My first trip to New York City was when I was 10 years old, back in 2001. As a family we walked all over town, visited Ellis Island, and my folks took my sister and I to our very first Broadway show, The Music Man. I would go on to visit New York many more times over the years and eventually realized it was time to live here.
So in 2013, two weeks after I graduated from college, I arrived in the city with two suitcases and an offer to sleep on a friend’s couch until I could figure out how to call this place home. Now, as I begin to pack my bags and make arrangements to return to L.A., I’m asking myself the same question first posed to me in the lyrics of Meredith Wilson’s “Sincere” from The Music Man: “Where is the good in goodbye?”
I’ve always valued goodbyes. In fact, on my tenth birthday I found myself feeling very emotional about the notion of ending the chapter of the “single digits” era of my life. I am sure that this goodbye will also be characterized by the reminiscing of memories of the past 10 years, and the (hopefully less) shedding of tears. However, as I say goodbye to New York, but more importantly to my community—to all of you here at BJ—I feel compelled to substantively find the good in saying goodbye, to meaningfully commemorate this transition from one chapter of my life to another.
We read in Masekhet (Tractate) Berakhot:
לֹא יִפָּטֵר אָדָם מֵחֲבֵרוֹ לֹא מִתּוֹךְ שִׂיחָה, וְלֹא מִתּוֹךְ שְׂחוֹק, וְלֹא מִתּוֹךְ קַלּוּת רֹאשׁ, וְלֹא מִתּוֹךְ דְּבָרִים בְּטֵלִים, אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ דְּבַר הֲלָכָה
A person before taking leave of his fellow should not part with ordinary conversation, or joking, or frivolity, or idle talk, but with some matter of halakhah.
The Talmud doubles down on this notion of purpose, teaching us in a midrash in Masekhet Eruvin that as Rabbi Abba bar Shumni and Rav Menashya bar Yirmeya from Gifti were taking leave of each other, they did exactly this—each sharing a meaningful piece of halakhah for the other to learn, and to keep. And so, I am honored to share my own piece of halakhah from my time at BJ.
Last year, I was asked to conduct a siyyum (a concluding ceremony over a piece of learning) on the morning of Ta’anit Bekhorim, the Fast of the First Born on the day before Pesah. In my preparation for this siyyum, I not only learned the entirety of Mishnah Horayot, but I also learned the prayers that we do for the ritual of the siyyum itself. After I recited the final lines of the mishnah, I recited the Hadran—a prayer that is first mentioned in Sefer HaEshkol, a 12th-century halakhic work by Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne. What is notable about reciting the Hadran is that the prayer does not focus on celebrating completion, but rather instructs us to repeat three times, “We will return to you, and you will return to us, we will not forget you, and you will not forget us.” We are not saying goodbye, but, rather, “see you next time.”
As I welcome in one more Shabbat with all of you, I know that there will be time spent reflecting on my memories from BJ and moments that may evoke strong emotions, and yet I am also sure there will be an immense amount of good in our goodbye. For as I conclude my time at BJ, I know you have all have given me more learning, more Torah, and more goodness than I could have ever imagined, and for that I will be eternally grateful. And so as I sign off and mark this siyyum, there’s no need to say goodbye, but rather “Hadran Aleikhem”—I can’t wait to return to you.