NO!. Ok, so as we venture into the month of Elul, and we begin to turn our souls to the approaching High Holidays, it will be very easy for so many of us to focus on the negative. After all, since Mid March, pre-Passover (remember those Zoom seders?), we have been in various staes of isolation. Life cycle events have been virtual, always at the mercy of the Zoom gods. We have had to learn when and how to “mute” and “unmute” and so many friends have been reduced to 2 inch by 2 inch boxes on a screen. And we have no idea when this will end. We have missed a lot and, truth be told, the time will not be given back. It is easy to feel anxious and depressed and, indeed, those feelings for so many are on the rise. Even the sacred days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur , Sukkot and Simchat Torah will be radically changed.
There is no denying that these are challeging times and, in many ways, more challenging for our generation, for time is becoming more precious. But let me suggest that we have within each of us the capability to rise above the temporal challenges of Covid and to see, in these days, the inner strength to overcome anxiety and our own spiritual isolation. Jewish history may be a guide. We have walked the walk of challenge and fear and we have survived. We have learned from our experiences and adapted to new circumstances because life is precious and that value has been a motivating factor in always trying to see the possibility of hope in moments of despair. Our tradition specializes in blessings. Just to exist is a blessing, as Heschel wrote. We will not be defined by this pandemic if we but have the courage to choose to affirm our own reality, to see each day as an opportunity to do some good, to learn, to do one more mitzvah for our self and for someone else. Yes, I know this sounds a little simplistic, but sometimes the simple things are the way to unlock secrets to life’s more complicated issues.
Our own life experience is a great teacher. As we have grown we understand that a challenge in life is that we learn to live with ambiguity. That is a condition of being human. We certainly are in such a time now. Again, as the Book of Deuteronomy emphasizes, how we choose to deal with that ambiguity does help determne the type of person we become. Part and parcel of that ambiguity is the randomness of existence. No one could have predicted last High Holidays what we would be experiencing this year. But, we will learn from this, and, as the tradition teaches, “this too shall pass”. So, let this be our Elul of hope, let us move into the Holidays with a renewed sense of our own “spiritual maturity” for we have within each of us the ability to rise above the momentary challenges of life to a higher sense of self. Anne Lamont, in her recent book, “Almost Everything”, sums it up nicely. “We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.” (p.189)
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.