Is life simply an endurance test? A path to see just how much we can tolerate? Just how far we can go, how much we can suffer, how fast we can move? During the High Holy Days, I began to wonder just how many of our rituals and practices have become tests of our endurance rather than being felt as meaningful parts of our worship.
Having had the pleasure of attending services at a variety of venues, including via Zoom, I noticed the anxiety on the faces of many Torah readers as they ascended the bima. Would they get the trope right? Miss a vowel? Maybe even freeze and not be able to chant the words they’d virtually committed to memory after studying the verses for weeks?
How about fasting? So many wondered whether they’d be able to “do it.” Fasting for 25 hours is such a feat and such an integral part of our Yom Kippur observance, isn’t it?
And that standing--especially during the final hours of Yom Kippur when the Ark remains open after all of that fasting (see “How about fasting?” above)!
It’s so easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. So many of us focus on the end run as if the journey were just incidental.
The honor of ascending the bima to read from the Sefer Torah is virtually unparalleled. And if I make a mistake, the gabbaiim will help me. And, G-d already knows the words, so no harm, no foul. You tried and, more importantly, you honored the congregation and our faith as you did.
And that fasting! We do it to “afflict” ourselves as we repent and search deeply within for ways to do things better and more kindly. The words of Isaiah tell us that our fasting should remind us to deal our bread to the hungry, to bring the poor into our homes. There’s nothing in Scripture that describes a medal for going without food for hours—maybe because our fasts aren’t about medals.
And that standing! When the Ark is open, out of honor, reverence and respect, we rise. But every year, in every shul I’ve ever attended, the rabbi cautions that if we begin to feel faint or dizzy to please sit. Health and life come first and, again, as there are no honors for hours stood; there are many, many ways in which we may honor Hashem.
As the secular year comes to a close, many of us may have felt that these last 12 months, as the previous ones, have, in fact, been an endurance test. We have faced a lot and, somehow, we emerged, perhaps stronger, more determined, even kinder. We know what it’s been like to endure; we made it to another finish line. Perhaps now we can focus on the things that truly matter to us most.
Wishing you each the best throughout 2022!