When I was about ten years old, I came across a book called Something For Joey. The story relates the extraordinary bond between John Cappelletti, an all-star running back at Penn State University, and his younger brother Joey, who was fighting childhood leukemia.
The book shares the love that inspired John to win the Heisman trophy, and held the family together as Joey eventually succumbed and passed away at the age of 13.
I read that book over and over again. There was something in that story that touched my soul. It revealed to me not simply the fragility of life, but the power of love to animate courage and resilience. With each successive reading, I came to love this boy and his brother. I felt their pain and connected to their hope. I knew how the story would end, but I wanted to relive it with them again and again.
The Holiday season is just that – a season. It’s not just one day or two, but a spiritual path that takes two months to tread every year. We begin with Elul, a month engaged in introspection to perform our Cheshbon HaNefesh, our accounting of our lives.
We arrive at Rosh HaShanah, and the celebration of the New Year, hearing the Shofar’s call to remember the gift of creation and our responsibilities to our covenant with God and each other. We spend eight days engaged in Teshuva, reaching out to make peace with our families and families of choice, reorienting ourselves to return to a higher and holier path. And on Yom Kippur, we spend a day focused on regret and repentance, cleansing our souls of the impurities that keep us from living our most authentic lives.
Then we have five days to draw on the cumulative inspiration of this long journey to build our Sukkot – the dwelling places outside of our homes and inside our hearts to offer gratitude for all the bounty and blessings we are so privileged to enjoy. The eight-day festival culminates in Simchat Torah, when we conclude our annual pilgrimage through the Torah, and embark on the journey of a purposeful, holy life all over again.
I am struck by how long this process takes, how much time and effort we are required to invest if we really want to live our best lives.
We live in a society that tries to compress complex things into increasingly smaller vessels. We want complex news stories to be told in two minutes. We want complex ideas to be expressed in short bursts of video or 280 characters. We subscribe to services that compress important books into 15 minute summaries.
My family often rolls their eyes at me when I try to share something I’ve learned: “Dad, can we move it along a little?”
But there is a lot to be gained from taking the long road. It may take longer to reach your destination, but you are often a better version of yourself when you arrive.
The long journey surrounding the New Year is one that hones our awareness. Through the days and weeks of our reflective process, we come to appreciate the complexity of our inner life, the intricacies of our web of relationships, and the magnificent splendor of every detail in creation. We can’t fully absorb all there is to see in one minute, or one hour, or one day.
Our results and goal-oriented culture misses the idea that it is not about who gets to the finish line first that matters in growing your soul, but who gleans the most from the journey. The shortcut gets you somewhere faster, but perhaps we need to focus less on the goal and more on who we want to be when we get there.
Sometimes, you have to read the whole long story, and sometimes more than once. It takes hours, months, and even years to build a real relationship with anyone or to grasp a true understanding of anything.
But what we discover is that the holiest experiences of life are found in each precious moment we intentionally invest in the long, repetitive journey to holy awareness.
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”