Don’t Delay, Make The Most of Today
Rosh HaShanah 5781
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shanah tovah! In the Mishnah in Avot (3:1), we are taught, “Who is rich? The one who rejoices in their portion.” Sometimes, however, it can be difficult to “rejoice in our portion.” For example, a few weeks into the pandemic lockdown, a friend of mine posted something on social media that really struck me. Her birthday was coming up, and instead of being happy, she was lamenting. She was upset because last year was a milestone birthday, and she had delayed the celebration to this year. Of course, due to the pandemic and lockdown, she was, again, forced to postpone. I felt sad for my friend, but at the same time, I wondered why she postponed celebrating last year in the first place, and would she try to find a different way to celebrate this year, instead of postponing again.
Obviously, during this unusual time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have had to defer some celebrations. We’ve had to postpone, or even cancel plans, just like my friend. Within our own congregation, our 2 B’not Mitzvah have had to reschedule their services and celebrations. However, here’s the thing: life and joy have not been cancelled. How we celebrate has had to change due to the pandemic, but why we celebrate has not. Therefore, we don’t have to put off everything entirely. For example, instead of parties, and in-person gatherings to celebrate things like birthdays, we now have car parades, giant lawn signs, and Zoom celebrations. I’ve even seen graduation drive-thru ceremonies. Today is Rosh Hashanah. In Hebrew we say, Hayom harat ha’olam, which means, “Today is the birthday of the world!” Yes, this “birthday” service isn’t what we had envisioned originally, but here we are, sharing this virtual space, celebrating the New Year together. My daughter Dara’s birthday was less than one week after we were placed in lockdown. Instead of bemoaning the fact that we were not going to the bowling alley with her friends, we bought a decorate-your-own cake kit from a local bakery, and spent quality family time decorating and eating the cake together. We FaceTimed with extended family to further the celebration. It wasn’t what we originally had in mind for Dara’s birthday, but it was still joyful. Jessie Lieberman still had a lovely Bat Mitzvah service and celebration outside just last week. It wasn’t what she and Debbie had originally planned, but it was still a beautiful and joyous experience. And, Hailey Andersen, I know your Bat Mitzvah will be as well.
When preparing for today, I read an opinion piece on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website called, “I got married during the pandemic – and my wedding was perfect,” by Devorah Schacter. Mrs. Schacter and her now-husband decided not to postpone their wedding, but instead, change how they were going to celebrate. They knew that they would not be able to have a big wedding, and they were fine with that. Mrs. Schacter said, “A positive mindset is one of the most powerful tools we have… While I understood that our wedding would not be ‘normal,’ the essence of what we were trying to achieve on this monumental occasion would be exactly the same… My wedding, bereft of all frills and embellishments, was not a compromise – it was a gift… In this way, in the weeks leading up to the wedding, we were able to focus on what we were about to embark upon and what exactly this next stage of life meant to us… I could view my wedding as a chance being taken from me – I choose to see it as an opportunity I was given.” Mrs. Schacter has taken to heart the meaning of the Mishnah, by “rejoicing in her portion,” and celebrating where she can.
The High Holy Days are a time to reflect on the year that has passed, and look ahead to the future. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this past year has not been great. Between the pandemic, racism, anti-Semitism, wildfires, etc., this year could have been a lot better. In fact, I often see on Facebook, memes that say things like, “I’m not counting 2020 (towards my age), I didn’t use it.” However, we also know that time is precious, and I would hate to waste any of it, even under more trying circumstances. Therefore, we must remember the happy moments of the past year, and remember to make the most of the time we have, and enjoy it. Enjoying life is so important, that we are taught to do so in the Book of Ecclesiastes (8:15). It says, “I therefore praised enjoyment. For the only good a man can have under the sun is to eat and drink and enjoy himself.” While my friend (the one who was lamenting her birthday) did not celebrate the way she had envisioned, she shared that she did, in fact, have a happy birthday, complete with cake, presents, and family. On that day, she became “rich” because she decided to “rejoice in her portion.”
As many of you know, this summer, I took an online beginner’s Yiddish class with my mother. (See, that is something I wouldn’t have been able to do pre-pandemic!) When I told my mom what I was thinking of talking about today, she taught me a Yiddish phrase: “Metournisht faloighen a simcha. – Don’t lose (put off) joy/a celebration.” I think that may be one of the most important lessons I have learned so far in this pandemic.
As we look back on the year 5780/2020, let us try to focus on the joy we had. Let us remember those moments of laughter and love. Those are the moments that got us through this pandemic, through this period of hate and prejudice, and brought us closer together. Let us take those moments with us into 5781, and let’s pray for a healthier and more peaceful New Year. Shanah Tovah.