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Gaining From Loss IV: Rabbi Steve Leder #141

Warwick Fairfax

November 22, 2022

Rabbi Steve Leder thought that after officiating more than 1,000 funerals, he understood death and the loss experienced by those it leaves behind. But it wasn’t until his own father passed away that he felt in his heart, rather than just knowing in his head, the depth and breadth of losing a loved one.

The lessons he’s learned and the applications he’s still living out have made clear to him that the losses we experience in life can be the fuel for living more intentionally. He says that we can craft a life today that will make us good ancestors to our family that follows.

Highlights

  • Steve’s early years in a blue collar-environment (3:30)
  • The only creative career open to him as a child (5:00)
  • Discovering “rabbis could be cool” (7:04)
  • Starting out his rabbinical call in Los Angeles (8:41)
  • The inspiration for his book THE BEAUTY OF WHAT REMAINS (11:44)
  • The ways in which loss is sacrifice (16:18) 
  • Those near death are not afraid of dying (18:55)
  • How his father’s death was a painful gain (22:24)
  • The profound lessons loss teaches us (26:04)
  • Living as a good ancestor (36:03)
  • The greatest lessons Steve learned from his father’s death (39:11)

Transcript

Gary Schneeberger:

Hi friends. Here at Beyond The Crucible, we often get a chance to dive into some of the hardest moments of someone’s life. Everything from facing loss to trying to find your purpose in life. This summer we’ve been working extremely hard to pull together a full e-course, our first, filled with more than three hours of lessons learned, on how you can find and fully embrace second act significance. To gain access to this course, visit secondactsignificance.com. That’s secondactsignificance.com. Now here’s today’s podcast episode.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Regardless of your beliefs, if you’ve ever suffered a terrible loss, it’s not the end of the relationship. It’s not the end of love. And we can take these terrible losses and use them to ennoble our lives. Dostoevsky said his greatest fear was that his life would not be worthy of his suffering. That is such a powerful idea. We all go through hell, all of us, and there are many forms of hell. There’s the hell of losing someone you love. There’s the hell of Alzheimer’s. There’s the hell of failure. There’s the hell of public shame. There’s the hell of betraying. There’s the hell of being betrayed. There’s the hell of cancer. There’s the hell of a kid in trouble. The hell of addiction. We all go through hell. But the point is not to come out of hell empty handed, that is the point.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And that friends is also the point of our special fall series, Gaining From Loss. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show, and you’ve joined us today for our conversation with Rabbi Steve Leder, senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. And the author of, The Beauty of What Remains. In this conversation with Warwick and me, Rabbi Leder describes that even after officiating more than 1000 funerals, it wasn’t until his own father died that he felt in his heart rather than just knowing in his head the depth and breadth of losing a loved one. The lessons he’s learned and the applications he’s still walking out have made vivid to him that the hells we experience in life can be the fuel for living more intentionally, the fuel to crafting a life today that will make us good ancestors to our family that follows.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, Steve, Rabbi Leder, thank you so much for being here. I love just some of the concepts in your book, and we’ll dive into it in a bit, The Beauty of What Remains, just what we can learn from loss and death. And I know obviously the death of your dad was pivotal in your story, but before we get into that, I’d love just a little bit of the background, behind the scenes. I know you grew up in Minneapolis, so talk a bit about what life was like for you and how you decided to become a rabbi. I’d say, what was your background and your journey?

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Well, I grew up in the first ring of suburbs outside of Minneapolis called St. Louis Park. And despite the fact that it was in the middle of Minnesota, it was a small little Jewish ghetto. I walked to school in the morning with a hundred Jewish kids just from my block. Now this was only about a 20 square block area, but it was all I knew. I’m the fourth of five children. My dad and my uncle who lived two houses down owned a junkyard together called Leder Brothers Metal. And that’s where I learned about humility and hard work. My dad grew up on welfare. He too was one of five. My parents were 17 and 18 when they got married and had the five of us before they were 30 and no safety net.

And I was kind of raised in this culturally rich Jewish environment with a tremendous amount of catastrophic thinking. There was catastrophe lurking around every corner. We weren’t poor but we lived like we were poor. I was the first and only in my family to go to graduate school, and my father sat me down my junior year of college and said, “Steve, I think you have a couple of choices here when you graduate, you could go to law school and run Leder Brothers, or you could not go to law school and run Leder Brothers.” Those were my two career choices.

