A Kodak Moment – by Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz, The Observant Jew
Some of my younger readers may not be familiar with the company referenced in my title. Back in the days before cell phones had cameras and even before digital cameras were commonplace, there was a very large and important corporation called Kodak. Founded by George Eastman in 1888 with the first easy, consumer-oriented camera, it was a behemoth in the world of film and cameras.
It’s still around today and does other things, but many fewer people are familiar with Kodak cameras and even film itself is almost never heard of. But the slogan they coined for their advertising remains in the vernacular of the people who grew up with them. “A Kodak moment” is defined by the Online Slang Dictionary as “a moment worthy of capturing with a photograph, especially an adorable moment.”
The question I have for you today is: Why is a moment worth capturing? What will you do with it when you capture it? Do you need a camera for that? OK, that’s more than one question. Consider it a bonus, like buy one get two free.
In my house, pictures are priceless. We fill up album after album and when you go back and look at them they bring back fond memories and more than a few “Oh my! Look how little she was!” or “I forgot about that shirt!” exclamations. But could there be more to it?
Well before cameras were invented, people had moments they wanted to capture. They did it by doing something to concretize their memories. When HaShem appeared to Avraham and told him to leave his homeland, Avraham awoke and built an altar “to HaShem Who had appeared to him.” It wasn’t merely an altar to HaShem. This commemorated the experience of HaShem appearing to him and every time he saw that mizbeiach he would relive that moment.
Hagar, too, named the place where she saw the angels, and Yaakov placed a monument where he had the dream of the ladder to Heaven. We find that Leah took the opportunity to name her son Yehuda so she would remember the gratitude she felt when he was born every time she said his name.
The common idea is that we are not supposed to forget significant events. Now, some things are meant to be forgotten. The pain of losing a loved one is intended to dull over time so we don’t walk around depressed. That’s why HaShem gave us the gift of forgetfulness – because He wants us to function and be productive.
Because we understand this, we can infer that we must be extra careful not to forget things that will make us productive. Case in point: Torah. The Mishna in Avos (3:8) says that one who forgets a single thing he has learned has nearly forfeited his life. The Mishna concludes that this only applies to someone who actively does something to forget. The commentaries discuss that one who turns his focus to frivolous things would still be liable since he did not do something to prevent them being forgotten.
Therefore, when something needs to be remembered, we must take action to ensure that it is. The Gemara in Kesubos (103b) records an argument between R’ Chanina and R’ Chiya. R’ Chanina said, “How can you disagree with me? My erudition is so great that if Torah were Heaven-forbid forgotten, I could recreate it with my analysis. R’ Chiya’s famous response was, “I, on the contrary, take strides to make sure Torah is not forgotten!” We see again that that one must make efforts to remember events and things that lead to productive behavior.
Inspiration is fleeting. When someone extraordinary happens or occurs to us, we must grab the inspiration of the moment and do something to make sure it lasts. Just as Avraham built a mizbayach, we must build something onto that inspiration so we can hold onto it for the long-term. When I write my columns, I’m actually committing a moment of inspiration to paper (or at least electrons and bits of data.) When I go back and flip through the pages of The Observant Jew I’m bringing myself back to the place and mindset I was when I wrote it. That inspiration is therefore still accessible and can be used to help me improve my own behavior and way of thinking – as it should be.
Each of us will have his or her own ways to commemorate and remember the things that motivate us to act and achieve, but we must not fall prey to the feeling that “this is so significant that I will always remember it.” It isn’t true, and forgetfulness will overtake you if you don’t take the proper precautions.
So take it from me; if you want a life full of good memories, and one that keeps getting fuller with new memories of goodness, make the most of the chances to turn inspiration into something real that you can keep referring to and looking back on. Then the album of your life will be chock-full of Kodak moments, even if you never laid eyes on a flashbulb or an Instamatic.
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