I spend Shabbat rummaging through a box of old letters from the mid-late 1980’s to mid 1990’s, real letters, thin paper, bluish aerograms, (a word that Microsoft Word doesn’t even know), glorious postcards from around the globe, colorful cards, beautiful stamps. There must be hundreds of writings between my mom and me; thoughtful words from my brother on official office paper; best wishes for a holiday, a birthday, a simcha (happy occasion) from my aunts, uncles, the kids’ grandparents, cousins; drawings from my nephews; fuzzy photos that didn’t get a second, third and hundreds’ take; dear friends from Israel who didn’t give up on me in spite of the distance and any choices I’ve made; people I’ve met around the world; someone who just drove by, just visited, and still, reaches out to say hello.
There’s more than two decades between me and these letters. Many of the writers are no longer alive. I recognize the handwriting as soon as I see it. I know what’s inside. They are all various degrees of love letters, letters with so much love in them, if only for the effort that went into getting the card, sitting down to write, going to the post office to stand in line, mailing it, then waiting for a reply….
I think about them today, erev Rosh Hashana, as my inbox floods with brief wishes where I am one of tens and hundreds of “recipients” all carefully hidden in the “bcc”. And don’t get me wrong: I too will post something, semi-generic – at best, on facebook. Sure, I really do want to wish each of my 600+ “contacts” a heartfelt Shana Tova.
It makes me wonder about what happened to time and friendship. I’m thinking, maybe in honor of this New Year, I should go get myself a book of stamps.
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Friday was 9/11. Like with other tragedies, the horrific events of the day also opened a window to a world of good. Rosh Hashana is considered the birthday of the world, and so I hope this story is extra appropriate. It’s long enough so needs no additional introduction. Just this: it’s worth the read, and there are lots of meals. If not now, maybe print and share later.
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Parashat Nitzavaim which is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, includes so many beautiful teachings. The whole idea of “nitzav” (translated standing, but really means being attentive and ready to do something useful; used elsewhere for the pillars of the Tabernacle and G-d Himself); the idea of our ability to choose between good and bad; the idea of “teshuva” (literally, coming back or finding an answer), the push to use our time, and the idea of “lo bashamayim” – it is not in the heavens, but close to our hearts to know what is right to do. I especially like 29:27 (Deuteronomy, that is): “the hidden (things) are to our G-d and the revealed to us and our children to do the words of this Torah”. And the question is, where is the comma??? Is it before “and the revealed” or after?? Worse yet, the Torah trope, which suppose to help us know how to break a sentence, leaves “the revealed” hanging with an unattached marking, as if, well, you know, it can go either way. At first I think, hey, I want an answer! And then I think, yeh… maybe that is exactly how it is. The hidden are things are obviously hidden, but even the revealed. There are days we have an illusion that we know what’s going on, but then, there is so much mystery in the world. I have to remind myself not be so haughty to think that even what seems obvious, is really known.
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My students and I talk about tefilla (prayer) before the High Holidays. Services are so long! Why??!… tefilla is so hard!! And yet, it’s the easiest thing in the world. The book is there to help you, not for you to help it. Don’t worry about long paragraphs and incomprehensible words in a foreign language. Just sit for a moment and let the whole thing wrap you. The melodies have the power to sink into the soul like water into end of summer parched, cracked soil.