There is a short dvar Torah that is a favorite of mine that I like to share when given the chance during the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, the time when we begin and end many of our discussions, calls, emails and even texts with references to the upcoming Yamim Noraim and we wish our friends, family and business associates a Shana Tova or some variation of this greeting or goodbye formula.
You see, there is a very simple and basic question in wishing someone a Shana Tova U’metukah—a good and sweet new year. The question of course is this: If you are wishing someone a good year, why should you add the word “sweet”? Isn’t wishing someone a good year “good” enough? It’s a simple question but I have always found the answer to be quite deep and especially appropriate nowadays.
The answer starts with the Gemara in Berachot (60b) and the famous story of Rabbi Akiva who was traveling alone and came to a certain town where no one would host him. Lacking other options, he went and slept in a field and had with him a rooster, a donkey and a candle. Overnight, a strong gust of wind extinguished the lamp, and a wild cat came and devoured the rooster. Finally, a lion attacked and consumed the donkey. That night, a legion of soldiers marched into the town and took it into captivity. Rabbi Akiva was spared because he no longer had a candle, rooster or donkey to give away his location.
What happened to Rabbi Akiva by surviving the night in that field was undoubtedly a “good” thing, but was it a “sweet” thing? Of course it wasn’t. Good and sweet are not necessarily one and the same. And that’s the answer to the question posed above. You can wish someone a Shana Tova, but you also want to add in the other dimension of sweetness as well. Sweet is much deeper, stronger and better than merely “good.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea especially as we head into a socially distanced Rosh Hashanah and labor through yet another month under the threat of a resurgent COVID-19 both locally and in Israel. Despite all of the ills inflicted by the pandemic upon us, our families, friends and our community, it’s clear that life is still continuing. Many (although certainly not all) are making smachot and experiencing successes in their personal and professional lives. There are definitely good things happening out there.
However, I don’t think there is a single person out there—absolutely no one—who feels a full sense of sweetness today. We have all been hurt in some way by the pandemic, some more and some less. For the many young couples who recently married or their families, I am sure it was bittersweet that many friends and family were not able to join. For our schools and our kids, most who are now back in school, it’s great that they are back, but something is missing amidst the plexiglass dividers, full-day masking, and social distancing requirements. For our older members of the community, I know that it’s not sweet at all to spend limited or no time with their younger family members and to refrain from hugging their children and grandchildren and vice versa. There is something terribly wrong in the fact that I was not able to hug my parents when we went out to an outdoor dinner a week ago, something I never thought twice about before COVID-19 came along.
We are all missing something, big and small. Life is simply not as sweet as it has been in the past, often in ways that we never really thought much about prior. It’s my fervent hope that as we head into Rosh Hashanah and daven for ourselves and our families, that the year ahead will truly be a Shana Tova U’metukah, a good and sweet year, with the sweetness that we are all missing today to return as soon as possible.
(As I was writing this, I received a short email from one of our writers. The email read:
Dear Moshe: Someone has a theory that the problem is the year…but it’s not 2020, it’s 5780, and B”H it’s over! Good times are around the corner! I hope my writer is right.)
Best wishes and ketiva vachatima tova to all of our hardworking Jewish Link staff and their families, to our advertisers and their families, and to all in our ever-growing readership and to the entire Jewish community.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer/
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link