I am doing something that I have never done before in all the years of writing my column.
I am outside, in my front yard, sitting on a chair, taking in the gentle breeze and just-cut-grass aroma around me. When I look up, all I see is clear midnight-blue sky, dotted with stars and the occasional airplane. If I look closely enough, I can actually see a passenger wiping off her tray with a handful of Clorox wipes, and the passenger sitting next to her, whose mask isn’t covering his nose, and the passenger sitting next to him, who is glaring at said passenger because his mask isn’t covering his nose. Wow, I didn’t know I could see from so far away!
My block is still and quiet, with only the sounds of the chirping crickets. So peaceful. When I was sitting out in my backyard over yom tov, trying not to take a nap because, according to my mother, if you nap on Rosh Hashanah it means you will be sleepy the whole year, in my mind I was trying to come up with the perfect literary description of how it felt. The warmth of the sun felt like it was hugging my face. It felt lovely. Apparently I have been reading way too much chick lit the past few weeks, and it is always filled with vivid descriptions of scenery, people’s appearances, and food. OK, enough about that. Whatever that was.
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a pretty serious time for us Jewish folk. According to what I have been taught in my 18 plus years of Jewish education, the actions you do in these 10 days can, for all intents and purposes, make or break your year. Are the scales tipping toward doom and gloom? Do some good deeds and straighten that thing out. Have you been a total goody goody all year but you start slacking off and take up pickpocketing for a few days? The scale starts tipping in the other direction.
The problem with being taught these concepts when you are young is that you (or at least me) have a very specific vision of how these things must work. Like when a rabbi in fifth or sixth grade taught me that if I misbehaved, my grandparents would be punished for my sin. What the what? How is a kid supposed to handle a concept like that? In my mind, I just felt that during the 10 days between the holidays, I should just stay in my room, not talk to a soul, and read the Bible. Or say tehillim. Or stand on a street corner with a big smile on my face and give dollar bills to everyone. Because if I do or say anything unacceptable, down goes the bad side of my scale, and off to hell I go.
Of course that is how you look at it if you are a negative person. (Wait. Is there any other way to be??) Ah yes, if you look at these 10 days in a positive light, you really are given an amazing opportunity. An opportunity to look within your soul and attempt to be a good human. A human who checks on the elderly and donates food to a local food pantry. A human who goes shopping for their neighbors and is kind to everyone, not just people they like. You know, a Jewish unicorn. Oh sorry, that was me being negative again.
In all seriousness, I really do love when God comes off as almost being human. It is like he/she is saying, “OK, my chosen people, I know some of you have had a tough go off it this year. You cheated on your taxes, you hit a parked car and didn’t leave a note, you cursed like a truck driver in front of a room filled with 8 year olds. I want you all to take the next week or so to turn it around. I have faith that you can do it!” That is a good God. He/she is all about giving chances to do better. To be better. And even if we screw up again, we get back up and try again.
So here is a toast to all of us who have not had a stellar year, who have done or said or thought things that should not have been on our to do list. Here is to getting back on the horse and trying to be good — or, at least, be better.
Or just sit in your front yard, look up at the endless sky, take a deep breath, and be grateful for where you are right now.
Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck is going to use the next 10 days to clean her garage so that son #2 can find the sukkah when he comes home.