But because this was such a kind of blue collar upbringing, every creative pursuit was summarily dismissed throughout my childhood. You want to be a writer? Forget it. You want to be an actor? Forget it. You want to be a musician? Forget it. An artist? Forget it. You go to law school and you run a business. That was the way up and out. The one exception to that worldview was the synagogue. That was the one endeavor above reproach. That was the one place my parents would drive me too. If you wanted to play hockey, you were on your own. You wanted to play baseball, you were on your own. But the synagogue somehow was acceptable and it was there that I was allowed to express myself and be creative. And it was there that I met erudite, educated people. And I remember thinking at that age, if I could ever have a job where I got to wear a suit and a tie every day, wouldn’t that just be the most remarkable thing?

Because really the business my family was in was a very dangerous, gritty, dirty, freezing cold and very hot kind of life. That was really it for me. I always just loved being there and expressing myself. I remember telling my dad, my senior year of college that I was going to apply to rabbinical school and his first response was, “Rabbis are beggars. Why would you do that?” So we had a kind of difficult time about that. And yet, once I was ordained and was in Los Angeles, my parents had a condo in Palm Springs and they would drive in on Saturday morning to hear me preach. And it wouldn’t matter if there were 200 or 2000 people out there. All I saw was one set of teeth smiling and it was my dad. So he came around and ended up being quite proud of what I chose to do.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I mean that’s an amazing story because it sounds like, it wasn’t like there was all these options here open to you, and you obviously wanted to live a different life than your parents and your uncle, that I guess was in business. And that’s not a judgment, it’s just, it’s your life and you wanted to do something different. So it’s interesting, and I love in the book how you talk about, I think you were at a Jewish summer camp and so… Rabbis are in t-shirts and shorts, and they’re throwing baseballs and “I didn’t know rabbis could be cool” and-

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Because the rabbis where I grew up in my home congregation were these very old stuffy, kind of Germanic, and like yellow teeth and greasy hair and they were scary. And then I go to this Jewish summer camp, which my parents sent me to by the way, because I got arrested for shoplifting when I was 14 and I was smoking weed every day in junior high school. They kind of woke up and decided I might benefit from some parental supervision because I was the fourth of five. They were kind of done by the time I showed up. And I remember going to this Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc Wisconsin, on Lac La Belle, Gary, where your roots are.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

All right.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Yeah. And I remember seeing rabbis, as you said, Warwick in t-shirts and shorts, who could throw a baseball. And I remember it very distinctly. I was 15 and I thought to myself, wait a minute, rabbis can be normal people. How is that possible? And it blew my mind, and I loved everything about the place and I really never looked back.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So fast forward, you end up in Los Angeles in a very prominent synagogue, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which from what I understand is maybe the oldest Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, and very prominent, and several campuses. So that’s… To lead a synagogue like that and that history is obviously a tremendous honor. I think you’ve been there since 2003. So talk about that. I mean that’s sort of an amazing journey.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Well, I’ve actually been there since 1987.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Oh wow.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

I’ve been the senior rabbi since 2003, I believe. But I was there in 1987. I started July 15th, 1987. I was 26 years old when they hired me. I knew nothing. But I really loved my culture, my people, I loved our narratives and I knew how to work hard, really hard. And those things combined to really, kind of wed me to the congregation. I was ordained with a class of 70, only two of us are still at the congregations where we began. Most clergy have 2, 3, 4, 5 jobs in the course of a career. I am now in my 36th year at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. It’s very unusual, but there’s an old saying in my business that congregations get the rabbi they deserve, and rabbis get the congregation they deserve.

