It’s All in the Seeds

So about all these holidays…

Ever try to work during the month of August in Israel? Sad to admit it, but it’s nearly impossible – between the lack of child care options, bored kids who don’t know it but really need to go back to school, the heat, and every other person in the country on vacation, August is almost a complete write-off.

Ever try to work during the month of September in Israel? Well, happy to admit it, the kids are back in school, people are rested and back at work and all’s going well until…bam…holidays. And not just one holiday, but several. First you have two days of Rosh Hashana – which translates to two days of eating and four days of shopping and cooking before and this year, add in one day for Shabbat so you’ve lost one full week of work. Then comes Yom Kippur – that’s another single day holiday that consumes about a half a week. The comes Sukkot – that’s 7 days in Israel plus three days of building the Sukkah, shopping and cooking…and there goes another ten days.

So that means in September/October, you lose about 20 days but perhaps more important than the days lost in preparation is something losing something less obvious. Despite all the cooking (and eating or not eating), the holidays are about so much more than the physical exertion we focus on.

Rosh Hashana is the promise of new beginnings and more, a chance to click the Reset button in our lives. Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jews have the opportunity to do something incredible and it has nothing to do with food. We can remake our lives, undo all wrongs, forgive and be forgiven and move forward with a clean slate.

There are moments in the prayer services on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in which I find myself almost crippled with fear. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned that it’s almost easier to ask other people to forgive me than it is to forgive myself. No, I’m not going to confess to murdering anyone, stealing some old lady’s last dime (or shekel), or committing extortion. But like most people, I have a long list of things I could have done better, should have done differently.

I could have done more…I should have done less. I shouldn’t have said that, and Oh My God, I shouldn’t have written that. Every year as I begin to panic that there isn’t enough time left to come to terms with last year, never mind prepare myself for the new one, I begin to bargain with God, work hard to convince Him that in He made me imperfect so what right do I have to expect perfection from myself?

Having come to that agreement, I can only resolve to try harder and somewhere close to Neilah, as the sun begins to set on Yom Kippur and the voices of people around me suddenly seem to get stronger rather than weaker as the fast begins to come to a close, comes a single clear thought. The sun will rise tomorrow because God never gives up on us. All He wants is for us to be the best that we can be, knowing we can never do our best, only better than we’ve done up to now.

There will always be someone more righteous (smarter, prettier, thinner, taller, etc. etc.), but there will never be someone more you than you. You are what God wants you to be – otherwise, well, you would be different. If you think of it that way – then where you are in your life is where God wants you to be and if you really work hard during the next year, when next Rosh Hashana comes around, you’l be where you’re supposed to be then too.

I think for most people of faith, the problem is not that you aren’t trying hard enough, but that you don’t really see the results of seeds that you have planted. I think that’s what we do most of our lives – we plant seeds. But too often, we forget to watch them grow or we move on and never look back.

I’ll give you an example of a seed that was planted several years ago. A young religious Israeli girl decided she’d had enough and for whatever reason, she left home suddenly without telling her parents. She flew to a far off place and began working and traveling. She put aside her observance of Jewish law and for quite a long time simply drifted from place to place.

She finally came to stop in a Chabad house hours before Yom Kippur. She found herself with several other Israeli backpackers and when they made to leave, she got up and was about to leave as well. The Rabbi was very upset. In only a few moments, he went from the joy of knowing that he would be sharing the holiness of Yom Kippur with so many young Jews, to realizing that they were all leaving and he would be spending this holy day alone with his wife and young children. His minyan was literally walking out the door, his reason for living in such a distant place evaporating before his eyes.

As he was silently reconciling himself, his wife was heartbroken as she watched his disappointment grow and without thinking, she turned to the young Israelis and yelled at them for ignoring Yom Kippur, for traveling and forgetting this one holy day. In disgust she turned away and the Israelis gathered their backpacks and rushed to catch their train.

A¬†few years later, the Rabbi and his wife were back in Israel. They were speaking with an elderly man who was praising Chabad. He told them about how his daughter had run off and disappeared and for almost three years they didn’t know if she was dead or alive and then one day, just after Yom Kippur, she came back to them.

His daughter was the backpacker who had listened when the Rabbi’s wife yelled at them. Back in that far off land, she began to think about what the Rabbi’s wife had said, about Yom Kippur of all days. She found a place to stay, fasted and prayed and then made arrangements to go home, back to her family.

The seed had been planted and but for an accidental meeting (and the hand of God), the Rabbi and his wife never would have known how they had influenced (and help return) a young Israeli woman in a far off land.

This past year, there’s a very good chance you’ve planted seeds that have grown – in your own life, in those of the people who you work with, your children, your friends, your neighbors. It could be something as simple as a smile you offered when someone was tired and sad; it could be money you donated that went to help feed a family.

When you stand before God on Yom Kippur, as He is tallying up the good and the bad, remember that He knows about the seeds you’ve planted. He’s watched them grow, blossom, and become so much more than you’ll probably ever know.

G’mar Hatima Tovah – may we all be written (and sealed) in the Book of Life and may it be a year of health and peace and prosperity for all of Am Yisrael.

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Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.