2017-09-13 / Religion Column

Our opportunity to reflect on who we choose to be

Congregation Beth El

I have young children, and on a recent morning, one of my boys awakened earlier than I would have liked, and when one of them is awake, very quickly both of them are awake. And when both of them are awake, very soon after, my wife and I are awake too. And we look at each other, knowing that one of us needs to tend to the children and the other will enjoy another half hour of rest. Though I’d really prefer the extra sleep, I find myself playing with my children in the next room. And then something magical happens. I’m reading a story with my boys on my lap, and my younger son, who at one and a half years of age is just starting to speak recognizable words, looks up and says, “Daddy.” The boys reach for an embrace, and in that moment there is no place in the world I’d rather be. And even though moments before, I was convinced I’d like to be somewhere else, I’m overcome with satisfaction and awe and blessing and gratitude for that special moment.

It’s an incredible thing how many special moments, experiences, privileges, and delights we enjoy. Yet we find it so easy to obsess on what we lack. We look at another person and think, “Wow, they have it all,” but the only perfect family is the one you don’t know well. Every person faces challenges in their lives, just as every one of us has something to cherish as well.

Our High Holidays ask us to reflect on our lives as we live them. We hear the call of the Shofar, reminding us that we are each defined not only by who we have been, but also by who we will choose to be. We iterate, again and again, our gratitude for Gd’s creation of our world, and how wondrous our existence is. We count our blessings. The High Holidays shift us from thinking about everything we lack, to recognizing everything we have.

With every blessing in our machzor, we take a moment to recognize something incredible in our lives. It’s why we have so many blessings in Judaism: For food, intellect, eyesight, faith, health, community, and even moments like I shared with my sons that special morning.

As you read this, pause, and take a moment now, and think about one thing that you’re grateful for. Just one thing.

When I do this, I feel better about myself and my life, and when you did this, I hope you felt that way too.

When we take a moment for gratitude, and when we begin to recognize all that we have, we also realize that we have the capacity to share. Each of us, however stretched, has within us a capacity to give love, hope, kindness, and wisdom, and many of us can also give from our pocketbooks.

On the High Holidays, we’ll chant: u’Teshuvah, u’Tefillah, u’Tzedakah ma’avirin et ro’a ha’gezeirah—“But repentance, prayer, and righteous giving have the power to transform the harshness of our destiny.” We do Teshuva, we truly repent, when we respond to a repeated challenge with goodness. We do Tefillah, we truly pray, when we respond to the challenges of living with gratitude. And we do Tzedakah, we truly enact righteousness, when we respond to the challenge of the vulnerable other with giving.

The Torah asks us to remove whatever blockage surrounds our hearts so that we can open our hearts to one another and to the other. Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah are our toolbox for this sacred task, enabling us to better ourselves by focusing on what is most important.

Wishing you a shanah tova. May we all change for the better in this coming year.

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