It’s like a marriage and we have a really good marriage. I have always worked very hard to put the congregation’s interests first, and they’ve worked hard to keep me here. And together we’ve really grown. When I showed up, the congregation had 1800 families and now it’s 2700. We had one campus and only a Sunday school, and now we have three campuses, three early childhood centers, two elementary schools and three Sunday schools and we have sleepaway camps and a conference center. So it’s a lot of fun to run. It’s obviously a lot of pressure too, but anything worth doing involves pressure, I guess.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I want to make sure we get to some of the things in your most recent book, The Beauty of What Remains, and I’m sure that continues in the book, that’s going to be coming out soon, For You When I Am Gone, because this series is about loss. And I think I find it interesting to say or that you’ve said, I think you gave maybe a thousand different eulogies. You had one that was really very widely respect and you thought, I’ve got this eulogy stuff down. After about a thousand, I think, you know what they say, practice makes perfect, had a lot of practice, maybe I’m not perfect, must be getting somewhat close. But then your dad died, which sort of transformed your thinking. So, I love the thinking behind that title. Talk a bit about what lies behind the title of The Beauty of What Remains.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Regardless of your beliefs, if you’ve ever suffered a terrible loss, it’s not the end of the relationship. It’s not the end of love. And we can take these terrible losses and use them to ennoble our lives. Dostoevsky said his greatest fear was that his life would not be worthy of his suffering. That is such a powerful idea. We all go through hell, all of us. And there are many forms of hell. There’s the hell of losing someone you love, there’s the hell of Alzheimer’s, there’s the hell of failure, there’s the hell of public shame, there’s the hell of betraying, there’s the hell of being betrayed. There’s the hell of cancer, there’s the hell of a kid in trouble. The hell of addiction. We all go through hell. But the point is not to come out of hell empty handed. That is the point.

Can you come out of hell with something that ennobles your life and gives you… And can you find some purpose within it? And I think that idea from Dostoevsky is, can we be worthy of the suffering we’ve endured? That’s the mission. And that can actually make our lives more beautiful. My father’s death has changed my life. I miss him, it hurts. But I am also leading a much more beautiful life today than I was while he was alive. And it is due in no small part to the fact that he died.

Kafka said the meaning of life is that it ends. It really is that simple. And I remember the moment that I realized that. I’m trying to tell this story quickly. So you’re right. I was a rabbi for 31 years before my father died, and I had officiated more than a thousand funerals for sure. And I thought I kind of understood death pretty well. And then my dad died and I moved from rabbi to son. A lot of the book is about that evolution, and what the rabbi thought he knew that the son actually realized was wrong. So I’m sitting in the small room with my family, my four siblings and our spouses and the kids and my mom. And we’re waiting for the rabbi to come in at the synagogue into that small room in the hallway and lead us into the chapel to see my father’s body in the casket.

And then the caskets closed and then the funeral would begin. People would be allowed in. And the young rabbi walks into the room and I remember saying to myself, I know exactly how the rabbi feels right now, but I have no idea how I feel. I am in a new universe. And then the rabbi walked us in, and keep in mind I had stood next to a thousand families while they looked at their loved one’s dead body. And to be honest with you, it didn’t really affect me very much. I could have eaten a sandwich standing there, I was there to help them, but it was vicarious. And I had that professional shard of ice that one has to have in these situations. So he walks us into the chapel and I approached my dad’s casket and body, and I looked down and I remember I put my hand on his chest because I didn’t want to feel his skin because I knew it would be cold.

So I put my hand on his chest. Now to understand the power of this, you have to know something about my dad and about me, throughout our lives we looked almost identical. Like if you saw a picture of my father at 10 years old and a picture of me at 10 years old, you could not tell the difference. And I looked down and my first thought was, that’s how I’m going to look when I’m dead and my son is bending over my casket. I am going to die. 55 years old and all those funerals, it had never really occurred to me in the core of my being, I am going to die. And that realization changed my life for the better. And that’s also why I called the book, The Beauty of What Remains. It applies to the memory of my father, but it also applies to the precious time I have left, which now is more beautiful to me than it ever could have been otherwise.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

We’ve called this series Gaining from Loss, what you have just described, Rabbi was a gain from your loss. And it hasn’t been a one time gain that you kind of put in your pocket. It’s a gain that you put in your heart and it informs your living moving forward. Right? I mean it’s not an overstatement to say, as I think you may have said earlier on, it’s changed your life.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

