“The hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:28).
Sometimes, it seems like there’s a lot more that is hidden than there is revealed, and as I sifted through a newly found crop of family memorabilia at my parents’ dining room table, I was searching for the kind of revelation that can only be seen over the span of generations.
Growing up, I’d heard a lot about my great-great grandfather, Rabbi Jechiel Zvi Eckstein, and finally seeing his face transformed him from a legendary character to a human being, with hopes for his future, his children. When I looked at the dates on the ticket, with a little help from the internet, I figured out that this ticket was issued in 1938 – the same year that he would end eleven years of separation from his family, and finally return home to the city of his heart, Jerusalem. Like many other who suffered from the the hard knocks of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, he set out to wherever he would be able to feed his family, so in 1927, he took a pulpit role in Little Rock, Arkansas. For eleven years he officiated the life cycle events of hundreds of Jews, and yet the cycle of his own life was split in half, with children and grandchildren setting roots in America and Eretz Yisrael. Branches of the Eckstein family had been planted in Boston, Chicago, Denver, and New York, branches which he’d likely never see again if he went back to Jerusalem.
Yet, this kind of existence wasn’t new to Jechiel Zvi. He was one link the chain of an accomplished Hungarian family of rabbis and businessman whose ventures took them across the continent. There were his father’s brothers, Avraham Eliezer, who served as rosh bet din in Pest, Moshe, who studied with the Ketav Sofer in Pressburg, Azriel, who joined his wife’s diamond business in Antwerp, and Simcha Bunim, a learned layman from the outskirts of Pest, who raised the orphaned Jechiel Zvi from the age of two. When Simcha Bunim purchased one of the first ten homes in a Hungarian neighborhood in Jerusalem, the Eckstein family stretched even further. Young Jechiel Zvi took to his new home well, becoming a Torah scholar in his own right. Destiny had a different route for each Eckstein, but the goal was the same: the wholehearted service of G-d.
The paths to wholehearted living, in the individual and inter-generational life, is not clear cut. There is a lot that is hidden, and a lot that we will never understand, but that which is clear is clear forever. When I look at this High Holiday ticket, I am reminded of what is impeccably clear to me: leading a life of purpose takes work. Hard work. Concerted work. Sacrificial work. And when it seems like too much and we are about to break, or already broken, the revealed streams through; those who came before me probably felt the same way, and yet, here I am. They left an example to follow, a trajectory which spans generations. My golden ticket ensures that I’m not in this destiny alone…it’s been in the making for centuries.