing (and feeling) the battle wounds of skateboarding.
I got off the ramp. I couldn’t do it. I looked at the other skaters and jumped off. I choose a tiny ramp (more of a metal foothill) and went down, ending with a perfect 360 (balancing on the back wheels and spining in circle). The potenial injury from a big ramp seemed more important that recapturing my youth or looking cool to my children. What if something happened? My family couldn’t afford for me to get hurt. I have responsibilities. It just wasn’t shiach (germane or pertainent) for me. I realized that I had outgrown the thrill. I remembered the thrill of learning the first Rashi on Chumash when I was 18. Now, that was a real rush!
What was part of my youth held no real interest for me anymore. I had outgrown it. I had exercised my free will. The urge to skateboard really wasn’t a component in who I really am, or where I need to headed. I have more important responsibilites to my family, to myself, and to my creator. I was never such a great skater to begin with. I thought about what things excite me now, and how my children will model my behavior. I began to think about other behaviors and habits that have stuck with me over the years. Maybe, with Hashem’s help, I’ll be able to realize that it’s time to outgrow a few more things.
Shabbos night, later that week I attended a tish by Rabbi Michel Twerski (from Milwaukee). It was amazing! Rav Michel had beautiful things to say which helped clarify my thoughts about responsibilites and choices. I’ll share two ideas of the Rabbi’s:
1) He spoke about how important it is that we show true simcha shel mitzvah. Even if you can’t If not for for our own neshamas, then for the sake of our children. Memories of parents who loved performing mitzvos are images that will last a lifetime.
2) Rav Michel also spoke about Elul and Rosh Hashanah. Rav Michel said that usually we are concentrating on what we’ve been doing wrong all year and how to improve ourselves. The ikar (main point) might be that we need to look at all of the brachos that our creator has given us. He said that we each have talents (music, art, writing, etc.) and we need to remember that those talents are brachos from Hashem and should be regarded as such. In truth, we have a responsibiltiy to access those talents for Avodas Hashem. This is what we need to think about when we approach judgement on Rosh Hashanah.
Then I heard what Rabbi David Orlofsky said last week in Chicago, as part of an Ohr Somayach Yom Iyun (along with Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Berel Wein). My wife was fortunate enought to attend. She came home with tapes of the event for me to listen to (thanks, Mrs. Uberdox). The following was something that Rabbi Orlofsky said that also tied into what Rav Michel had mentioned:
We often think of Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgement, when Hashem opens up the books of life and death. When Hashem, who knows everything will examine our deeds. There is only one reason that we have a day of judgement, because Hashem knows that we are capable of greatness. If we set the bar really low then we don’t expect that much from ourselves. Hashem says to us each Rosh Hashanah, “You are someone great. You are capable of greatness.”Tonight, thanks to the Chicago Community Kollel, I heard Rabbi Frand speak. Thanks to my wife for letting me go. The title of his drasha was “Painting your masterpiece.” His message was very similar to that of Rav Michel and Rabbi Orlofsky (do you see a theme here)…find your potential and mission in life. I took some notes and will post what he said very soon. One thing I’ll share now is that:
At Neilah the last thing we ask mehilah for is stealing? The Ger Rebbe says Hashem gave us assets and talents and if we don’t use them we’re stealing.
I hope that over the Yomin Noraim I am able to break free of my own limitations and attempt to walk a little closer to my potential using the talents that Hashem has given me.
Kesiva V’Chasima Tova and my we all have a year of bracha, shalom, and simcha!

10 thoughts on “Skateboarding, reflecting, and Rosh Hashanah

  1. Rafi G

    If I was a former skateboarder (which I am not) I probably would not have resisted the urge to take the ramp…

    That vost from the gerrer rebbe is amazing.

    shana tova

  2. Pragmatician

    You sure attend a lot of Shiurim, here we have the regular Daf shiurim but rarely do we have great Torah Personalities coming to give Haskafah speeches.

    It’s great how you always manage to learn something from everything that goes on and from what you hear.

  3. Bob Miller

    Great post to wind up the year, Neil!

    We wish you and your family a kesiva v’chasima tova and much good news in the coming year.

  4. PsychoToddler

    Memories of parents who loved performing mitzvos are images that will last a lifetime.

    And as a corollary, memories of parents who regarded the mitzvos as a burden have turned off countless Jews. It’s an important point to remember, as we prepare to sit for hours in Shul and erect our Sukkos in the coming weeks.

  5. Neil Harris

    Great point, PT.
    Everything I heard Rav Michel say was phrased in the positive (I thought that was very cool). I read that once Rav Hutner observed a father sitting with his child during shul. The child would turn his head to the left and the father would turn the kids’ head towards the siddur. The child would try to get up and the father would make the child sit down again. The child would start turning pages in the siddur and the father say, “Pay attention”. After shul, Rav Hutner came over to the father and said, in Oxford English, “What, pray tell, were you doing with your child?”
    The father said that he was teaching him how to daven. Rav Hutner replied that the only thing the father was teaching the child was that adults don’t pay attention to davening in shul. If you want to show your children how to daven (or do anything related to mitzvah observance) then show by example.


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