It changed my life. And this concept, by the way, a gain through loss, I’ll tell you where my mind is going, and it may be of interest to you guys and your listeners, which is the concept of sacrifice. So we tend to think of sacrifice in our culture as a net loss, as a negative. She made so many sacrifices. He made the ultimate sacrifice. But the Hebrew word, the biblical Hebrew word for sacrifice, Korban, comes from the same family of words as Krovim relatives, Kiruv to gather in, Krovim I’m sorry, Krovim are relatives. Karov means to be close or near. In other words, from a psycho linguistic standpoint, the biblical concept of sacrifice was the way you got closer to God and to the people who matter. And it’s a counterintuitive way of thinking about it. But the idea being, you never are poorer by giving. And it’s not a net loss, it’s a net gain. And if you think, well, let’s just try an experiment quickly, Warwick what are the two most important things to you in your life?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, I’d say my faith and my family, my wife and my three kids.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Your faith and your family. What are the two things you have sacrificed the most for in your life?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Probably both of those groups.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Exactly. So we really do feel the closest to and the richest from the things we sacrifice the most for, it is a gain through loss.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Wow. I mean that is so profound. I mean, there’s so much in this book to really dive into. I mean, a lot of it’s counterintuitive, at least for those of us who are living and not a few heartbeats away from death, which hopefully most of the listeners are there. I mean, just even in some of those early chapters when you talk about, most people are afraid of dying and what you say is that people who are actually are dying in those last stages. They’re not afraid of dying. If they have any fear, it’s more they want to make sure that their loved ones are okay.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

That’s right.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I think, even your dad, I think, it’s like, “Steve, just tell me you’re going to be okay.” I mean, that that’s some profound learning that we can have from those who are having their last breaths.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Yes, death is as natural as any other part of our lives. And the closest thing I… Look, and by the way, let’s be clear, I’m talking about people who are literally actively dying a day or two away from death. I’ve been at hundreds of those bedsides. I always ask, “Gary, are you afraid?” And the answer a hundred percent of the time is no, not for themselves. And the closest thing that I can compare it to for the living is imagine yourself with the worst jet lag you’ve ever had in your life, right? You are just a freaking zombie. What do you want to do? All you want to do is get to that hotel, get into bed, darken the room, pull the covers up over your head and go to sleep. You’re not anxious about going to sleep, you’re not depressed about going to sleep, you’re not sad about going to sleep.

It’s the most natural thing in the world. That’s the closest analogy I can give you, to what it means to be a day or two from death. Now you might say, “Well what about the people who die suddenly? Steve aren’t they afraid?” No, because they don’t know it’s coming. You get hit by a bus, you don’t know it’s coming. So really this fear of death is not, it’s really catastrophic thinking. It is not how it goes down.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It seems like, as you thought about your dad’s death and what happened, and just more generally, you have one chapter, you talk about Psalm 23, which is you rightly say, in Christian and Jewish funerals, it’s prominent in almost all. And this idea that we don’t stay in darkness forever, that we move forward despite very real losses. And I love how you say, somewhere you move, rushing past the pain isn’t fair to our heart. So talk about how that there is darkness with death, but yet it’s not the end. Obviously if you’re a person of faith is not the end for them, but it’s also not the end for us who are living.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Right. That’s right. The verse you’re referring to is, Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for thou are with me. The poet is telling us, it is a long dark valley, but we walk through it. We can put one… And sometimes in life, just being able to put one foot in front of the other is a profound act of faith. And grief is one of those times. By the way, also, if you think deeply about this metaphor of grief being a valley of shadows, if you think deeply about a shadow, no matter how long, no matter how dark, it’s actually proof of light, you cannot have a shadow unless a light is still shining. It’s obstructed, in the Psalm, it’s the sunlight obstructed by mountains because you’re in a valley, in grief it’s obstructed by loss.

I often say to people, grief is love obstructed. It’s there, it’s shining, but it is obstructed. A shadow is proof of light, pain and grief are proof of love. And also I think… Now this is where I think the poet misses the point and where, by the way, I’m 62 years old, my entire generation missed the point and every generation to follow, because we were all raised under the thinking of Elizabeth Kubler Ross who divided death and dying and mourning and grief and loss into stages, five stages. And that implies that grief is a linear process. And what I learned in the aftermath of my father’s death is that grief is an entirely non-linear process. Kubler Ross, you would think, okay, first I’m going to feel A then B, then C, then D, then E, and then I’m done, like grief is some kind of rash that clears up.

