There’s a Hebrew phrase ‘acharay hachagim אחרי החגים which resonates with Jewish professionals the world over — let’s say there’s a conversation unfolding during the summer and the question is about when a certain project or meeting can be scheduled — the answer might well be: acharay hachagim, after the holidays — because Tishrei is one incredibly overstuffed month which commands a tremendous amount of focus. Well, all those holidays just finished up this past Wednesday night — whew! And while I’m ach and every Tishrei by the sheer overwhelm of the whole season, I’m also reminded that there really is wisdom woven into all this…
The whole month of Tishrei might be compared to living in God’s sanctuary for a month for an intensive series of spiritual workshops about the path we’re walking. It’s exhausting and sometimes tempting to sneak out of the workshop and its emotional demands. There are sessions where we’re paying decent attention, other sessions find us glazed over and lethargic. However, we decide to soak in these sessions (or not), Tishrei comes around each year — new opportunities for waking up, taking inventory, seeking out creative moments, doing some challenging inner work — if you measure things starting with Selichot, we’ve been dwelling in a holy season for a month!
And now what? We’re starting the Torah at The Beginning, the stories of matriarchs and patriarchs, jealousy, rage, compassion, supplication — very human examples of getting things wrong or right. Back to ‘six days you shall labor, the seventh you shall rest.’ Finding and fine-tuning the grooves of 5782. Looking out on the next month, Cheshvan, and all that follows, I’m reminded of challenges we must navigate in the new (not so) normal, but — perhaps more importantly — I also remember that our journeys — each and every day — are filled with opportunities to pour love and beauty and compassion and gratitude into our world — the Hebrew word that properly describes those opportunities is: Mitzvot.
When I was a yeshiva boy (a few lifetimes back), I understood mitzvot as a structure of what must be done when, where, in what exact quantities and for what duration of time. God (or the rabbis) said: Here’s the list, here’s what to do, get to it, and if you have questions, call this number, read this article, and there you go. And that set of equations worked for a while until it didn’t, and my own sense of being Jewish evolved considerably — to the place where 5782 is a world filled with things to repair, relationships to nurture, unlimited opportunities to make a difference for the better. Tishrei is almost over. The holidays have passed, but the fragrant etrog hints at wisdom behind this busy, busy season. We’re back in the work/sabbath routine of 5782, but the fragrant etrog perfume is a souvenir of avinu malkeinu and kol nidre and dancing with the torah and seeing the stars while sitting in the sukkah. We’ve taken leave of God’s sanctuary, but every place we tread is holy ground. Carpe diem.