At about mid-August every year, I say to my husband, “The holidays are late/early this year, aren’t they?” And like clockwork, he replies, “They are exactly when they’re supposed to be.”
He knows exactly what I mean, juxtaposing the Gregorian and Hebrew dates along with my level of preparedness but, because he is an Orthodox former army rabbi/chaplain, religious subtlety isn’t his strong suit. He’s trying to make a point, and I never have any of it.
I suppose the annual pre-holiday musing arises from a disheartening sense of not maximizing the summer as I’d hoped. A (not small) part of me wants to push off the weighty Days of Judgment for just one more beach day, one more camping trip, one more charming antique-shop stroll and quaint cafe visit.
Our Israeli climate may be more arid than in other places but the urgency of September feels the same as elsewhere. School buses, holiday food shopping, invitations issued, family considerations for prayer, meals, phone calls or Zoom. Carpooling and sign-ups for student activities and cultural endeavors only add to the 180-degree shift from a lazy season to a crazy season.
And instead of “being present” and experiencing the different rhythms of my truly good life, I’m often unable to catch my breath between clients and September’s punishing pace.
Have we learned nothing during the scourge of the corona virus? “Der mensch tracht, und Gott lacht/Man plans, G-d laughs.” (Yiddish saying that means Man plans, G-d laughs.) What is the point of the frenzy and continual attempts to manipulate time once we recognize that we are not in charge? There isn’t one. And therein lies the rub.
I was recently driving down the highway from Jerusalem to Maale Adumim and reflected upon the Bedoin enclaves I passed. Their world appears frozen in time; goats being herded along sparse sagegrass, black fabric-wrapped tents only yards from one another, the encampment’s silence during the hottest hours of a long summer day. And even while imagining what a hefty dose of modern infusion might do for them, I catch the arrogance, put it in check. Surprisingly, a subtle feeling of envy rises to the surface. It is uncomfortable.
The world is spinning at an inconceivable rate of speed and everyone I know seems to be either hopping on or off the next project or is reaching for a brass ring that, once caught, becomes tarnished and gets tossed aside for the next big thing. It is all so exhausting. Being Torah observant does not guarantee immunity from the artificial lures that wreak havoc on our values.
Concepts such as original sin and eternal damnation are antithetical to Jewish belief. As partners with G-d in our own creation, we grasp the opportunity to reset the Commandment-Gauge to zero, not only once a year but, remarkably, each day in our prayers.
Upon opening our eyes in the morning, we are exhorted to thank G-d for the fresh canvas upon which we will, during the next 24-hour cycle, paint our relationships, our holiness, our connectedness to one another. At sunset, we review the day’s “masterpiece” and determine if it is museum worthy or best suited for the trash.
And the next morning, if granted another day of life, we are presented with another canvas! Hopefully, this day’s work will be more spiritual, more community-nourishing, more pleasing in His eyes than that of the day before.
Let us pledge that the sweet New Year blesses us with the will to forge ahead with an awareness that, more important than human do-ings, the world will prosper from myriad human be-ings.
Shanah Tovah u’Metukah!
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.