“’Those who sow in tears will reap with joy.’ (Psalms, 126:5). Faith means the courage to persist through all the setbacks, all the grief, never giving up, never accepting defeat…For at the end (there is) the serenity of the destination after the storms along the way.”
– Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, z”l (1948–2020)
My dear friends, as Sabbath arrives this week, many are feeling a bit discouraged with the state of the pandemic and Thanksgiving just a week away. But, there are glimmers of hope… On the one hand, it feels difficult to see the rising cases of the Coronavirus across the country and come to terms with the new restrictions which have come down from the state level this week. It seems like a step backwards in our fight against this enemy. But at the same time, we hear about positive news on the horizon. Not one, but at least two vaccines are being developed with new technology and with what appears to be excellent results. There is no certainty yet – and no end date, but there is hope. And as we continue to manage this challenging time – with its up’s and down’s – we are reminded that resilience is a muscle we must exercise. We are not necessarily born with it, but we can achieve it and train ourselves to excel from its benefits.
Our weekly Torah portion we read on this Shabbat offers some wisdom and insight for these times. One might not immediately think that the famous Genesis story of Jacob impersonating his brother and stealing Esau’s birthright, which Esau actually gave him for a bowl of stew, would have any relevance to our lives at this moment. But there could be a lesson to be learned from this familiar tale. As we know, the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau could not be any more different: Esau spent his days hunting in the fields, while the cerebral Jacob spent his time studying and learning. One day, Esau came home exhausted from a day of hunting and demanded a bowl of stew that Jacob was cooking. Jacob saw how famished Esau was for the food, so in that moment of desperation, Jacob bargained with his brother and told him he would give him the stew if he sold his birthright to him. Esau, thinking only of his hunger and discomfort in the present moment replied to Jacob: “I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?” (Genesis 25: 32). Now, I ask you: why would someone sell his birthright, which is worth an incalculable amount both spiritually and monetarily, with an impact on all future generations of his people, for a bowl of stew? The answer is simply that Esau was thinking only about the present and Jacob, although I am not defending his tactics, was thinking about the future. Often in life, we must sacrifice some short-term pleasure today for the long-term of our lives tomorrow.
And so, our Thanksgiving holiday will likely look very different from what we are used to next week – but perhaps, we will feel less deprived of our usual celebrations as we focus on the future, as Jacob did? I do not deny that we may feel the loss of being in large gatherings with friends and family, but if we want to ensure that we resume these celebrations next year, we may want to consider different choices. And, why not celebrate these choices? As local Infectious Disease Specialist Lynn Fitzgibbons, MD recently suggested: “Let’s challenge ourselves to find unique, interesting, even different ways to celebrate this year!” And yes, I know you have heard this from me before, but it comes down to how we frame this for ourselves: is this a burden or an opportunity? Once we decide that we have a unique chance this year to celebrate in a new way, it opens all kinds of doors for us. Something more intimate, more mindful, less fuss, perhaps. And, since we will likely be spending more time at home, there are some wonderful programs we may want to tune into. This Sunday at 10:00 am, the Taubman Symposia at UCSB is sponsoring a Conversation with Yehonaton Indursky on the Making of Shtisel, the hit Israeli TV series, moderated by Mashey Bernstein. For more information, click here. And later on Sunday, you might join us for a special musical offering: “A Jewish Journey Through Music” with Israeli-American Cellist Amit Peled at 5:15 pm, since I think music is always a good idea. To register, click here. Or, perhaps you missed our recent moving Kristallnacht Program we hosted last week with San Marcos High School. If so, you might have some time to watch now and feel its power: https://youtu.be/tknq8tiFFTM
An important way to process this time of challenge is to reach outward. I have spoken before about GRATITUDE, but now I have a new challenge: A 10 DAY GRATITUDE CHALLENGE! Recently, at a staff meeting with our team, I heard a wonderful idea from my friend and colleague Itzik Ben-Sasson, Executive Director of Camp Haverim and the Community Shul. He mentioned that this past spring, a group in Israel came up with a 10 Day Gratitude Challenge to mark the days between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel Independence Day to mirror the 10 Days of Repentance that Jews observe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But Itzik very correctly reminded us that it is always appropriate to show gratitude. So, in this period of Thanksgiving, let’s create a 10 DAY GRATITUDE CHALLENGE for our own community! From now until the end of the month, make a firm decision to express gratitude to at least one person in your life directly – a colleague, a loved one, whether near or far – perhaps someone to whom you have never expressed gratitude before. And I believe as we all do so, we will realize how blessed we are with the riches in our lives, even during this most unusual year.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom – with peace and faith that we will get through this,
Ruth Steinberg, LCSW
Director, Jewish Family Service