In the book I say that, anyone who thinks the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, knows nothing about grief, because grief is non-linear. Therefore you cannot do it wrong, you cannot do it out of order. And the only expert in your grief is you. And I feel that grief, for me at least, and I think for many is much more like waves. I think waves are a better metaphor, because they come very close together and they’re very large and very aggressive at first. But they do spread out. They do become less frequent, they become less aggressive. The undertow is not quite as powerful. And it is equally true that you can have days, weeks, months, years even, of calm, beautiful seas. Your back is turned one day and some rogue wave of grief just rises up and takes you down. And that’s the truth of it.

Now, that grief taught me something that made my life better. To extend this wave metaphor. Before my father died, I was the kind of guy who when confronted with a wave, a wave of anything, a wave of anxiety, a wave of hard work, a wave of illness, didn’t matter. I would plant my feet in the ground, stick my chest out and say, come on, I’m stronger than any wave. I am going to hold my ground. But we all know what happens to someone whose default setting is such, when a new kind of wave hits them, a typhoon, a tsunami that they have never, ever experienced before.

You end up being thrashed, turned upside down, smashed against the rocks, scared, grasping, flailing, gasping for air. That’s what happens when you try to stand up to a certain type of wave. So what I learned is there’s a better way, which is, when you see these and feel these enormous waves coming, you lie down and you float with it, until you can stand up again. And I also discovered that while you’re floating, if you reach your hand out, very often there’s someone standing near you who will take your hand and help lift you from that suffering. And that changes your entire life. The Talmud says the prisoner cannot free himself. That’s a very powerful insight, particularly for men, by the way.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

This last several minutes of conversation, what pops in my head is something I read in an interview that you did, talking about the pandemic, where you talked about coming out of the pandemic, the emotion that you felt. Somebody asked you how did you feel going through that emotion? And yeah, there was a lot of grief for a lot of people, and we’ve been focusing a little bit on death. But you started out by talking about all kinds of things that can cause loss and grief. The pandemic was one of those things. And you said that, when asked what was your emotion coming out of that, you said gratitude.

And it’s led me to want to ask you this question, and I’ve asked other guests, I mean, have you found gain from loss? But I want to ask you this is, it sounds like what you’re talking about, we tend to think the opposite of grief is joy. It seems to me maybe what you’re talking about, especially that idea of if you reach your hand out while you’re resting, there’s a hand there to help you go through it. Maybe is it possible or in your view is the opposite of grief, gratitude? Is that a fair statement to make?

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Very. First of all, I don’t think there is an opposite of grief.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Okay.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

All of life is separation and loss. Blessings don’t come any other way. So I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s a binary reality. You’re either grieving or you’re something else. Quite to the contrary. So what I discovered in writing the book, what I realized I was really writing about was dualism, was the duality that death forces us to confront. The dualities, right? The dualities of love and loss, light and darkness. Let’s talk about memory for a moment. The duality of memory. Clergy are full of cliches about memory. May his memory be a blessing. You’ll always have her in your memory. Da da da. Yeah, that’s all true. But yeah, it’s true that memory is beautiful, but it is equally true that it really, really hurts. It’s both. It’s like, in the book I say, it’s like being caressed and spat on at the same time.

And so for me, listen, I love my father. I feared my father. I loved my father. I feared my father. I lovde my father. I feared my father. My father was a great father. My father was a terrible father. There’s dissonance, there’s dichotomous tension in all of us all the time. And death forces us to look at that. I’m alive, I’m going to die, I’m alive, I’m going to die. Everything matters. Nothing matters. Everything matters. Nothing matters. Now what it did for me, is I finally understood that making peace with the irreconcilable nature of life’s dualities is a resolution. Making peace with the fact that these things cannot be resolved is a resolution and it brings me peace.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, I mean that is profound. I mean there it is, duality. And I can relate to so much of what you said. My mother died five years ago at age 95. My dad, who was a lot older, died in his eighties back in January 87. So long time ago. And even though my dad has died, whatever that is more than 30 years ago, there’s still maybe not waves of grief, but maybe ripples. I’d look at a photograph or there’ll be memories with both of them, of joy and others of sadness. Things that I loved about them to things that I didn’t appreciate quite so much. And there is that duality. But I love what you talk about is through loss, there is gain in the sense, you talk about death as a great teacher, if it impels us to serve the living, I mean we appreciate the best about them.

