September 3, 2021
This is the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah – the New Year. This week’s Torah portion, N’tazvim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20), states: “Concealed things are known to Adonai our God but revealed things are for us and our children forever, to apply all the provisions of this teaching.” (29:28) The older I get the more I fear the passing of time. Where I once planned for a good retirement, a good life for the kids, the acquisition of new knowledge or another credential of some sort, or for a meaningful experience for my congregation, now I’m planning for oblivion. Ah, if only someone could really plan for oblivion!
And if I dwell on the subject very long, I have trouble with nostalgia – seeing pictures of loved ones who have passed on, those who are still alive but the way they were years ago, and even pictures of me as a younger man with a young family, filled with promise and exuberance – it begins to hurt. Perhaps too much. All of this passes into the stream of time, unabated and un-recallable. It would follow that all one can do before the inevitable happens is to make sure their assets are divided the way they want, that they leave loved ones with some semblance of peace, and that we are “square” with God. Even the Sages say that Mitzvot are performed in THIS world – it’s too late after one leaves it. Hang on to it as long as one can!
But looking closely at our upcoming High Holy Days, it’s not all doom and gloom, death and oblivion. It’s actually quite positive. It teaches us about how to live! It teaches us about how to unburden ourselves from guilt and nagging regret. It teaches about caring for and about others. It teaches about the relinquishing of grudges and hurt feelings that ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, really don’t deserve the primacy we seem to give them. It teaches about accomplishing positive things that will endure long after we move on. How do we want to be remembered? What lasting contribution can we make that will guarantee that we will be remembered for good things? Will we leave the World better for having been here? And how best do we spend the remainder of our lives? Our Machzor declares, at the end of the scary “U’ntaneh Tokef” prayer, that “Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah will avert the severe decree!”
The method each of us chooses is personal to us. I still teach kids for their B’nai Mitzvah. I’ve seen former students lead services, read the sacred words of Torah, and participate in their local congregations. When I hear my students lead worship, I hear how they picked up the little nuances that are unique to my style of leading prayers. Now that many have grown, I’ve even performed some of their weddings. My feeling is that they will likely pass it all on to their children and so on forward. When I get really down, I think of them. They will be my immortality. I remember and love them all, and if I was able to bring them closer to God’s divine Presence and even a little Yiddishkeit, so much the better.
You, dear reader, may have your own way. But you, as an individual, MUST find a way. Do it through teaching, through art, through music, through charity, through volunteer work. Gather around you those who love you and whom you love. Get out of your own head and get into the World, but do it according to your own proclivities.
There is an ongoing weird atmosphere about these Holy Days once again this year. We are still struggling with THE virus. We are still trying to figure out how to contain it and hopefully agree what we need to do to fight it. Some will still not be able to join a live Congregation for worship; and those who can, things will be extremely limited and different.
Like we sing when we return the Torah to the Ark: “Etz Chaim Hi” – Torah is a Tree of Life for those who cleave unto it – a tree of LIFE, not death — and with it comes the over-riding principle of “Pekuach Nefesh” — the saving and protecting of LIFE! A Talmudic admonition warns us “Do not rely on miracles,” May God bless each and everyone of us and continue to protect yourself however you must.
May you be inscribed for a wonderful, meaningful life this 5782. May 5782 be a better year for you than the last, and may you live in good health, with meaning and in joy!