Until my mid‐thirties, I was one of those Jews who thought being Jewish was a mere accident of birth, and that it was completely irrelevant and unrelated to my life. I had no Jewish radar. I didn't seek out or spot the Jewish students at college or law school. I didn't play Jewish geography, because it wasn't my landscape.

And then I went to a funeral of a Jewish woman I had never met.

Her husband was a judge, and my fiancé had gone to high school with him some thirty years ago. It was just one of those unfortunate things one has to do ‐ I wasn't expecting my world to change.

At first, I was surprised at the number of people who came to pay their respects. There were easily a few thousand people jammed into the hall. Speaker after speaker after speaker told of the untold dedication and fervent love of this woman, and the immeasurable and seemingly irreplaceable service she had rendered to the Jewish community.

I had no Jewish radarI had never known anyone like that. I was greatly moved and suddenly very afraid ‐ how could the community survive this loss? How could "we" endure it, I wondered, and I was startled that I included myself in that "we". What could I possibly do? How could I help? I felt completely inadequate. Me? Help the Jewish people? When I didn't even identify as a Jew?

So what does someone do who doesn't know the Hebrew alphabet, who hadn't even observed Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah for the past twenty-five years?

Not being one who ever likes to start with the basics, I took a Kabbalah class.

My plan was that for twelve weeks I would plumb the deepest and most esoteric mysteries of Judaism, and then I would volunteer for something.

I had to write a paper (this was no slouch course) on something from the Zohar. I wrote about the idea that after death, a soul is wrapped in a garment, but that the garment is comprised of all of the holy deeds that were performed during one' s lifetime. It could be like a magnificent robe, or, G‐d forbid, a small patch of cloth, or worse.

This was sixteen years ago, but this idea has guided and inspired me countless times, and I have used the imagery in other ways. After doing divorce law for years, and then, unfortunately, doing more and more divorces in the religious community, I became very interested in trying to teach the Jewish concept of "shalom bayit" (marital harmony, as it is defined).

The most powerful image for me is that marriage is a protective garment, which we must, in turn, protect. First of all, how are garments made? I don't know much about textiles, but I do remember making a potholder in camp. We all made that potholder, weaving those colorful loops in and out. The point is you need things going in both directions in order to unify them into one whole piece of cloth.

There is no coincidence that we hear the phrase "the fabric of society" or the "fabric of marriage." It's meant to harmonize disparate things into an enduring foundation, and if it falls apart, the consequences are discord and are often disastrous.

You need things going in both directions in order to unify them Without getting into the many examples of obvious bad behavior, the garments of our marriages can be ripped apart by many behaviors that we think are innocent or justified. Often, it's the little things that make it unravel. When we "innocently" make fun of our spouses, roll our eyes and "out" their idiosyncrasies, usually in their presence, we are not poking fun, we are poking holes in our garment.

When we defend our every behavior and maintain an incessant need to be right, we are tearing. When we nag, belittle and endlessly complain, the garment will lose its shape. When we don't listen to what hurts the other person, especially when we are the source of the pain, or when we don't confront our own areas where we need to grow, we are shredding.

When we don't stand up for our spouse, and insist that our children speak respectfully to him or her; when we forget that our spouse is number one and when we let other people forget it also; when we don't get off the phone or the computer when our spouses come home, so that we give the message that his or her presence doesn't make a difference and causes no shift in reality, then we are staining our garments.

Years ago, the primate exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo burned down. At the entrance to the new and rebuilt exhibit, there is a slab of wood from one of the charred trees, on which is inscribed a quote by Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, who said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

The Torah takes this further. The Torah takes this responsibility out of committees, and drops it into our individual laps. After we left Egypt, a census was taken, and instead of counting the people, each person had to contribute a coin to charity and then the coins were counted. In my opinion, this was a defining moment. G‐d was not counting people, He wasn't counting heads, or men who could serve in the army – He was counting givers.

The nature of a slave is not to be a giver. One can't give what one doesn't have. But how many people do you know who went through the Depression and then became compulsive hoarders? How many people didn't suffer deprivation, but are afraid to give because they think it will diminish them?

G‐d set the Jews of Egypt free along with the wealth of Egypt and then taught them the lesson that in order to be really free, they must learn to give. Givers are not afraid to look illusion in the eye. I have always maintained that if you want to know who someone is, just look at his or her checkbook (I guess these days it would have to be their on‐line banking). And how are they "spending" their days and their hours? What are they doing for others? Are they making a positive difference in this world?

Giving is how we weave the very fabric of our lives. Every positive deed we perform, every act of kindness, is enduring. And that is why G‑d taught us to be givers when He counted us through giving that coin.

Givers are not afraid to look illusion in the eyeBut there was another lesson as well. The coin we gave was not a full coin. It was called machzit hashekel, half a shekel, for we were counted in pairs. We each gave a half to show that as much as we have something to give, our true ability to impact this world and produce is when we work with others, and specifically when we find and join with our soulmates, our other half.

Therefore, every time we withhold a criticism, every time we show gratitude, every time we cause someone's face to light up with a genuine compliment or lessen their pain, when we stand up for and build up our children and our spouses, and when we take the high road in our professional and business dealings, we are being givers and we are being partners. And we are getting so much more, in that we are clothing our souls by creating moments of ultimate reality that enshroud us with eternity.

Sixteen years ago, a woman named Miriam died. That day, I woke up and decided I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be a giver and I wanted to give to the Jewish people. That day, I decided that I was a Jew. That day, I began to leave Egypt and that day, I started to weave my own garment of light that I hope awaits me.