You write elsewhere, you appreciate the things that you didn’t like about them, you make a choice not to be like that. I think we can be the captain of our own ship in terms of our character and life. We can choose to live differently. You, in your books say the way you parent is different than the way your father parented. You try to, as we all try to, do a little bit better.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

That’s right.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Hopefully your kids will endeavor, nothing against you, try to do it a little bit better than you. And so the virtue of a cycle goes on. So talk about just some of these profound lessons that you feel like death can tell us about life, what’s important. You say elsewhere, nobody wants your crap, which I love that phrase. It’s like, I’m sure with your congregation, it’s not all about how many millions or billions you accumulate. Nothing wrong with that. But I don’t think you’ve given too many eulogies in which you said, “Okay, here we’re going to walk through this person’s balance sheet and income statement. How many houses and cars?”

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Here’s the simplest example, and I talk about this in my new book, which is now out called For You When I’m Gone, I ask the question in the book, I make an observation about headstones. Now I spend a lot of time in cemeteries. And despite the fact that we all, every one of us is unique, we lead unique lives. If you walk through a cemetery, you will see an extraordinary universality to inscriptions on headstones. Why? Because when you have to distill a person’s life down to 15 characters per line and four lines total, that’s like half a tweet. You are engaged in a very, very enlightening act of essentialism. What do you see on headstones? You don’t see anybody’s resume, their net worth, where they went to college, where their grandchildren went to college, their children’s GPA, their jean size, their zip code, none of it.

None of it. What do they all say? Loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend. Loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend. That’s it. It all comes down to the tiny handful of relationships we have that matter. It all comes down to this simple profound fact that it is not what we have, but who we have that defines our life. Now the question is, are we living that way? And this is why death is such a powerful teacher. In fact, I think death is the only teacher. And I wish there was another way to be awakened.

I’ve always wanted to write a book of how to have your second child first. But you can’t, right? It’s a great title, but you can’t write the book. You have to experience these things in order to learn from them. You cannot do it theoretically. I was at a thousand funerals before my father’s. I thought I knew a lot. I knew nothing. Nothing. This is why I’m so interested, as both of you are, in pain and in death, because they are the things that shake us up. Marshall Mcluhan said, “I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t the fish.”

Right? Now, when does a fish discover water? When it’s yanked out of the water and wriggling on a hook. That’s when a fish figures out it was in water. That disruption, it takes something disruptive to enlighten us. I wish there was another way, but I certainly haven’t found it.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s so true. I mean, in probably a hundred plus guests we’ve had on the podcast, I can’t tell you how many people have said how loss was a great gift. We had an Australian woman who dove into a suburban pool in Sydney. She was 13, became diagnosed as a quadriplegic. She was athletic. A couple decades later, she’s a consultant speaker. And she said, “What I went through was a gift.” That to me, I’m not saying that’s right, but there’s a sense of loss can teach us. Even in my own case, losing 150 old family media business on my watch, I’ve learned so much from that. There’s even gift in there.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Well, I’m sure-

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s a crazy concept.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

In its own way it probably liberated you, right?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Indeed. Well said.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well said.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Yeah, yeah. Because I’m sure as hell happy. I’m not running Leder Brothers Metal. I would be rich and bored. So look, I think we have to be careful here. I am not trying to idealize pain and loss. I am not for a moment saying that that woman’s life was worth becoming a paraplegic or a quadriplegic. What I think we are all saying is, but neither is it worthless, if you have to go through hell don’t come out empty handed.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And that’s really, you summarize it so well. We don’t choose the catastrophes, the crucibles, the calamities that happen to us. Whether it’s death, a car accident, alzheimer’s, a cancer diagnosis. None of us choose that. None of us want to go through that. But if you have to, at least have some good come out of it, learn something from it.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

