For decades now, I’ve observed a personal minhag to share a dvar Torah at every Shabbat and holiday meal, whenever we are at home and whenever practical when we’re invited out. My wife Fran has been enormously supportive of this practice and our guests or hosts are usually very accommodating.
This Rosh Hashanah I found that I drew on three messages I’d been saving for years. None are long or convoluted and two are from secular sources, yet they speak directly and meaningfully to the themes we grapple with at this time. Each offers a powerful idea for the Yomim Noraim season in 5784.
In the interest of sharing the wealth, so to speak, and to provide readers of The Jewish Link with ideas that may spark discussion and reflection on Shabbos Shuva, I offer these three brief winning ideas below.
A Star Ledger Editorial, February 14, 2009
This unusual editorial, “Questions of fate,” looked at a few local tragedies and a few almost disasters and was framed by the story of one young mother and her priest.
The editorial started: “The Reverend Brian Laffler recalls the young mother, a parishioner, who was stricken with breast cancer. Against the odds, she vowed to beat the insidious disease because she had to raise her toddler, a bundle of energy and joy conceived after years of heartbreaking attempts to become pregnant.
“She triumphed over the cancer, only to have her thriving 6 year old cruelly claimed by food poisoning, whose source, to this day, remains a mystery.”
The editorial proceeds to discuss other incidents, then returns to this mom’s story at the end. “After her son passed away last summer, the woman’s cancer returned and Laffler was walking alongside the gurney as nurses wheeled the woman into the operating room. As he held her hand, they exchanged a knowing glance and, in that second, relived all of the pain of the past few years. He wondered what was running through her mind. She smiled.”
“I’ll be okay,” she told him. “I have my faith.”
Every time I share this tale, it takes my breath away. And it reminds me, potently, that one of the greatest gifts HaKadosh Baruch Hu has given me is my belief in Him and the manifest justice of His deeds even if I can not always see it.
A Perspective From Rabbi Manis Friedman
In July 2001, I was listening to a Torah tape by the author of “Why Don’t People Blush Anymore?” And I was so struck by a passage that I had to transcribe it.
He said: “To know yourself in the best, safest way is to first find out what you are doing that is right. Whatever it is, do more of it—do it with more feeling, or with more understanding. A person says: I haven’t done anything right; I haven’t done anything good, then he’s not a mentsch. He’s lying. The same is true of another person. Do you want to help another person to improve themselves? Find out what they’re doing right and then encourage them to do more of it, to do it with more feeling, with more understanding. You can’t find anything that they’re doing right? Then you can’t help them. Point out what they’re doing wrong, that’s not your job and that’s not going to help. Just like it doesn’t help with you.
So we can change maybe not in dramatic ways, but in significant ways, and the changes are usually along the lines in which we are already finding some success. Where already we are doing a little bit of good, and we improve that by recognizing the goodness and increasing it—so that it’s three dimensional. This is all summed up in Chassidus, where it says that when you take an accounting of yourself, as important as it is to be honest about your faults, it is equally important to be honest about your virtues. To exaggerate your faults is dishonest and destructive. To underestimate your virtues is equally dishonest, and maybe even more destructive because then you have no place to start from.”
This Dvar Torah thought offers an uplifting and, I believe, very practical approach to planning my teshuva in the coming year. And it does so by giving me encouragement that I am doing some things right.
A Poem in The New York Times,
Sept. 19, 2019
By Danusha Laméris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of soup,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
This poem reminds me that the small gestures of chesed (human kindness) that we perform in the public sphere are things that bind us together and give us hope. And for those of us who are identifiably observant, they are also a wonderful Kiddush Hashem. If nothing else, we can aim to do more of them in the coming year.
Harry Glazer is the Middlesex County editor of The Jewish Link. He welcomes feedback on this essay and can be reached at [email protected]