The Story of the Suitcase and the Plastic Cups

A Yom Kippur Message

He was a businessman, a father and grandfather. He was an educated and informed man – proud of his heritage and his people. He exuded confidence in his achievements and his success, and a soft spoken dignity and strength. His business was profitable and growing, and he enjoyed a good name in his industry.

I had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Kaplan one afternoon in his apartment. Although he lived in a beautiful area, I was surprised by the modesty of his home. Mr. Kaplan had the means to purchase most of what he desired but his furnishings were understated and simple. Each room was immaculate and well-kept but in no way did they reflect his level of wealth or success.

Our little tour was uneventful, until I spotted a few curious things. On the windowsill in his kitchen was a plastic cup – the type we typically use once and throw away. It was clean, yet it clearly had been used a number of times. A similar cup sat by his wife’s chair.

And then there was something even more curious – a suitcase, immediately next to the back door. It was apparent this suitcase was full and had been packed and sitting there for some time

We sat and Mr. Kaplan told me his story. It was a story about the fragility of life – a life that began on the shores of Europe and would culminate on the shores of this country.  It was about fear and salvation, disappointment and belief.

“So… Tell me about the cups and the suitcase.” I requested.

Mr. K explained:

“The cups are a reminder of all that need not be – all of the things we intensely pursue and then quickly discard.

The suitcase is a reminder of what we must anticipate.”
“For each cup that would be tossed in the garbage,” Mr. Kaplan continued, “I’m reminded of the money I spent that could have been saved, the ‘must haves’ I no longer remember owning, and my wish that I would have had enough self-control to live well below, rather than somewhat above, my means.”

“The suitcase is about how temporary it all is — the fact that I will leave this life one day, on a moment’s notice, with all that was mine being left behind…”  

So, what are your thoughts? He asked.

Rather than answer, I took the plastic cup from which I had been drinking and put it in my bag. I then announced that as soon as I got home, I’d be packing a suitcase to leave by my door.

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Cross The River

I’m hungry

                                    Cross the river

I’m afraid

            Your failure could never be as great as your fear

                                                                       Cross the river

G-d stepped away from me

            He brought you the river

                                    Cross the river

Don’t you understand?

            Understanding need not be anyone’s but yours

                                    Cross the river

I’m confused

            You’re hungry

                                    Cross the river

I don’t swim well

            The depth of the river is determined by your belief

                                    Cross the river

It seems dark

            You’re the creator of your darkness

                                    Cross the river

Maybe tomorrow

            Tomorrow belongs to somebody else

                                    Cross the river

(Excerpt from: I Once Asked a Wise Man by Ricky Cohen. Publication date: Sept 2012)       Read the rest of this entry »

The Living Proof

“It’s a long, long journey…

It’s an uphill climb…

I know where I’m goin’ cause I know where I’ve been…

I can start living now…

You can’t deny the truth, cause I’m the living proof…”

                        Excerpted from “The Living Proof,” theme song from the movie: The Help Read the rest of this entry »

The Refrigerator Prayer

As I open my refrigerator, each morning (and evening), I should say…

“Blessed are you, dear refrigerator…”

No; that’s not right.

“May your shelves be full each and every day with food, drink, and especially with leftovers…”

I don’t think so.

As I begin each day, may the abundance and plenty I see in you, dear refrigerator, inspire me to appreciate more, thank more, and approach life differently…”

 I’m getting closer…

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Posted in Triumph. 1 Comment »

Death: Life’s Gift

Four years ago, my family sat around the Shabbat table with my father at the head, my mother to his right, and my wife’s grandfather, Marc Blanco, sitting to his left. I sat immediately next to my father and Grandpa Marc, and my wife and children filled the room.

Within a year the family’s patriarchs and matriarch were absent from the table. Grandpa Marc had become ill and died, and my parents were in adjacent rooms at NYU Hospital.


“How old were they?”

That question will be left unanswered. It’s irrelevant and should never be asked.

“Did they suffer?”

This question will be dealt with privately. Rambam (Maimonides) teaches that certain aspects of pain and suffering are an outgrowth of the fact that we are physical beings who can only engage life within the trappings of the physical world.

“It was their time.”.

There is no time when a child will willingly say goodbye to his parent.

There is no gain without loss; no joy without suffering.

There is no value without fragility. And a human life would be worthless, if it could not be easily shattered. Read the rest of this entry »

EE = PPB Tools to Build Unconditional Love

Dear friends,

This past week’s Learn, Live, Excel message, “You Couldn’t Make This Up,” elicited more thoughts and comments than any other to date. It clearly touched something about which many people feel strongly.

The responses were varied.

The majority agreed with what was written and hoped that many would read the message and grow/change as a result. I join those readers in their wishes and hopes.

Some wrote that the essay ignored the beautiful practices of the Syrian community in particular and the Jewish community at large. I agree with those readers as well. Each and every day our communities perform spectacular and unparalleled acts of kindness and generosity to others. We celebrate, and are humbled by, our greatness. We must, therefore, be courageous in our efforts to grow and become better.

A small percentage of the responses felt the examples focused on the more religious segments of our community. They are correct. I consider myself part of that constituency; a group that is intensely engaged in Torah learning and the pursuit of rigorous, daily growth in Torah and misvot. I understand the following: The more you love Hashem, the more you must love Hashem’s people. The more Torah you know, the more is expected of you. And that’s the way it should be.

One response caused me to take a walk on the beach and think about where and when I have failed and continue to fail on this issue. I walked for a long time thinking about what I must do to become a person who unconditionally loves and respects all. I thought about the fact that I love Hashem intensely, His Torah is my oxygen and my lifeline. I thought about how each of His people is spectacular, contributing to the furtherance of His creation in a way exclusive to them.

So I’ve written this week’s essay to me – first and foremost. Read the rest of this entry »

When Others Cry

When Others Cry

The volume of their silence pieces the heavens,

shaking the foundation of human sensitivity.

The volume of their silence fills every home and public building;

it cannot be lowered, it must either be accepted or denied altogether –

there is no midway point.

They shout their pain silently, from every crack on the pavement –

And thereby raise the question of all questions:

What is Man?

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