Now that the holidays are behind us, the first drops of rain have fallen, the flu shot vaccine is available, and the grind of everyday life has kicked in again, our psychological selves need to be restarted. One of the great ideas of Judaism is the necessity to infuse everyday life with a sense of purpose, commitment and even holiness. I think that is what Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant had in mind when he said that a Jew should feel that every day of the year is like the month of Elul – the month of holy preparation and awe that precedes the High Holy Days. For if we are unable to give importance to each and every day of our lives, then life becomes drudgery and a disappointment.
It is almost natural to experience an emotional and spiritual letdown after the month of Tishrei and its awesome and joyous holidays. Yet the measure of humans is their ability to be resilient, productive and forward-looking. When the Torah records for us the passing of our father Avraham into old age it states that he “came into and with his days.” The rabbis have interpreted that for us to mean that Avraham treated every day of his life as being a special day.
Every day brought new opportunities for hospitality, goodness to others and service to God. Avraham did not experience lost days. Though there were undoubtedly different moods and emotions present in Avraham on different days, nevertheless he was determined to make every day meaningful and worthwhile. Every day he was able to start anew on his project of proclaiming God and monotheism in a pagan and hostile world.
The idea of the Shabat is a further example of the Jewish attitude towards always starting anew and sanctifying every day of our lives. The influence of Shabat is meant to last the entire week and infuse its holiness and spirit into the otherwise mundane days of the work-week. The Jew throughout the centuries was able to make Tuesday have some feeling of Shabat to it. The tragedy of Jewish life in our times is that for much of the Jewish world Shabat itself feels just like any ordinary Tuesday.
Instead of making the mundane holy we have mistakenly converted the holy into the mundane. So there now exists no special day in our week. None of the days of our existence are deemed to be really special and therefore life becomes boring, difficult and disappointing. People feel that there are many wasted days in life and this gnaws at our conscience and places great psychological pressures upon us.
People become driven by their greed, their work, and their distractions, to such an extent that their lives lose all sensible priorities. I know of a grandfather who passed up attending a wedding of his grandchild because he had tickets to a major sporting event. After a while even the day of a grandchild’s wedding is no longer a special day for we have lost the ability to really “come with our days.”
There are many painful moments in human life. There are many days and events that make us feel that we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. This feeling is one of the clinical symptoms of depression. It is a feeling that we all have to constantly battle against.
The month of Tishrei and its holidays so recently passed was meant to give us an injection of specialness and strength – the ability to start again living with vigor, hope and optimism. Judaism is a faith that is not based on sadness or a pessimistic view of human nature and human life. Instead it demands that we serve God with a feeling of joy and privilege. It is a faith of resilience and inner strength. It demands that we always pick up ourselves from the floor and start going again, no matter what.
The experiences of the Jewish world over the last century stand as explicit testimony to this characteristic of Jews and Judaism. King Solomon said in Proverbs: “The righteous may fall seven times but they always rise again.” The tragedy of others is that they are unable or unwilling to rise again after having fallen.
All of Judaism is built upon the ability to start again, to rise from the depths, to keep on going and struggling. I pray that this winter season will be a healthy, meaningful and happy one for all of us and that all of its days will be special and productive ones.