Contradictory Feelings as a Spiritual Challenge
Keeping Connected July 2019
In the span of a year, there are many days that take on greater significance than their neighbors; some for Jewish reasons and some for secular. Jewishly, the days of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, stand out from all the rest in the calendar as being important to the rhythms of Jewish life. For me personally, the awareness of their meaning and the practice of these holidays’ rituals adds a spiritual dimension to my life.
In the span of a week, each day also has significant meaning. Mondays are all about getting going with the work of the week, Wednesday is Hump Day and Fridays – well Fridays bring a sense of space and opportunity. For me, as a Jew, Friday nights and Saturdays are special. Shabbat stands unique from the rest of the days of the week; an opportunity for letting go of the “shoulds”, the “have tos”, the “I gotta get this done” mindset. That is, if one allows Friday nights and Saturdays to be Shabbat! I know that this is not always easy given the responsibilities of life and the frenetic pace that so many of us live. The knowledge that I can stop and embrace the opportunity of Shabbat; to live differently than I do the rest of the week, is a great comfort and a renewing opportunity.
Secularly, there are days that are particularly significant. For instance, I have always loved Thanksgiving and Halloween AND who doesn’t love a birthday? There are two days a year, however, that by their very existence evoke a tension within me. By their very nature, these two days reflect ephemerality of life and the human experience. Before I tell you what these two days are, let me tell you a story.
One day King Solomon decided to humble his most trusted minister. He said “There is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me.” “If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty, I will find it and bring it to you. But what makes the ring so special?” replied the minister.
“It has special powers,” answered Solomon. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon believed that no such ring existed.
Time passed, but the minister had not yet found such a ring. One day, he asked an elderly shopkeeper in the market, “Have you by any chance heard of a special ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?”
He watched the elderly man take a plain gold ring and engrave something on it. When the minister read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. Later that day, King Solomon asked the minister, “Have you found the ring?” “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: Gimel, Zayin, Yud, which begin the words “Gam zeh ya’avor – This too shall pass.” At that moment, Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.
So, what are the two days that I think teach a similar lesson? December 21stand June 21st, which happens to be today; the day I write this letter. Perhaps that is why the meaning of the day feels particularly present for me. Why are these two days so significant? December 21st, as the Winter’s Solstice, is the shortest day of the year and June 21st, as the Summer’s Solstice, is the longest day of the year. I always dread the dark days of winter and in particular feel like December 21stis such a downer, but as soon as I feel that, I also know that every day forward is going to get longer! This brings a sense of relief! So too with June 21st. I LOVE the longest day of the year and enjoy the light that radiates well into the night. But, while I enjoy and relish the length of the day, a part of me also says, “Oh no, every day going forward will be shorter.” What an OY moment. June 21stis the start of summer, but a small part of me thinks, “Summer is almost over, even before it has started!” I can imagine some of you reading this letter are thinking that perhaps this tension belies a sort of calendric neurosis on the part of the rabbi! Perhaps that is the case, but the fact remains, that this day, June 21st, evokes for me an array of feelings. It is an opportunity for reflection and it displays a glimpse of the future.
First and foremost, there is a sense of gratitude for all the good that has happened in our community this past year. I hope you will look at the highlights of the year listed on our web-site. You will be amazed. I am also filled with gratitude for the incredible leadership shown by our president, Joanna Myers and the Board of Trustees. Joanna has been a caring, dedicated, talented, humble and generous leader for our community. Joanna, thank you for all you have done to help our congregation grow and thrive. Looking back, I also want to say a huge thanks to all our staff, teachers, volunteers and members, who have helped our community to flourish this past year. Finally, thanks to the entire community and in particular to the planning committee, for hosting such a fun and celebratory event to mark my 20 years with the congregation. It was a wonderful night. Thank you.
June 21stalso makes me think of the future. While fighting the tendency to forget the present and start planning of the fall, I am keenly aware that a new year is just around the corner. Plans are already in place for the High Holidays, school year and more. I hope you enjoy summer but also anticipate what a great year, next year can be for our congregation. I hope you will make time to get involved in some way, small or large. Please consider over the summer, ways in which you can enrich your life Jewishly and think about how the community can support you in these endeavors. Please also consider what gifts you have to share with all of us in the year ahead.
Rabbi Shoshana Perry