Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.
Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.
Today is day nine which is one week and two days of the Omer. Hayom yom tesha she hem shavua ehad vey shtey yamim laOmer.
Today is Gevura be Gevura, strength within strength, might within might.
Today, I am Anna Almighty! It is strength within strength day. I gird my loins, breathe in and do the next thing to be amazing. I am super-Anna. Able to leap mounds of paperwork in a single bound, faster than a skipping student, and capable of stopping a split class in its tracks with just one glare of my steely lazer eye, I am strong enough to be the teacher I have to be.
It’s funny – but some days, that’s all it takes. A firm determination and commitment to doing things better lets me succeed in ways I didn’t know I could and taps into an energy that didn’t exist prior. To me, that’s the God-touch in my life. With focus, I can access the divine energy within me, access the strength within strength.
Today, I have strength within strength to meet and beat any challenge that comes my way.
“I put before you the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life.” is one of my favourite lines in the bible. It is also a very beautiful song. But what is a blessing? Some see it as just a wish – like when we say “bless you” after someone sneezes, to wish them health. But people are very clear that a curse is more than a bad wish – it can actually cause a bad wish to happen. So is a blessing a good wish that can actually happen? The dictionary takes another view. It says that blessing is making holy. Except – I don’t need holy sneezes. None of it makes a lot of sense.
The line above makes sense however. It makes sense on a visceral, emotional level – the level at which Yom Kippur, if done right, should make sense. Yom Kippur is supposed to make the blessing and the curse just a bit more obvious – to peel back the layers of common sense and every day living and let me see what behaviours of mine cause good wishes to myself and others and which do not. If it doesn’t do that – if it doesn’t make me feel abashed, determined, sad, excited, humble, proud, ready and willing, then it hasn’t done its job.
What did I learn from Yom Kippur this year? I have a short attention span, and am easily bored. I enjoy repetition – but only up to a point. We went to a more religious service – and I didn’t always have the God connection that I rely on Yom Kippur to bring. So, I’m not sure that it did the job and heled me to choose blessing rather than curse.
I will have to keep trying. I see my bad habits glaring at me since I started watching for them – “ha,” they seem to say “you chose the curse that time.” It feels almost impossible – not through the many repetitions of song and story, not through checkmarks on a page, not through earnest prayer – to be rid of them. In fact, all that happens is, over the course of the day, I get more and more defensive and less and less able to accept my errors and I start justifying the most ridiculous things in the most ridiculous way.
Luckily, there is another holiday that follows Yom Kippur and that one worked better at helping me choose the blessing. Sukkot was beautiful this year. It was exactly what Sukkot should be – a holiday where love of God and love of goodness brought so much joy that choosing blessing was easy. During Sukkot, sometimes, I forgot about everything and just chose to do the right thing because it felt good. That’s a rare thing. When I can do the right thing – not because I have to, but because it feels fantastic. So, I will try to use that – to hold on to that blessing throughout the year. This year, for the first time, I understand why those books of right and wrong, good and evil, aren’t closed until Simkhat Torah. Because if it didn’t happen through the gritted teeth hard work of Yom Kippur, one can still choose life through the joy of Sukkot.
This post – probably my last Elul blog of the year, as it’s Kheshvan tomorrow – took me a month to write in snippets. It’s disjointed, and has more flaws than most posts do. It reminds me of our sukkot. It reminds me of my family. There may be rough or ill-fitting bits. There may be confusion, it may take forever (most things that I do take forever), it may not make perfect sense – but it expresses joy, and it reaches for blessing.
It is an awe-inspiring thing to be created in the image of God. People forget the responsibility that puts on them. Because God is a creator. If we are created in God’s image, then it is incumbent upon us to create. We are, by that act of being, creators. We create with every breath we take. If we aren’t careful, however, what we create won’t be fit to be sold in a government-issue store in a communist country. It will be dull, colourless, badly stitched together and ill-fitting. When we review our years as part of the Yommim Noraim, one of the things to do is note the badly made things we have created and get rid of them. Another thing to do is to plan this year’s creations.
That’s right – plan. Because it’s easy to create garbage. Peel a banana and there you have it – a banana peel, done. But to create something worthy of being in God’s image, that takes planning, it takes determination, it takes creativity, and it takes love. Without planning, it won’t be possible. You know the saying, “the devil is in the details?” Picture him there – waiting to drag you down with him, tempting you to waste time and do things that are not creative in any way. So, I plan what I want to have next year. As part of that, I celebrate this year’s creations.
I taught full time all year. Yes, that’s a creation – all those students who know math better, who like math better and more importantly, who know that cheating gets caught, that prioritising work leads to success, that they have ability, that they can’t ride on that ability but need to work – that is a beautiful creation, and I played a part in it. A family who love each other, who grow together, who learn from each other – and who think that being Jewish is fun. That’s my creation too. I’m not the only one on this creative team, but at least I played a small part. I wrote a lot. I blogged Elul, I counted the Omer, and I prepared tons of interesting, creative materials for math classes. Although most of my writing is a bit cheesy, repetitive and mediocre, occasionally, I write good stuff and I’m proud of what I write. So, this year, I will continue to create in the areas of family, teaching, writing. What else?
Fighting for a better world? Maybe – that could be a neat creation. Increasing connections with friends? Improving the appearance of my surroundings? (I don’t HAVE to be a slob, right?) These are all things I could create this year. These are all goals around which I could make plans. And once I’m done the planning, I’m just started. It’s going to take a lot of determination for me to continue. I’m a procrastinator and little things take me forever. I’m going to want to quit. Anything that could distract me probably will. For instance, I have decided that there will be 29 Blog Elul posts this year. It was NOT easy to get my butt in this chair to write this one.
I need creativity to do the things I do – and creativity hurts, because it means I am invested in the work I do. I want – no, I need it to reflect my emotions. Which means I pick at emotional scars every time I sit down to write, I prod at relationships to see which bit hurts – and then I use that bit to write from, because it is the one that will add the colour and texture and make sure I’m not producing boring material. I know many people say you’re either creative or you’re not. I disagree. We are all created in God’s image. We are all creative. You are either willing to face the pain or you’re not. If you’re coming from a place of shame and embarrassment, you won’t be and you’ll find that the words don’t come, the paint won’t flow, the conversation will end abruptly as you walk away from those you should be with, and you will be completely unable to create.
And that’s where the love must come in, because if I don’t love it, I won’t do it – or I’ll do it mechanically, keeping my self insulated from it. I love what I do – and I’ve tried doing stuff I don’t love, and I’m so good at faking it that lots of people thought it was good creative work. I knew however, and God knew that it was just nicely painted garbage, and not worthy of being seen, especially during the High Holy Days.
So, to create is …well, here is an image. To create, plan to build a fire. Get the supplies and build it hot. Now stick your hands in it. Yes it’s supposed to hurt, that’s the creativity. Use determination and love to keep your hands in the flames. No, you don’t get burned up in this fire. Instead you pull out something incredible, whose beauty reminds you that you were made in God’s image with the power of creation.