Encouragement.

For most of the year, my husband and father play an online word game against each other, separated by some 2,000 miles and two to three time zones (depending on the time of year). Since my parents have been visiting this week, they have been playing one another on tablet devices from across the room. Yet I barely recognize they’re playing the same game.

You see my husband (much to my consternation sometimes) plays with the sound turned up, yielding a string of beeps and dings, but also frequent declarations of “Excellent!”, “Out-stand-ingggg!!” and “Increeeedible!!!” – a stream of positive reinforcement that can’t help but boost one’s self-esteem.

My dad, meanwhile, plays with the game on mute. No pats on the back. No atta-boys. No praise at all. So sad … even if he is almost always winning. I’m not sure why he doesn’t turn up the sound – on a tablet or phone, we control the mute button and volume. Not so in other realms … except we do. We control the feedback we give to others.

So take a look around today. Is there someone who could benefit from an “Excellent” or “Incredible”? Someone to whom you’ve been meaning to say “You’re wonderful” or “Job well done”? Then turn your volume up and do it.

(And Dad and Hubby, if you’re reading this, I think you’re both “Out-stand-ingggg!!”)

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Intend. (#BlogElul 27)

[Note: This post will appear as part of #BlogElul – Daily Photos & Posts on High Holy Day Themes – hosted by @imabima, imabima.blogspot.com … which kind of makes me feel famous. :)]


Rabbi Jack Riemer relates the story of three demons who set out to corrupt human beings, and then come back together to compare their results. The first one describes his approach: “I tell people that there is no God. But it doesn’t work. People are too smart. They see the wonders of the world and they don’t believe me.” The second one says: “I tell people that there is a God, but that She didn’t give the Torah. But it doesn’t work. People are too smart. They look into the Torah and see how much wisdom it contains, and they don’t believe me.”

Then the third one says: “I tell people that there is a God and that She gave the Torah. But then I say to them, ‘What’s the rush? You have time to do what God wants tomorrow.’ And that almost always works.”

At this time of new beginnings, perhaps we can learn from the first beginning. “Vayomer Elohim y’hi or, va-y’hi or – God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” According to the great sage, Maimonides (in his philosophical dictionary of the Torah), “Vayomer” means God “thought” or “planned.” A thought, a plan, an intention, and then – Bam! – the thing itself.

No, we can never fully imitate God … but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. This year may we work to shorten the gap between intention and implementation. And when the creative, helpful, noble deed is done, may we too have that wonderful moment of realization: “And it was good.”

Anticipation.

September 15 is a new record for me, and one I hope is never broken.

A sudden rainstorm (of the monsoon variety) had left me trapped in a suburban mall for the afternoon. I would have rather been in a spa; I was glad I wasn’t at the dentist. It was what it was.

I passed a good chunk of time in Target until the aisles upon aisles of Halloween candy got to me. I mean, really, people… How much advance planning does it take to pick up a few bags of candy? Perhaps Michael Bloomberg or Michelle Obama – or Richard Simmons, for that matter – would like to champion a bill that would ban the sale of bulk candy in fun-size wrappers from the start of school until two weeks before Halloween each year. I’d be on board.

Anyway, in an attempt to escape the Halloween frenzy (little did I know it would only get worse), I walked down a bit to the department store, where – wait for it – a man on a ladder was putting ornaments on a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree. On September 15. A Christmas tree. And then he actually – without a hint of irony, or even a small knowing smile that might have nodded to the absurdity of the timing – wished me “Merry Christmas.”

September 15.

Jewish tradition instructs us to clean out our entire kitchen, our entire house, to ready ourselves for Passover. The extensive preparations can take weeks. But during that time we are forbidden to eat matzah, waiting instead until we recite its blessing at the Seder, so that we can anticipate that first bite and preserve its uniqueness.

There are few things better than the round raisin-filled challah we dip in honey and enjoy on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize a sweet new year. The New Year is only five days away, but we’ll spread butter on our braided challah this Shabbat and hold out until Wednesday night – because we can.

Because sometimes it’s good to wait.

Because there’s something to be said for preserving a little sense of anticipation.

Revelation.

The boy came home with prizes for the pledges he had raised for his school. A rubber bracelet. Plastic sunglasses. Something folded up in a plastic bag, which we still have yet to see, because… As he rummaged through his backpack, he suddenly declared (like he had found the Holy Grail – and gingerly held it aloft as such):

“And I got this most amazing thing…” [Dramatic pause to make sure he had our undivided attention.] “I.n.v.i.s.i.b.l.e. I.n.k.!”

He proceeded to describe, in a flurry of excited ideas, how invisible ink works: “You write on paper! And you can’t see it! Everything stays white! But then you put another color over it and – like, poof! Everything you wrote is right there!!”

Of course, we knew what invisible ink is. We had felt the same exhilaration at its magic when we were kids. But little did I realize how much I could use its magic now. There are countless ideas swirling around in my head at the moment; ’tis the season – forgiveness and atonement, resolution and change, poignant endings and new beginnings. Perhaps if someone could just swipe marker across my thoughts, they could appear where everyone (including myself) could see them.

I’d even up my school pledge for that.

Promise.

I love the Shehecheyanu prayer: Thank You, God, for giving us life, for sustaining us, for enabling us to reach this milestone moment. We say it at baby namings and weddings, at B’nai Mitzvah and Confirmation – at all the signature joyous events of Jewish life.

But it’s the other reason for saying Shehecheyanu that I really love: Firsts. The ultimate affirmation of hope and promise.

Consider how we say Shehecheyanu when we eat the first fruit of the session. I live in the peach state, South Carolina (don’t let Georgia tell you otherwise), and would argue there’s nothing better than a ripe, juicy, sweet peach. Mmmmmm…… But that’s not what you typically get with the first bite of the season. More likely it’s hard, it’s tart … yech, it might even be mealy.

But we don’t bless the best; that’s not what we do. We bless the first – and with it the promise that this is only the beginning; the best is often yet to come.

 

Remembrance.

Judaism instructs us to create memorials for those we loved who are no longer with us. And so we make something, we place something – a plaque on a wall, a monument by a grave. We dedicate a park bench. We plant a tree.

This appeared in The Week about a year and a half ago and has stayed with me ever since: For decades, travelers on the London Underground were given an audio warning to “mind the gap” when boarding. (I think I may have bought a t-shirt with the saying when I was there myself.) In recent years, it seems the Tube has been phasing out the famous phrase. But when the last station to play the message, Embankment, stopped doing so, the authorities received a heartfelt request. The widow of the man who had recorded it in the 1960s begged them to reconsider, as she would often visit that station just to hear his voice. Tube bosses agreed, so Londoners at the Embankment stop are still asked to “mind the gap.”

Some memorials aren’t made, they’re preserved. Some, though they can’t be touched, touch us all the same.

Shidduch.

I’m not sure there’s anything as satisfying as beginning a new book. (Much better than completing one, but then again, I’m not very good with endings.) Peeling back the cover with one hand; feeling the bulk of its weight in the other. Smoothing down the first page. Seeing a 1 at its bottom or a Chapter One at the top. A world of characters and places, formed phrase by phrase, waiting to be discovered, ready for your immersion.

There might be only one thing to top it: The pregnant possibilities of choosing that book. Walking among the library stacks or strolling through a bookstore, consulting reviews and recommendations – those of friends and professionals. Ahhhhh… the possibilities.

Where do I want to go now? And when? With whom do I want to spend the next week of evenings? What do I want to learn? Is it too much to consider who, with this encounter, I might become?

Books and moments partner like people. And when they match, when they click, when they elevate and deepen one another…

Well, here I go: Chapter One.