“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.
#BlogElul – Accept
It’s funny, the older I get, the less I think I can change. The more of the world I find myself in a position to just accept. I know, I have great agency, and I can make amazing things happen, but this morning, with a squirmy kitten helping me type, the most I can make happen is a loud purring sound. (Kitties make the most adorable purring sounds).
It’s good – I can enjoy a world in which my main accomplishment is getting a purr. Acceptance takes the pressure off and lets me just be a lot of the time. I can let go of the stress and the mess and the fuss and the muss and watch the kitten. Yes, it looks like this blog post has been brought to you by a black kitty. Sorry, sometimes, that’s just the way things work out. Luckily, the kitty in question is furry and purry, and so, I at least will enjoy this blog post.
Really, that’s what acceptance brings – enjoyment. I can enjoy the world I live in a great deal if I’m not worried about anything, if I’m just accepting things as they come, if I can see no more of the future or past than the kitten can. Acceptance is all about the now – maybe a kid found math hard and quit my class yesterday and maybe I really should get the learning skills pages set up by Monday, but now, there’s a very crinkly plastic bag that needs exploring, and a windowsill to climb up on and fall off of and climb up on and …oh, what was that about Monday?
Sometimes, of course, I can’t afford acceptance (the learning skills pages really do need to be done for Monday) but wqçsa^^eksçàààAa; (sorry, sometimes the keys are very exciting.) There are huge areas of need and injustice in our world, and it behooves me to do all I can to correct them. I have huge potential and so there’s no reason for me to ignore the work. I can do my work better though, if I start with acceptance – if I acknowledge that this is the situation, that the pages are due and the resource allocations are unfair. I can’t do anything to make a difference, externally or internally, if I deny the reality. I start with acceptance no matter what I do.
Then I leverage the acceptance into small, specific changes that I’m confident about making even with the little skritchy toes all over my fingers and keys. I can write a paragraph. I can highlight injustice in an email or a blog post. I can make the world a tiny bit more possible for a student, and so a bit more fair for someone with difficulties in an area which is easy for me. Acceptance lets me understand that these tasks need doing, and also, helps me enjoy the process.
Acceptance reminds me of all the things that I’m grateful for too – it’s a nice way to transform resentment to gratitude. When a friend complains about her husband’s lack of attention to detail, and his snappy ways, I can say, “well, are you going to leave him?” And as soon as she accepts the situation, she begins to find things she likes – “no, I’m not leaving him, that’s impossible in my life. Besides, he’s a great guy, he just hung all my laundry for me.”
Gratitude, acknowledgement, enjoyment, focus – the gifts of acceptance are many. Also sharp little teeth, black fur, and bright sparkly eyes, a lot of curiosity (what happens if I 09 1fd/swa3 – oh, well the people didn’t want to read that paragraph anyway) and a very, very loud purr for so little an animal. No one accepts like a baby or kitten. Find one to cuddle and play with today as a first step to acceptance.
Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.
Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.
Hayom yom shisha-esrey laOmer shehem shtey shavuot ve shneiy yammim laOmer.
Today is day sixteen of the Omer, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer.
Gevura be Tiferet – strength within balance; might within beauty
This is the strength of just being, of being right with myself and others. The world is a beautiful place. There are birds and melodies, children and words and so much more that I truly love. I just have to be willing to enjoy myself, to let the beauty of the world in and to pray truly, sing, and really be part of the world I live in. I don’t always like where I find myself, but often that’s because I worry about the next necessary task instead of focusing on what’s actually happening and on enjoying what’s there. Today, I enjoy the world I live in.