During the Holy Days that have just passed, and the entire month of Elul leading up to them, I invited you to join me in a spiritual journey of exploring the kind of people we are and the kind of people we would like to be. Part of this journey, I believe, is considering what it means to truly live – to live fully and enthusiastically, with joy and satisfaction. Truly living in the image of God, as we are directed in Jewish tradition, begins with recognizing the sacred relationships we have, and accepting the challenge of working to create, maintain, and repair them.
Our tradition maintains that the High Holy Days actually continue through Simchat Torah, yet our journey continues far longer – it is a part of who we are throughout our days. Change can not be confined to dates on a calendar. Rather, it must come when we are ready to work at it, and when we are ready to accept it.
Admittedly, sometimes we need a bit more help... a bit of a push. Therefore, I would like to offer a prescription for us to embrace new relationships, cherish strong ones, and reach out to repair those that have gone fallow. I submit to you that living – “choosing life that you might live” from our text in Deuteronomy – is about cultivating exuberance in what we do and how we behave. What it means to live is to develop a sense of play; that our time is dominated by richness and enjoyment, depth and meaning, in all areas from family to work to community and even, especially, when we’re on our own.
Here I would like to offer some recommendations – a brief and decidedly incomplete list – for a few ideas you consider in establishing (or restoring) this positive sense of engagement over the coming year. Note that these are just some personal selections and reflection. There are, of course, countless other possibilities. In fact, I would be delighted for you to share YOUR suggestions with me so that I might offer them to others. Perhaps together we can create a Temple list of enriching possibilities for everyone’s benefit. As we exercise our bodies and minds, perhaps we will increase the joy in our spirits and our souls.
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown
Gonzo Judaism, by Niles Elliot Goldstein
A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future, by Daniel H. Pink
The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, by Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg
Places to go:
Take a walk in a park or playground
Go on a picnic
Enjoy the arts
Things to do:
Play a board game (Chess, checkers...Chutes and Ladders???)
Break out the Legos, Tinker Toys, a deck of cards…
Work on your hoppy – photography, dolls, baseball cards, whatever your passion.
Recapture the wonder, amazement and pleasure that is apparent all around in childhood. Even for those of us who no longer consider ourselves children, remember that we remain children of God. Stuart Brown writes, “Joy is our birthright, and is intrinsic to our essential design.” May it continue to be our blessing in this New Year to find such joy, such fulfillment in life, in becoming the people and community we are meant to be.
Rabbi Jeffrey R. Astrachan