Tomorrow is Christmas. Two Jews very dear to my heart were born on Christmas day. The first was Jesus Christ, the second my grandfather, Moe Cohen. These two men had much in common.
To begin with they were both Jews, born of Jewish mothers. Second, neither was born with the last names Christ or Cohen. Jesus was called Christ by his followers, and my grandfather was called Cohen by the guy who stamped his papers at Ellis Island. Third, neither of them was born on December 25th. Jesus’ followers chose that date to co-opt the Roman festival Saturnalia that ended on the 23rd or 25th of December. My grandfather didn’t know his birthday, and chose December 25th when asked for date of birth by the guy who gave him the name “Cohen” at Ellis Island. Fourth, Jesus was a carpenter, and my grandfather worked with wood in his garage. Fifth, each of these men had crosses to bear: Jesus’ cross was the wood of crucifixion, my grandfather’s cross was, I suspect, my grandmother.
That is where the parallels between these two Jews end. I love them both, and I think it is sad that there are so few people who will remember the latter tomorrow. I don’t think my grandfather would be interested in having people go to church on his birthday, or giving one another presents. I think he would have preferred us to stay home, read the paper, and smoke a good cigar. I plan to do just that, sans cigar. And I will think of him, and call his daughter who happens also to be my mother, and that will have to do.
Thinking of Moe fills me with gratitude. He was a warm and loving grandfather whose two favorite phrases were, “What are you doing?” and “What are you doing it for?” These are questions I continue to ask. Jesus, too, is famous for his questions, most notably, “Who do they say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”
All four of these questions are koans, questions demanding existential responses that reveal one’s true nature in the moment. What am I doing? Most of the time I have no idea. And for what purpose? This, too, is a mystery to me. As for Who do they say I am? the answer today is clear: The only begotten Son of God. But the question Who do you say I am? is the more revealing. For me the answer is, a fully God-realized sage offering me a way to become the same.
Tonight I will think about these two Jews. Tomorrow I will dedicate my walking meditation to them both, and use their questions as part of my meditation practice. I invite you to do the same.