(Originally published in RRA Connections)
How do you know if you’re on the right path…this moment, and the next, and the one after that? How many of us, especially if we have over-obligated lives (as many of us do), find ourselves a little startled or even completely shocked that we are in the overgrowth, far from the trail that we had set upon last High Holy Days?
So much of our day-to-day existence is experienced in a sort of “fog of war.” That is why we may be excited to find that truly satisfying answer to long-term dilemmas facing our family or just come to a decision on what to have for dinner. We are often convinced that our choices are the best ones for us, but invariably they are based upon imperfect information.
Our Jewish heritage not only encourages us but also commands us to regularly examine our character, our thoughts, our behavior … our very lives themselves. From the weekday tahanun prayer to Yom Kippur’s al het and everything in between, Jewish tradition guides us to examine our reality and to make adjustments.
The yamim noraim are a time when our tradition teaches us that God is more accessible. We also experience the joy of seeing so many people with whom we normally don’t have the opportunity to interact. Let us consider not the pain that we might recall in experiencing their absence from our lives during the rest of the year but rather let us receive the blessing, however fleeting, of their presence in our lives.
Many years ago, I was excited to be offered access to letters and documents of a close family member. One letter exchange has stayed with me ever since. It described the hurt that my close family member had experienced after the repeated visits from another family member. The author described feeling as if they were treated as a hotel for their relatives to use while acting as tourists. The response detailed how angry the relatives were in being accused of not being good guests while attacking my closer relative for not being good hosts. These family members had so little family to enjoy and yet they severed their connection with each other.
For so many reasons, I see this as a tragedy too commonly played out in our lives. Since we have such limited opportunities to share time together, we might consider reframing our expectations a little more closely toward the dynamic relationship before us. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who can say that I have been hurt by things that people have said or done to me, well-meaning or not. And I am sure that I have made mistakes in that arena, as well.
Let us focus on what is important in our world, considering what we have to lose and what riches we can gain by nurturing the relationships we have, beginning where they are right now. Perhaps we can consider each person, even familiar ones, deserving of our fulfillment of the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim , of “welcoming the stranger.”
The High Holy Days may be about creating an action plan to navigate to and ultimately to travel on an authentic path for the coming year (and beyond). However, in our navigating through the crowd, let’s not miss the beauty of each person we meet.
I look forward to sharing the path ahead — L’shanah tovah tikateivu.