It is no secret. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, individuals and communities worldwide are struggling to come up with creative ways to make the High Holidays meaningful and engaging this year.
In our warm and ever-growing Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, we crafted a meticulous plan that includes inspiration-packed and limited in-person services for singles and families alike, which will take place indoors and outdoors at different times. In addition, we have also prepared an immersive “basket of inspiration” for our members, which will include prayerbooks, learning materials, fun and educational activities for the whole family, and a variety of gifts.
But the question remains: How will we be able to overcome the many constraints of this pandemic and celebrate the holidays fully in the confines of our homes and limited in-person services?
The answer, I believe, is rooted in the following three ideas:
Ask what you have instead of what you lack.
I asked my children what they were looking forward to during the upcoming High Holidays season the other day.
One child said that she is looking forward to the Rosh Hashanah seder and dipping the apple in the honey, because it will remind her of “how sweet my life is.” Another child said he is looking forward to “listening to and blowing the shofar.”
But it was my 6-year-old child who moved me most: “I’m looking forward to spending more time with Hashem during these holidays.”
After hearing their beautiful replies, my turn came. “I’m looking forward to seeing the holidays through your eyes this year.”
Indeed, we can focus on all that was taken from us during this pandemic. Or, like children, we can opt to concentrate on all of the blessings that we do have.
We too must believe that within every destruction there is a promise of construction; within every bitter challenge there lies a possibility waiting to be born; within every sight of darkness, there is a vision of light. All that is left for us to do is to open our eyes and focus on the blessings and opportunities within.
Ask where G-d is not rather than where G-d is.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of accompanying my beloved mentor, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz — whose passing a few weeks ago left an immeasurable void in our lives and in the world — to a New Jersey synagogue, where he was invited to speak.
In his inimitable style, he concluded his lecture, with the following words:
“I beg you! Please do not treat G-d as some people treat their old Papa, here, in America. They lock him up in a home, and from time to time, they visit him. G-d, shouldn’t be treated like that. He shouldn’t be locked up in a synagogue and visited periodically. Rather, take Him home with you. Let Him into your lives. Introduce Him to your family members. Eat with Him. Sleep with Him. Talk to Him. And walk with Him everywhere.”
This year, many of us may not be able to visit our synagogues. But, as my mentor so poignantly suggested, this year, let us bring G-d, His Torah, and His mitzvot, into our homes. Let us celebrate our holidays with Him, with personal fervor and passion, and with love and intimacy. And let us allow His holy presence to permeate our every area of life and guide us, today, tomorrow and forever.
His abundant blessings will undoubtedly follow.
Ask what you are going to do rather than what will be.
In a private audience shortly after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asked Rabbi Yisrael Lau what the mood was like “in the streets of Israel.”
Rabbi Lau responded that people are asking, “What will be?”
The Rebbe grabbed Rabbi Lau’s arm and exclaimed, “Jews don’t ask: ‘What will be?’ Jews ask: ‘What are we going to do?’”
Indeed, passivity has never been a word in our vocabulary. Instead, we are called to become difference-makers, each in our own way, regardless of the challenges we face.
We live in a broken world. Many face daunting challenges. Others carry deep ache and hurt. Therefore, may I suggest that we substitute every emotion of anxiety with an act of goodness. Every physical hug not given, ought to be traded with a mental hug of unconditional love. Every hand not shaken, ought to be replaced with a hand that is extended with kind deeds that lift up souls.
Let us fight apathy with love, passivity with positive action and become ourselves the answer to the question of “what will be?” JN
Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale.