July 15, 2024
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Life Is Like a Game of Chutes and Ladders

Prior to getting words to paper, thoughts ruminate in my mind for many weeks. It took some time to formulate, and a couple of days of procrastinating, to flesh out the comparison of a board game to my sefira chart and, really, my life. Often words flow easier when there is some conflict, either personal or national, that I’m trying to make sense of. When I heard the news of the tragedy in Meron, my immediate selfish reaction was, “How is this going to affect what I had in mind to write?”

Initially I sort of felt numb and couldn’t relate to any of the news. Hours later the news hit closer to home as the names of the kedoshim were names I recognized.

We are not to make sense of this tragedy, and that takes a level of emunah that each of us strives to achieve, as it’s a never ending-process. Maybe on some level we’re not even able to make sense of the good in our lives, because then we end up using it as a negotiation tactic within ourselves when trying to figure out the “whys” of it all.

Sometimes I think there is a fine line between living naively and accepting the belief in Hashem because it’s what we’ve been taught since such a young age. Living with emunah is certainly something that is developed and thought out—and something we must come to in our own unique way.

When thinking about 45 lives cut short, we very much want to believe that their lives were not cut short at all, that they just finished their tafkid and completed their personal game of “life” earlier than anyone could have anticipated. But is believing that idea too simple? Is it naive or is it real emunah? Some days it’s going to be the only thing that gets you through the day and you just daven that mitoch shelo nishma, ba l’nishma. If we just keep saying that we have that level of emunah, it will help our soul have that deep level of belief that Hashem is kulo tov and needed these souls with Him more than we need them here.

To explain why I always think of sefira as compared to board games: When I was in pre-1a, one of the projects I made to take home for Pesach was a sefira chart. Day One was on the bottom left-hand corner, and at the very top was a set of luchos perched on the top of Har Sinai. It was beautifully decorated with smushed-up pieces of tissue paper to resemble the tiny flowers, and each day was marked by little boxes that looked like a board game to me. I was probably at the beginning of my board game career, so likely everything in life was compared to a game.

Fast-forward to my high school years and the movie “Forrest Gump” was still incredibly popular. There is a famous line in the movie: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.” I clearly remember not being allowed to watch “Forrest Gump,” but I remember that line being very popular, and it has always stuck in mind. While it’s very true that in life we really never know what we’re going to get, I’m beginning to think that life is much more like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Hear me out.

Every time you spin the spinner—is that what it’s called?—you get a random number dictating how many spots you move on the board. Obviously, your goal is to get to the very top of the board. But for every step you take along that board, there’s a chance to skip a whole bunch of steps if you hit a ladder, or on the other end, be forced to slide down the chute and start your journey up the board all over again.

Sometimes the chutes are very long and you are forced to start back at the very beginning, and sometimes the ladders take you so far ahead, you wind up winning the game so much earlier than you ever anticipated and way before your other competitors. Sound familiar?

The time period of sefira as we are gearing up for Shavuot always seems very goal-oriented without the drama. The time before other Yom Tovim is generally filled with more physical or emotional stress. As I get older, I have more stress about how to experience cheirus on Pesach than stress with the other physical preparations.

Obviously, the yamim noraim season comes with a whole other set of emotions. So why not for Shavuot?

Often I feel as if counting sefira with a bracha the whole time is a little game I have with myself each year—a game that I have won only one time. (Last year, probably because I was home doing nothing every night.) I generally get stressed about how to get my milchig baking done with my fleishig cooking all while not treifing up my kitchen. Thankfully, my oven broke before Pesach and the part is back-ordered until after yontif, so I won’t have that stress this year.

I have a hard time when I think about the days of sefira as we approach our kabalas hatorah. While the Yom Tov is here to commemorate this incredible occasion for our nation, the true kabalas hatorah is a daily event for each and every one of us. We strive to reach higher each and every day, but our finish line is actually never concrete.

We spin the spinner each and every day, and think that we are going to bypass the chutes going down. We get so excited when we get to the top, and live in fear that we might come crashing down. But life is not really a board game because we simply have no idea what it means to win. It’s the same ups and downs, but those ups and downs are masquerading as growth and opportunity. We get to a ladder that allows us to surpass so many smaller steps along the way, and assume the top is exactly where we wanted to be.

So many times we think in direct correlations—”If I do X, then Y will occur.” If I flick the spinner really hard, then I will for sure land on a 5 or 6 each time and win the game in no time— and I’ll get to the top even faster. No matter how many times life has proven that to be untrue, it’s still something we want to believe.

As we approach the final days of sefira, it’s our tafkid to think about the kabbalah of our Torah this year. If there is anything this past year has taught us, it’s that we can’t be dependent on external structures to fully support that daily personal kabbalah. While we are so very lucky to have most of those spiritual structures back in our lives, that good fortune is dependent on our being able to step up. As a nation, it may seem like this past year we have just slid down the chute of our lives, and there is simply no way we can ever get back up again. It may be a couple of rounds of spinning ones, but it’s going to happen.

Many have described what the shaarei shamayim must have been like on that night. My mother elegantly compared these descriptions to something out of a perek of navi as all 45 souls arrived together as they were dancing b’kedusha as they start their new journey in olam habah.

May we all be zoche to many more days to reaccept our precious Torah with a unique perspective each and every day, and may the kedoshim of Meron be the much needed meilitz yosher our klal so desperately craves. Have a beautiful Yom Tov.


Rachel Zamist has lived in the Passaic community for the past 32 years and has watched it grow and transition. She is the beaming mother of Mimi, a student at Rachel’s own alma mater, YBH.

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