And if nothing else, it deepens our ideally, it deepens our empathy for the suffering of another.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Amen. It so does. There’s one quote you say in some articles that you talk about living as a good ancestor. I love that phrase. And other people talk about what do you want your eulogy to be. Live that eulogy today. I mean a couple different writers have come across have said that, and that’s so profound. Because you don’t want to be on your deathbed with your, I think, what two kids is it? Saying, yeah dad was pretty good, but I wish A and B. I mean none of us are perfect, but you hope that they say, dad may not have been perfect, but he gave us his all. He loved us deeply. He spent time with us. It wasn’t all about his day job. He was a good man and a good dad. And I respect him, I admire him. I feel blessed to have him as a father. I mean, it’s probably something along those lines, I’m guessing.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

In the new book. The first chapter is about regret. And I discovered something, again counterintuitive. I’m very interested in these counterintuitive things about life. In looking at what most people regret at the end of life, I discovered that what most people regret most is not something they did. It’s something they didn’t do. It’s not the mistakes of commission, it’s the mistakes of omission that people regret most. Because as I often say to people, you cannot have a better past, if you missed an opportunity, you cannot have a better past. So regret ideally should impel us like loss, like pain, to march into a better future.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I am not going to regret my omission to say that sound you heard listener was the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign. And for the first time in 140 episodes, I get to say the reason that we’re going to have to land the plane here is that rabbi Leder needs to catch a connecting flight in a few minutes.

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

That’s right.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Before I go, rabbi, please tell listeners how they can find out more about you on the internet, how they can find your books, how can they learn more about Steve Leder?

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Well, thank you. I appreciate the question. My books are all on Amazon. Just go to Steve Leder, L-E-D-E-R. The new one came out in June. It made the New York Times bestseller list, which I’m really proud of. It’s a team effort to get that far, believe me. I’m on Instagram. That’s one great way to follow me and kind of keep up with what I’m thinking and doing. And that is @steve_leder. Again, L-E-D-E-R. I have a website, steveleder.com. You can find me at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, at that website. And that’s the easiest way to kind of connect. And I actually do answer all of my DMs myself on Instagram. So if you want to communicate, that’s a great way to do it.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Awesome. Warwick, we’ve got a couple minutes left before we have to bid farewell to the rabbi. What’s your final question?

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, you have so many profound quotes in the book that we’ve just been discussing, but there’s one kind of… At the end and it says, the older I become and the more distance from my father’s life and death, the more I realize how incumbent it is upon us all to make the legacy we inherit more beautiful and more authentically our own. Not only by living as our loved ones lived in their finest moments, but also by choosing what not to carry forth from their worst. So if you think about your father’s death and loss, how would you summarize just some of the most profound lessons, that you learnt from that experience, that you want your congregation and especially your kids to learn from the death of their grandfather?

 

Rabbi Steve Leder:

Let’s start with the negative and end with the positive. I did not and will not continue to raise my children to fear me. I grew up with a dad who said I don’t want to have to hit because if I do, I break bones. I do not want to raise my children to believe that there is catastrophe lurking behind every corner. And I do not want to have the kind of marriage my parents had, which was horrible. And I don’t want to be belittling and judgmental in the way my father was. Those are the negatives. Those are the things I’ve tried to leave behind. On the positive side and there are many. My father had an amazing ability to enjoy a moment, in the moment. He would often, when he was eating something delicious and usually cheap and plenty of it, he would just look at me and say, “Are we living?”

Like, is this not the greatest thing ever, this hot fudge sundae? Are we living? Or walking in the sunshine, he grew up in the cold and the sunshine was a miracle to my father. So those things, the appreciating the extraordinary nature of the most ordinary things, a slice of a ripe avocado made my father so happy. So I try to remember those things. And also, he was really funny. He really loved to laugh and he was wicked smart, and he worked so hard for so long. And those are things that I hope I can enhance and bring more deeply into the world. And it was shown to us sometimes in very odd and difficult ways. But he was fundamentally committed to all five of his children being good people. And I hope that I have done the same, not only with my children, but with my entire congregation. And that to me will be honoring the best of my father.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

What you have just heard listeners is what gaining from loss sounds like with Rabbi Steve Leder who has a plane to catch. So until we are together the next time, thank you for being with us.