Between Shabbat and Holidays, every other day is preparation

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Jewish communities all over the world are getting ready for Rosh Hashana,Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and all the Shabbat’s in between. They are shopping non stop to host meals, and have enough food for three days. Rosh Hashana is two days, and it rolls right into Shabbat, so there is no time and we are not allowed to work or cook once it all begins.

I am so excited to get all dolled up with family and friends, bring in the Jewish New Year, and hear all the beautiful wishes of happiness, health, success and wish it right back.

Love inspiring stories about the upcoming holidays where we look back on the past year, learn from it, and do our best to keep growing.

Coach Yulia

Hirshy Minkowicz

(note: reprinted with permission from a column I wrote for the Atlanta Jewish Times this weekend…/)

On the very last day of our vacation this summer, I made a short but important stop. While it might sound trivial to you, it was very important to me. The same stop last year had in some ways changed my life and set me on a path of transformation and renewal.

Exactly one year earlier, as I was about to head back home from our summer vacation and dive into yet another year of the hustle and bustle of life, I had stopped at the scale in my parents’ summer home to check in for an honest assessment of the state of my weight challenges.

The number that flashed on the screen was one that I had never before seen associated with my name. I was extremely disappointed. There were many times before that I wasn’t pleased with the scale’s findings, yet this measurement was off the charts.

Right then and there, even before stepping off the scale, I made a firm resolution. The next year would be totally different. I would finally make the changes needed to improve my situation and become the slim person I wanted to be.

By the time I returned next summer, the scale wouldn’t even recognize me.

Here I was 12 months later, stepping back onto the Catskills scale for a blunt review of my year’s efforts and progress.

I closed my eyes for a moment, then I peeked. The number was lower than last year, and for that I was delighted. Yet it was still a far cry from where I needed and had hoped to be.

I closed my eyes once more and tried to understand where I had gone wrong and why I wasn’t able to reach my original goal. After all, I was so inspired and motivated when I first set out with my lofty ambitions and had invested many efforts toward reaching my target number.

The next few minutes were spent in a meditative state, reviewing my eating habits and experiences from the past year.

There were moments I was proud of and others when I wished I had acted differently. Times that I had been wise and those when I had been foolish. Occasions when I had been careful and acted with self-control, yet others when I had slipped.

There were good decisions and bad ones, smart moments and others that demonstrated a lapse in judgment. There were cravings that were justifiably satisfied and other indulgences that should have been skipped.

The numbers were now in, and while I was somewhat pleased with the results, I had no one else to blame other than myself for the less-than-perfect outcome.

I resolved once more to be much more careful in the coming year and set my sights on a personal goal that I know I can reach if only I stay focused and strong.

As I slowly walked off the scale, I couldn’t help but think about the irony of going back to Alpharetta to start preparing myself for the coming High Holidays, when we all step onto the ultimate scale for the annual and honest review of our behaviors and actions in the past year — when we get to see where we stand with regard to the most important areas of our lives.

I resolve to work on being a much better person and committed Jew in the coming year.

Shabbat Shalom and wishing you all a Sweet and Healthy New Year.

Lishana Tova

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Shai Held
Those of you who know me well, or who have studied with me often, know that I think capaciousness is one of the most important spiritual virtues. Life is complex and often contradictory, and the religious life invites us to learn to hold seemingly antithetical truths and experiences simultaneously. The example I return to again and again is the capacity to hold gratitude and disappointment in one’s heart at one and the same time. (You can see my essay on Leah in “The Heart of Torah” for a first formulation of this.) Many of our lives are filled with blessing and also with profound suffering. The truth of one does not cancel out the truth of the other. We learn, haltingly, non-linearly, to hold both this and that.
This was a week that stretched my own capacity for capaciousness in truly extreme ways. I was battling a brutal upper respiratory infection, my third in six months, and that in turn ratcheted up my chronic pain and fatigue in ways that were totally unbearable (my pain and my fatigue were both set, we might say, at 11). My doctor insisted that I cancel my book launch in Riverdale on Sunday night, which felt like a big blow. But I rallied for Tuesday night at Hadar somehow, and it was one of the most moving experiences of of the my professional career. To hear people express such profound gratitude for the Torah you’ve taught them is extremely moving and gratifying; to see colleagues and students engage deeply with your ideas, to talk openly about where they agree and take inspiration and about where they disagree or are hesitant, is the greatest gift a writer and teacher can receive. As Rachel and I drove home on Tuesday night, I was filled with a sense of: “This illness is an ongoing nightmare– it’s horrible and it’s unfair; what I get to do with my life is such a blessing, and the fact that all these people find what I write and say meaningful is a source of such deep, deep joy.”
Wednesday night in Chicago was more of the same– Jews from across the denominational spectrum and rabbinic colleagues whom I deeply respect, all engaging deeply with The Heart of Torah. I think one of things that allows you to be a real teacher of Torah is knowing that the Torah you teach is not about you, and does not belong to you. At your best moments, you channel something that comes from elsewhere. What I felt in Chicago on Wednesday night was “Katonti”– I am too small for these blessings.
This has been a packed week– interviews with print media and on the radio, teaching hundreds and hundreds of people and wrestling with their challenges and questions, all the while feeling, “I did nothing to deserve all this. It is just a blessing.”
And so as Shabbat approaches (and with the end of Shabbat, more travel), I find myself returning to the struggle for capaciousness. My body is run down, exhausted, in need of a break. My lungs are tired but my heart is full. Or perhaps I should say, “my lungs are tired *and* my heart is full.” Illness is a drag and an albatross; teaching Torah is a blessing and a joy. They are each here, and I will try, as I do each day, to make space for both.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me.
Shabbat Shalom.

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