Each September, when I begin to reflect on the approaching High Holidays, I start with an assessment of where I’m holding in regard to all those things I promised to work on while I was sitting in synagogue on Yom Kippur last year. Of course, the personal “work” actually began the day after Yom Kippur, but admittedly with a little less urgency than I feel now.
There are things that are likely common topics of reflection among many of us: achieving peace of mind, resilience to deal with the vicissitudes of life, closeness and meaningful connection to our loved ones, and a feeling of accomplishment both professionally and personally. In regard to our personal selves, I think of cultivating enhanced empathy, kindness and a focus on contributing to the lives of others.
In particular, I would like to explore the universal reality we all face in dealing with life’s inevitable ups and downs. More than once when something negative has happened in my life, I would question why is this happening to me? After all, I am a good person, I try to do the right thing by others, by myself and live according to my own values. In discussing this issue with a close friend and Rabbi, he reminded me of something Dr. Lara Schlesinger said years ago: namely, that often we act and react to things as if we were “born and living in heaven.” What I understand that to mean is that we somehow think we can/should be immune to bad and difficult circumstances, and that when we are challenged with hardships in life, we question where is Hashem and why isn’t He/She “protecting” us?
Rabbi Simcha Barnett suggests that part of our problem in managing the “downs” is that we do not appreciate the ups sufficiently, and fail to give credit to Hashem for all the everyday miraculous good things. The Rabbi shared a story about a time when his son was young and got very upset that his father wouldn’t give him what he wanted. The Rabbi thought, what about the other 10 things I just gave you and all the other things I have given you? He made the point that this is analogous, for many of us, to our relationship with and expectations of Hashem. Recognizing the “ups” that Hashem grants us daily, or even just knowing that our creator wants the best for us and has provided us with so much to be grateful for, can help mitigate and put in perspective the “bad.” Our physical world may not meet all our expectations of what we imagine is heaven, but according to our tradition, this physical life is the time when can earn and prepare to enter God’s heaven.
It is also worth considering at this time of year the physical and mental attributes which were granted to us at birth and how they influence our path in life. For example, as a young and aspiring basketball player, I often ruminated on how much better a player I might have been if I was just granted the genes of greater height. When I mentioned that to him, Rabbi Barnett suggested that I should think of the popular cooking show Iron Chef as a metaphor to make the point that we are each given certain “ingredients” with which to create a masterpiece and that our way to greater peace of mind and fulfillment, is to take those personal ingredients and create a wonderful life.
My wish for myself and for all of you, is that in this new year you are able to gain a greater appreciation of life’s every day miracles and bounties, to become more resilient in the face of inevitable disappointments and hurt, and to truly make the very best out of the time we have been granted on this earth.