September 24, 2014

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

How many of you still believe in the Tooth Fairy? I can tell you that after this past year, for the first time since I was a small child, my faith in the Tooth Fairy has been fully restored.

It was 10 o'clock on the final night of our 4th Temple Emanu-El Pilgrimage to Israel in June, our last night in Jerusalem, and Wendy and I were packing for the very early morning shuttle to Ben Gurion Airport. The farewell dinner was complete, the last photos were taken, and we had a 6 AM flight out the next morning. By now almost everything was done, and we were getting ready for the few hours of sleep they graciously allow you before you are whisked away at an ungodly hour out of the Holy Land. In fact, Wendy and I were preparing for bed when something unexpected happened.

As I brushed my teeth, a crown suddenly popped out of my mouth and landed on the hotel bathroom floor. Startled, I felt the unfamiliar opening in my mouth with my tongue, and panic began to flood in. My tooth, or at least my crown, was gone; where in the name of all that's holy was I going to find a dentist in Jerusalem at 10 at night on a Sunday? And how was I going to eat or travel with that big hole in my mouth?

I called out to Wendy—some words unsuitable to the bimah might have been included—that my crown had come out and I was in big trouble. She came in and quickly found the fugitive, a piece of tooth still attached, on the floor of the bathroom. And then she said words that completely shocked me: "I have a tooth repair kit."

"What?" I said stupidly. "You have what?"

"I have a tooth repair kit," she said.

"Why do you have a tooth repair kit?" I stammered. "I mean, that's wonderful, but what possessed you to bring a tooth repair kit?"

"Do you remember when we first went to Israel? Rabbi Safran mentioned that I should bring a tooth repair kit, because he and Lois had needed one on a trip to the Middle East and they had one and it saved their whole trip," Wendy said.

"You know, I do remember that conversation. But that was years ago. Do you still have it? How could you possibly know where it is?"

"I have it, and it's right here, in my toiletry kit. And I've never opened it. I'm sure it's fine."

And, miracle of miracles, there it was. After reading and following the directions, it worked perfectly. Half an hour later my homemade dentistry had cemented the crown right back in the space from which it had untimely leapt. Amazing. By the time we got up to go to the airport a few hours later I could easily have forgotten the whole problem.

Except for one thing. Unfortunately, the tooth repair kit instructed the user, me, that this was a temporary fix, and that it would last only for a few days. I was told in no uncertain terms to find the next available dentist, certainly in no less than 72 hours.

But Wendy and were headed for a week in Spain after Israel—it was a free stopover on that airline—and I was even less confident about trying to find a dentist in Madrid than I had been of finding one in Jerusalem. What to do? Well, the good news was that the tooth felt both secure and smooth, there was no pain, and I figured that I could nurse it along until I got home.

And so, with the results of the magical tooth repair kit recommended by Rabbi Richard Safran, our adjunct rabbi, and carefully shepherded for years by my wife Wendy, I managed to make it through Spain with no other dental incidents. A week later, when we got back to Tucson, I called my dentist—who, it turned out, was out of town and not available for about two more weeks to replace the crown. But my home dentistry seemed secure, so I decided to wait until he was available to do the work, and scheduled the appointment accordingly. And the tooth continued to function so well that I genuinely forgot about the whole thing.

Fortunately, the dentist's office called the day before the appointment to remind me. The next morning as I was driving over there to replace the crown another funny thing happened. As I stopped at an intersection, that same crown suddenly popped out of my mouth, and landed on the dashboard of my car. That is, as I was on the way to the dentist the same tooth leaped for freedom yet again. I found the crown quickly, put it in my pocket, and when I went into my dentist's office I started by saying, "You won't believe what just happened," and pulled out the fugitive bicuspid. And he repaired the crown on the spot.

I'm not exactly sure what to think about all of this, except to say that if you are going to lose a crown in a hotel in Jerusalem at 10 PM on the last night of your trip, you would do very well to have Wendy as your spouse, and to have Rabbi Richard Safran as your friend and colleague, and it is a really, really good idea to listen to him no matter what he says. Good advice is only helpful if you follow it.

I also learned that those people who don't believe in the Tooth Fairy just don't understand him. The problem is that they don't realize that the real tooth fairy is a kind and wise retired Reform rabbi, and that the magic comes when your beautiful wife realizes that she should listen to him, and you become the unexpected beneficiary of this basheirt confluence of events, this kismet, this happy fate. And the lesson is that when you trust in the magic of good advice, anything is possible and many remarkable things can happen.

A great lesson for Rosh Hashanah, no? I mean if the Tooth Fairy can be real, why can't the Book of Life be real, too, if not necessarily in the way we expect?

You know, so many times in life affairs don't go the way we plan, and things go unexpectedly wrong in completely unpredictable ways. But every now and then things go unexpectedly right. Something we could never have predicted falls into our laps. A disaster is averted, a crash avoided. Life gives us a magical escape, or a wonderful, undeserved gift.

Sometimes we are even blessed by the Tooth Fairy...

These High Holy Days are a time to examine our past year, and particularly are past deeds over the last 12 months. In the course of our collective experience of the Yamim Nora'im, these days of Awe, we will be encouraged to explore our failings, the ways in which we missed the mark in 5774. And many of us will also bemoan the misfortunes we experienced last year, and the ways in which our plans failed, and our hopes were dashed.

But perhaps this Rosh Hashanah we should also examine the times when we were blessed by God beyond our own merit, when we received gifts of chein vachesed, Divine grace and kindness. Let's remember those times when things went right. Sometimes those were small miracles, like lost and found teeth. Sometimes they were much larger miracles, like health, accomplishments, and pride in our children and grandchildren.

Over the course of these great Jewish holy days we will have many opportunities to kvetch and to criticize ourselves. But tonight let's begin Rosh Hashanah by taking a few moments for gratitude. Let's think back over the past year and remember not what we didn't get, but what we did: those gifts that God gave us, both expected and unexpected, that made our lives better and holier and happier.

Let's begin 5775 with gratitude, for the Tooth Fairy, perhaps, but also for the many gifts that we have received and that we continue to receive from God.

Now the truth is, those magical moments are temporary, just like the tooth repair kit's work. When we are gifted with a divine reprieve, we need to find ways to make those repairs permanent as soon as we can. Like the repentance we do on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in order for the grace we have been given to be maintained, we must make those changes a permanent part of our lives. And that means finding ways to be truly grateful for all that we have been given each and every day.

May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year, filled with good fortune. And may you come to recognize that grace and fortune, and be truly grateful for all that you have and for all that God does to bless you.

L'Shana Tova Tikateivu v'Teichateimu.

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