Passing on the Baton

By Esther Kosofsky, Longmeadow, Massachusetts
Essays 2017

MyLife Essay Contest 2017

Every Jewish person is given a Divine Soul and this soul is charged with a life mission at birth to follow the Torah and live a G-dly existence. While in heaven, in the source of G-dliness, each soul is filled with desire and drive to fulfill its mission on earth. The soul is overflowing with Divine inspiration, Torah knowledge and is committed to doing its G-d given task here on earth. What happens next is the story of mankind, the struggle of each and every person since Adam and Chava to stay focused and keep to the commitment the soul made before descending to this mortal sphere. The following story illustrates the struggle of humanity.

For as long as Becca remembered she had one dream; one goal in life; Becca wanted to be an Olympic athlete. Becca loved to run and as a young girl, she would train, running around the neighborhood no matter the weather; hot or cold, dry or rainy. Becca built up her skills and endurance and by the time she reached high school, she easily made the track team. She enjoyed long distance running, sprinting and even hurdles but most of all Becca excelled in the relay. There was something about the team feeling, working in a group together with her peers, waiting to run her leg of the race knowing that she was part of a greater whole that convinced Becca to concentrate on the relay race as her specialty. Taking the baton firmly in hand, holding it as she would run and proudly pass it off to her team mate and then encouraging them to continue. Yes, Becca found her place on the relay team.

Becca’s high school team performed well enough to make it to All- State and. It was there in her junior year that she was noticed by college and Olympic scouts alike. When Becca came home from high school in the fall of her senior year to find a letter from the college of her choice, she burst out in tears of joy when she read that she received a full track scholarship; Becca was on her way to fulfilling her life’s dream. Becca continued to focus on the relay during college and in her last year, she was invited to the Olympic tryouts, to compete with her team in the 5 x 5 relay. Becca’s family joined her in California for the competition. Top college athletes from around the country were invited and everyone knew what was at stake. Win and go on to represent the United States at the summer games; lose and go home to more training and the hope of being invited another time.

Becca was not even entertaining the thought of not winning, she was prepared, she was driven, she had her goal firmly set in her mind.

As she warmed up with her usual routine of stretches, Becca noticed the cable sports network that were setting up, ESPN, FoxSports and some local sports van, all prepared to cover the races. Becca saw the coaches and scouts from the Olympics setting up their equipment, laptops and cameras to record and take notes on the various teams as they competed.
After a very tense morning of waiting, it was finally time for Becca and her teammates to line up for their race. As Becca made her way to her position, all of her coaches’ words of advice and encouragement played in her head – ‘stay focused’, ‘stay within yourself’, keep your eye on your teammate’, ‘stay with her stride until she reaches you’ and ‘keep a firm grasp on the baton until you hand it off’. Becca finished her stretches, took a few deep breathes and got to her position. Before she could even take in the moment, her teammate was upon her with the baton, Becca reached for it and held it firmly in hand and took off.

It was at that moment, with baton in hand, that Becca’s mind began to wander; she started thinking of what it would be when she made the Olympic team, maybe she would be the team captain and after they won she would stand center stage to receive her medal. Becca snuck a peek at the Olympic coaches to make sure that they were watching her run. She noticed the cameras were on her from the cable sports channel and as she turned her head to see if she recognized any celebrities in the stands, she thought to make sure that her hair was still neatly pulled back, and that is when it happened, Becca, the young woman with the once in a lifetime chance to achieve her ultimate goal, felt the baton fall from her hand and hit the track. There was no place to hide, no hole to climb into, no retake. Becca bet down to pick up the baton and continued to her teammate but it was too late, Becca’s dream was gone, her hopes were shattered and her life’s goal was over.

Becca is symbolic of the Jewish soul. As it is discussed in Tanya, the Jewish soul figuratively trains for its journey to earth. The soul has a clear goal, a firm grasp of what it is expected to do on earth and the soul has is well trained for its mission on earth, right before its descent, the soul is coached and reminded of its responsibilities and obligations on earth. “Be a tzaddik and don’t be a wicked person”. This advice and admonition is the culmination of the training that the soul receives above: the final words that carry it to earth. What happens next is the history of mankind, the blessing and the curse of Bechira Chofshis, of free choice that Hashem grants us. We allow ourselves to be distracted by our surroundings, our earthly desires and our mudane dreams. We have been coached by the Divine, taught by the Celestial teachers and brought into this world by the grace of Hashem and now it is up to us to keep focused on the final pearls of wisdom we were given before birth, ‘stay focused and hold onto the baton’. We receive the baton upon birth; it is our link to the chain of Jewish history that is entrusted to us to fulfill our role, our leg in the race of mankind. We have to hold the baton, and then, hand on the baton to the next runner, the next generation of the Jewish experience.

As we go thought life, it is the responsibility of each Jew to fill his or her baton with Jewish experiences, with Jewish wisdom and learning, with lessons gleaned from learning and living a Jewish life, a Torah life. The key to living a Jewish life is dependent on Jewish education. Education begins at birth and does not end upon graduation from formal schooling. Jewish education is vital at all ages and stages of life. In order to know where we are going, it is necessary to know from where we come. Our heritage is built on the collective experiences of all ages, from the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, to the era of the Davidic dynasty in Judea to the hidden Jews in Christian Spain though the pogroms of Eastern Europe and the Holocaust. Their story is our story.

Built upon this heritage is Jewish knowledge; the Torah and Talmud, which provide the framework for living a Jewish life. Becoming a knowledgeable Jew is the next step towards living a meaningful Jewish life. Learning text, understanding the flow of the Jewish calendar, life cycle events and holiday observances enriches each person in their Jewish journey.

Studying Chassidus is a vital element towards enriching our mortal lives. Chassidus provides us with the ability to understand the purpose for which each of us were brought into this world and helps us to see the opportunity G-d bestows on each person when we uncover the spark of holiness hidden in the world. Jewish knowledge grounds us and furthermore, it is the precious legacy that we pass on to the next generation. Much like someone running a relay race, it is important to hold onto the baton and equally important to pass it firmly to the next runner.

We hold the baton of Jewish experience firmly in our hand knowing that the next generation needs our guidance, our life experience and our nurturing to be able to proudly continue the Mesora- the unbroken chain of Jews. Becca represents the soul that was nurtured, taught and filled with G-dly light before birth that did not withstand the earthly temptations. It is up to each of us to remain focused, through Jewish knowledge, to proudly carry our Jewish identity throughout life and to proudly pass the baton to the next generation.

About the Author

Esther Kosofsky is a third generation Chabad emissary living in Western Massachusetts.  She and her husband Rabbi Noach Kosofsky, principal of Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) are Chabad emissaries since 1984; where she was born to shluchim (Chabad emissaries) Rabbi Dovid ob”m and Leah Edelman.  Esther taught Judaic studies at LYA for over fifteen years and was the Director of the Resource Center for Jewish Education; a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for twelve years. Esther is the co-president of Chabad Women in Western Massachusetts, planning and facilitating weekly study groups and major events for women.

Esther is a public speaker and published writer.  Her appearances include Chabad of Plantation FL, Chabad of Las Vegas, NV and New Haven Federation Women’s Division.  She was named one of the 13 Extraordinary Jewish Women of Western MA for 2013.

Esther and her husband are the proud parents of three sons and six daughters and wonderful grandchildren.