The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidic Judaism, taught that there are "wonders and miracles right here, in front of us. But often, we become slaves of our own limited focus and blind ourselves to a bigger truth." Too often we don't allow ourselves to see the wonders and miracles still before us. We become stuck in our own limited perspective.
With our celebration of a "New Year" we feel blessed to receive a fresh start and hope for a better year moving forward. To succeed in this endeavor we have to stop being blinded by our limited physical and psychological perspectives. Instead, we must open our spiritual eyes to the miracles that are here today so we can see a better tomorrow.
Jewish tradition teaches that a daily miracle is our "waking up;" something that we are never supposed to take for granted. In fact, the first words we are supposed to recite upon waking is the short prayer Modeh Ani. The Hebrew translates to "Thank you God, my living and eternal God; for mercifully restoring my soul within me; your faithfulness is great." Imagine how different our day can be if we wake up each and every morning and recite this simple prayer; Modeh Ani; "Thank you God for restoring my soul." We are here; we need to see and experience this miracle.
Roseanne and I celebrated this year our 25th wedding anniversary. Until she struggled with cancer, I never thought about her not being here. Most of us have struggled with some sort of health crises, whether the crisis was for ourselves, for our loved ones, a neighbor or even a co-worker. We've experienced the terrifying possibility that someone we care about could be gone. We must be grateful for the gift of life that we are blessed with today, and we hope for tomorrow. We must make each day count.
Even for those loved ones who live far away, who we don't see that often -- let's be grateful for their part of our lives -- take the time to pick up the phone, to send a card or write an e-mail, to tell them how much they mean to us. Let's make the miracle of their presence in our lives real.
As Rabbi, too often I see the fleeting nature of life. My first year as Senior Rabbi at Temple Sholom was in the aftermath of 9/11. There were four funerals I officiated; four families who simply woke up on that sunny, seemingly beautiful morning, and lost their loved ones, forever. Each of those families; living among the thousands of other families; can testify that we can never waste a day. The recent horror in Newtown was another terrible reminder of how our lives can so quickly and tragically be changed.
There are wonders and miracles right in front of us, but we are blind to them. We need to focus our sight on the beauty of life surrounding us. We have to see what is here. We have to see who is here. We have to stop blinding ourselves with limiting perspectives and open ourselves to the miracles present today.
The pinnacle of Jewish New Year liturgy is the Unetaneh Tokef prayer; we recite these chilling words: "Who shall live and who shall die this coming year? How many shall leave this world; And how many shall be born; Who shall live and who shall die; Who in the fullness of years and who before; Who shall rest and who shall wander; Who shall be serene and who disturbed; Who shall be at ease and who afflicted; Who shall be impoverished and who enriched; Who shall be humbled and who shall be exalted." This New Year prayer is intended to shake us up; to finally make us realize that all we have is today and our hope for tomorrow.
For too much of our lives we take too much for granted. For too much of our lives we have been blind to the miracles that abound. With this New Year; with each mindful breath; let's take nothing for granted any more. We have to open ourselves to the wonders and miracles that are here today so we can "see" a better tomorrow.
"Who will live and who will die?"And then the Unataneh Tokef prayer concludes... "But, Repentance, Prayer, Charity, and our Kindness can avert the severity of the decree." The most severe decree may not be death itself; the most severe decree may be living as if we were dying more than living; living without loving enough; living without appreciating the preciousness of each day; Living as if we have forever to attend to the person who needs us and seeks our attention now.
If we're walking on the path marked "not really living," a New Year comes to remind us...We can all repent. We can all make a dramatic change before a dramatic event comes to force a change.
Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz is senior rabbi Temple Sholom of Greenwich, co-founder of the Sholom Center for Interfaith Learning and Fellowship and a past president of the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy. For an archive of past Greenwich Citizen columns, please visit www.templesholom.com.